Thursday 6 September 2012

"I Am With You Always" – The Eucharist

By Artur Suski, S.J.


I recently came upon a very sad statistic, that anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of Catholics do not believe in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Why does this sadden me? As I reflect upon it, it isn’t so much that people are not following their beliefs, though this is also a source of sadness. Rather, it is that they pass by Jesus who is truly present for them, and in so doing they fail to recognize the abundance of love and mercy given to them. There is a wealth of theological treatises written on the topic of the Eucharist, and I do not intend to add another one to this collection – what my reflection will focus on is the heartfelt encounter that happens between the person proper and Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

We often think of receiving the Eucharist as a ritual – which it most definitely is – but we forget that it is also an encounter between two hearts, between our heart and the heart of Jesus. Someone recently described such an encounter to me in a way that I have never heard before: receiving the Eucharist is the moment in which Jesus takes our heart for Himself, and at the same time he gives us his own heart. This was truly a remarkable insight, I thought – so simple yet so profound. If I stop and consider why we have been given such a tremendous gift, the topmost reason, as I see it, is Jesus’ desire to be with us. Think of any friendship that you have – does not the relationship truly develop through contact with the other? If there is a mutual desire to grow in friendship, both parties will strive to be with each other. It is the same with the Eucharist. Jesus has truly given Himself to us so that we may truly be with each other in a very tangible way.

That being said, some may say that if God can be found everywhere, what’s the big deal about the Eucharist then? But if this were indeed the way God reasoned, there would not have been an Incarnation in the first place. God desires the concrete, a true meeting of persons: to meet us face-to-face, in the flesh. This personal encounter was made historical and real in the person of Jesus, yet the beautiful thing is that this same encounter – personal, real, and historical– happens also in the Eucharist every time we approach the altar; Jesus comes to us anew, as He did to the people of Israel.

What happens when one person wants to be with the other while the other does not recognize the other’s presence? One ends up missing out on the encounter because of ignorance while the other is left saddened because he has not been recognized. Both miss out. This leads to a second reason why Jesus desires to give Himself to us in the Eucharist: “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6: 55-56). Jesus wants nourish us with himself. The Israelites were nourished in the desert with the manna from heaven, and comparatively we have something much greater. Here we have God-made-flesh present to us in his truest self. How can this encounter be anything but nourishing? It is a God that truly loves to the point that he gives of himself completely, a God that enters into our realm and meets us where we can meet him.

This for us is truly a mystery; we can hypothesize about the why and the how, but ultimately we cannot wrap our minds around it. It is in the heart of this mystery that my friend’s words echo loudly and convincingly: “What sense is there in all of this? It is a heart-to-heart encounter.” It is one heart loving the other and desiring to be with the other. Jesus came to us to establish an everlasting relationship with us, and so in light of this, the Eucharist is Jesus’ gift to us that we might continually renew and rekindle this relationship. Do we not long for this? In the depths of our hearts, can we not hear Jesus’ heart beating for our own heart?

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