“What the Eucharist mean to me” was the theme for an art contest my home parish of St. Mark’s had this past fall. Despite my chances, I decided to enter the contest. I was inspired by the art of Eric Carle. Those with small children will recognize him as the artist and author of the Hungry Caterpillar and many others. I didn’t win, but it was a great exercise in creativity!
Looking at my art you will notice that Christ is hanging on a cross above an altar and that a hole is punched out of his chest revealing a red background. Below him on the altar is a chalice with a host suspended above it. The host is in fact the hole that was punched out of Jesus. The cross, corpus, and altar are the silhouettes of those at St. Mark’s in Boise, ID and are positioned similarly.
The title, “A Piece of His Heart” points viewers to the reality that in the Eucharist Jesus gives us the greatest gift, himself, at every Mass. The Eucharist is a piece of Jesus’ heart figuratively and literally! In a word, the sacrament of Holy Communion is about intimacy. Intimacy with Jesus Christ. (See my Mother’s Day at Chuck E. Cheese blog for more on this!)
Intimacy [in-tuh-muh-see] noun
“a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.”
Intimate friends can be vulnerable with each other. There is such security in being able to trust each other with our dreams and fears, no masks. Jesus shows us his wounds up on that cross, so we know the depth of that profound love. He shares his heart with us, so we can show him ours too.
We are the friend he chose to lay his life down for. Although it wounded him to give me that piece, that little piece can fill every hole I have inside of me.
A common Christian principle is that we are “IN the world, but not OF the world.” We see Christ speak of this in John 15:19 “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Do we seek approval by the world? Do we measure our success by the society’s standards? And if we do, does this lead to happiness or misery? Or do we accept our mission of glorifying God’s name with our lives and becoming rich in what matters to God. The Eucharist is Jesus, IN this world through the grace of the sacrament he established on the night before he died. Here he is mysteriously present in a humble host IN this world, but OF another. Reaching down in friendship to us, being food for the journey. So many times the things that trouble us really do not matter in the big picture, all we need is Jesus and we can have him! The best things in life aren’t things!
In the Garden of Eden there were two trees. The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and as God warned they perished (not immediately, but eventually). However, to eat fruit from the Tree of Life, one will never perish (Genesis). Jesus is the New Adam. The cross is the Tree of Life and its fruit is the Eucharist(1). Redemption is sweet!
We see in John 6: 54-57 that, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him….the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”
Catholics believe that Christ was speaking literally. This is supported by the reaction of the people. Thousands of people had just witnessed the miraculous feeding of the ten thousand through the multiplication of fish and loaves, yet John 6 continues, “As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”
Transubstantiation, it IS hard to understand!
“Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”John 6:60
Many don’t, some do. The apostles accept it. Those that accept it as truth, accept a most incredible gift. The gift of Jesus himself and his friendship known as grace. Jesus is 100% present (double meaning! 100% gift and 100% physically there). However, am I 100% present to receive it? With four kids, Mass can be full of distractions! Is there a correlation between how present I am in Mass and how much I feel Jesus’ Real Presence?
What does it mean if perception and reality do not match? Should we be able to feel that life of Christ within us? Well, ideally, we would. St. Catherine of Siena once snapped at a priest that tried to give her an unconsecrated host as Christ. She would be in communion with him in a most literal way after reception of him going into mystical ecstasies that lasted hours and even included levitation! She could sense the difference between an unconsecrated host and Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist, and felt the priest was trying to trick her! (2)
There are probably many reasons why despite Christ being present we can’t always feel it. We know that sin separates us from God; our sins put up walls between us and God and damages the bond between us. Many cultures outside of the United States you are only encouraged to receive Communion if you have gone to Confession first, otherwise you are seen as an unworthy vessel. Confession isn’t just about forgiveness but healing. Patching up the holes inside of us to create a suitable dwelling for the Lord. We should not conclude that because we cannot sense Him, he is not there.
Eucharistic miracles have captivated me for years. Typically, Christ is wholly present (body, blood, soul, and divinity) under the species of bread/wafer and wine. However, countless times we’ve seen consecrated bread take on supernatural properties. My favorite, are stories like what happened in Sokolka, Poland in 2008 where the host instead of dissolving in water started growing living flesh (3)! The kicker comes when the results of the scientific study come in. The tissue is identified as striated myocardium – literally heart tissue! This particular study of histopathology also included that it was the living heart tissue of a man near death. Click here from more on this story! Is there any other time that Jesus more fully demonstrates the capacity of his love for you than when he hangs on the cross? Of course, it is at that time when he completes his mission of our redemption. That is the piece of his heart he shares with you each week.
Many Catholics, myself included, were shocked to learn in a 2019 PEW Research study that only 31% of American Catholics believe in the True Presence of the Eucharist. Unsurprising, this is not 31% of those that attend weekly. If you don’t believe in the True Presence, there would not be the “pull” to get to Mass! Sadly, of the 69% that believe the bread and wine are symbolic, 43% of them don’t realize that their belief is not accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church! Plug EWTN and Catholic radio here to fill the knowledge gap! I would also recommend the three 45 minute videos called Presence on Formed (1) (At the end of episode 2 is where I got that the Eucharist is the fruit from the Tree of Life bit from ; )
I hope this blog has fostered your belief in the True Presence. We all feel alone at times. We all feel a hunger for God. When Jesus laid down his life for you, he laid out a banquet as well. Jesus is saving a seat for you at the table. Come, be present, drink deep and know you’ve got a friend to share your heart with.
- Formed.org, search “Presence” also available through Roku or other TV streaming. If your parish does not offer free Formed membership, it is worth every penny as the caliber of content is high and very diverse through the Augustine Institute.
- Catherine of Siena, by Sigrid Undset (I’ve read a lot about the great saint and I’m pretty sure this is the book I found that tidbit in ; )
- https://aleteia.org/2017/09/23/the-eucharistic-miracle-of-sokolka-the-host-is-tissue-from-heart-of-a-dying-man/ You can also Google Eucharistic Miracles there are MANY of them. I read a book on them, but the color pictures are where it is at!