I know some people find it difficult to believe that bread and wine change and become the Body and Blood of Jesus. In fact recent polls done by the Knights of Columbus indicate that more than 35 percent of practicing Catholics and 65 percent of non-practicing Catholics do not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I can understand their doubts. We don’t see any physical change in the bread or wine. There is no difference in the taste — the bread remains like bread and the wine like wine. It goes against our logic to believe that here before me is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ — God’s only begotten Son and my savior. But anyone schooled in logic will tell you that it is not enough to say I don’t understand it therefore I won’t believe it. We believe in many things we don’t understand. The theory of relativity is not understandable to most yet it is held to be true. How does the internet work? Most of us don’t understand it. We just use it.
How can we help others believe in the Eucharist as Jesus’ sacramental presence?
When it comes to believing in Jesus and his words about the Holy Eucharist we turn to the words of Saint Paul who says we live by faith not by sight. The short answer to doubts that the Holy Eucharist is truly Jesus’ Body and Blood is to trust in Jesus and be humble enough to say, “Jesus said it and that is good enough for me.” I receive his words as truth — if this man is the Son of God then he can be present to us in any way he wants, he is God.
How can you read the sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel and not believe that Jesus is saying what he means? Just as Jesus speaks them and we Catholics believe he means what he says. “Anyone who eats this bread will live forever and the bread I give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Jesus continues: “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you will not have life in you…for my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”
Jesus adds: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him…This is bread come down from heaven not like the bread our ancestors ate: they are dead. But anyone who eats this bread will live forever.”
Now let us turn to the words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper: “Take and eat, this is my body.’ Then he took the cup gave thanks and gave it to them and they drank from it and he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant which will be shed for many.’”
Scott Han was once a Protestant minister strongly opposed to the Catholic Church. He later converted to Catholicism after studying Saint John’s Gospel. He no longer believed what he was formerly taught — that Jesus was only speaking symbolically. He encountered Jesus’ words as simple truth.
Can you give up your control of the material world and say there is something bigger here than what we physically see? The Eucharist may be a hard concept to understand and believe, but what about the incarnation? What do you do with God becoming man? How do you put God the author and creator of life and eternity into a single man? How do you put infinity into a particular time and space?
How do you put the one who is Alpha and Omega — the beginning and the end — into a baby? God did not pretend symbolically to be man? He felt pain and loneliness. He suffered hunger and thirst like us. He knew disappointment and experienced temptation. He really became one of us. He didn’t merely pretend or just appear to be a man. If you can receive this mystery why is it hard to receive the mystery of the Eucharist? Jesus is not pretending to be present to us here either.
To embrace this mystery we must trust Jesus’ words, surrender our human logic to Gods logic of love, believe we are receiving Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity, and receive the greatest gift ever — Jesus himself.
The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.