It’s been less than two weeks since Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix issued an Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, but the treasure contained therein is already having an impact.
Out of all the jewels presented in “Veneremur Cernui -Down in Adoration Falling,” the one that sparkles the most for me has to do with the intense, sacrificial love of Jesus and His presence with us — not just spiritually or symbolically, but physically. Today. Now. At every Mass and inside every Catholic Church.
It’s a rather mind-blowing message I’m endeavoring to impart to 16 young students in a weekly First Communion class at Mar Abraham Chaldean Catholic Church. These boys and girls are around 10 years old, and if they weren’t born in Iraq, their parents or grandparents were. The children understand what it means to be separated from beloved relatives who live far, far away. Who knows when, or if, these kids will ever again lay eyes on relatives living across the globe?
All year long, I’ve been drilling home the point that the Eucharist is the actual Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Last week, after studying Bishop Olmsted’s Exhortation, I brought something to class to illustrate the lesson: a small, rather common-looking stone. Let me explain.
One of my sons is a U.S. Marine serving in Okinawa, nearly 7,000 miles away from home. Because of travel restrictions due to the pandemic, we haven’t seen Johnny and his wife in more than 18 months. Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, Easter, the birth of a niece — these have all gone by and we’ve had to be content with Facetime calls and text messages.
We’re grateful — don’t get me wrong — but it’s just not the same as actually being together. When I “kiss” my son’s face at the conclusion of our weekly video chat, the only thing I feel is the cold and lifeless screen of my cell phone.
One thing’s for sure: When Johnny and Katrina get stateside again, I’m going to throw my arms around them and try not to sob. This stupid pandemic has kept us apart much too long.
From time to time, I pick up the little keepsake rock that sits on my nightstand. It’s a memento from Johnny’s last day home back in 2019 when our family went hiking. I pocketed the brownish, speckled stone as a reminder of our climb, a symbol of the joy I felt on that day and a reminder that we’ll be together again.
I held up the insignificant-looking rock during First Communion class last week, then placed it on the outstretched palm of a girl sitting in the front row. The kids leaned forward in their seats as I explained what the stone stood for and what it meant to me. My voice got a little thick as I told them how it symbolizes a beautiful, bittersweet day, but that as much as I cherish it, holding that rock is just not the same as actually being with my son.
“One day,” I told them, “I’ll hold my son in my arms again.” Then I pointed to the awe-inspiring crucifix just behind the altar at the front of the church. “Jesus Christ loves each one of us so much that He gave His life on the cross to redeem us. When the priest blesses the bread and wine at Mass, that love Jesus showed in dying for us is made present in the Eucharist. Jesus loves us so much that He wants to be with us physically, not just symbolically. The Eucharist isn’t like this rock at all — it’s not just a symbol. It’s really and truly Jesus.
“When you receive Him in Holy Communion, you will have His physical presence — His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity — within you.”
I could see their minds spinning as I hammered home the point that the sacrificial love of Jesus’ death on the cross is made present at every Mass and that Christ is truly with us in the Eucharist. I could see the excitement in their eyes as the message began to sink in.
This is the Good News the Catholic Church has to share with the world: God’s love is real and was demonstrated when He sent His only Son into the world to redeem it. The Eucharist embodies His never-failing love in a way that only the eyes of faith can perceive. We, His flawed, frail and redeemed followers, unworthy though we are, receive Him each time we partake of Communion.
Read, ponder, pray with and share “Veneremur Cernui -Down in Adoration Falling.” The world is starving for the kind of love that Jesus offers in the Holy Eucharist. It’s up to us to share the Good News that His love is something true and real and substantial. The kind you can throw your arms around as you blink back tears, realizing that the aching hunger in your soul can only ever be filled by Him.