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Column: Given an ‘antidote to death,’ wouldn’t you take it?

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

In the last three months, I visited each of our Catholic high schools to lead a Holy Hour of eucharistic adoration.

I told our young people that, more than anything else, my desire for them was that they develop a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I expressed my conviction that friendship with Jesus was more essential for their happiness in this world and their eternal happiness than achieving academically, earning a scholarship for college, landing their dream job or even marrying the perfect spouse. Cultivating an intimate relationship with Jesus was much more important than making the football, basketball, volleyball or baseball teams. It is more important than their friendships with their classmates.

It is not that these other things are not of value, but, ultimately, they cannot bring true and enduring happiness. We have been built to be in communion with God. If we lack friendship with Jesus and his Father, then nothing else in this world will satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. We develop our relationship with Jesus through spending time with him in prayer, getting to know him through prayerfully reading the Gospels, and through encountering him in a unique and powerful manner in the Eucharist.

Praying anywhere is good, but our prayer after receiving the Lord in the Eucharist and our prayer before the Lord uniquely present in the Blessed Sacrament is particularly powerful. Some have trouble believing that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist. They argue: How can God possibly be present in a little piece of bread?

In reality, they have a problem believing in Jesus. For it is no more difficult to believe that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament, than to believe the Son of God was conceived in the womb of Mary or to believe that he was born as a tiny infant or to believe that he was a young boy obedient to human parents or to believe that he allowed himself to be arrested, tried and convicted, to be beaten and humiliated, and to be crucified on Calvary.

The church did not invent the Eucharist. Jesus told his disciples that he was “the living bread that came down from Heaven” (Jn 6: 51). Jesus instructed them: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up 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” (Jn 6: 53-56).

It was Jesus at the Last Supper who took bread and gave it to his disciples saying: “Take and eat; this is my body” (Mt 26: 26). It was Jesus who gave the Apostles a cup of wine that he had blessed, telling them: “Drink from
it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26: 27-28). It was Jesus who instructed the disciples: “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22: 19).

What an incredible gift Jesus offers us in the Eucharist! Many of our parishes have just recently celebrated first Communion. It is beautiful to see the eagerness and joy of children in receiving Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time. Every time we receive Jesus in the Eucharist is an incredible miracle. We must never allow ourselves to become indifferent or callous to the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Last year, I had a conversation with a couple — the wife is Catholic and the husband is Protestant. The husband is very attracted to the Catholic faith,
in large part because of the witness of his wife and children. He goes to Mass every week with his wife. He told me that one of the obstacles for him becoming Catholic is the casual way in which he observes so many Catholics receiving holy Communion.

He said to me: “Bishop, I know what Catholics believe about the Eucharist. I know that you believe Jesus is actually, not just symbolically, present. Yet, when I see people receiving Communion seemingly so unaware of what they are doing and whom they are receiving, I wonder: Do these people really believe this is Jesus? If they really believed it was Jesus, wouldn’t they be crawling up the aisle in wonder and awe for the miracle that is being offered to them?”

I found his observation sobering and challenging.

When I was a child — many, many years ago — if you entered a Catholic Church there was always a reverent silence. Catholics had a great awareness that they had come into the presence of Jesus Christ. There were no casual conversations and chatter going on between parishioners, as is so often the case in our churches today. Instead, people were prayerfully in conversation with Jesus uniquely present in the Blessed Sacrament.

The late Pope John Paul II in his 2003 encyclical letter on the Eucharist expressed his desire to renew within the church what he termed “eucharistic amazement.” Pope John Paul wrote: “Those who feed on Christ in the Eucharist need not wait until the hereafter to receive eternal life: they already possess it on earth, as the first fruits of a future fullness. . . . For in the Eucharist we also receive a pledge of our bodily resurrection at the end of the world. . . . With the Eucharist we digest, as it were, the ‘secret’ of the resurrection. For this reason, St. Ignatius of Antioch rightly defined the Eucharistic Bread as ‘a medicine of immortality, an antidote to death’” (no. 18).

Think about it: In the Eucharist, you and I receive the “antidote for death,” “a medicine for immortality.” Could anything be more important to us than the opportunity to receive the Eucharist?

The most important thing for all of us is a close, personal friendship with Jesus Christ. Receiving Jesus with faith and devotion in the Eucharist and praying before the Lord uniquely present in the Blessed Sacrament are the best means available to us to cultivate our relationship with Jesus.

When you enter church this Sunday, allow yourself to be fully aware of who is present in the tabernacle. When you receive Jesus in holy Communion, do so with profound reverence and awe. Take advantage of the special time after Communion to thank Jesus for the gift of his life and ask him for whatever you most need in your efforts to follow him.

Finally, I encourage you during the coming week to go to one of our churches or eucharistic chapels to spend time in prayer and adoration.

About the author

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Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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