by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
This past Sunday, I had the privilege to preside at the first Communion of my great-nephew, Joseph (Joey) Naumann! It was inspiring to see the eagerness and anticipation to receive Our Lord in the faces of Joey and his fellow first communicants at Our Lady of the Presentation Parish in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.
Frequently while distributing holy Communion, I am amused by small children grasping for a host or expressing their displeasure at not being permitted to receive the Eucharist. At that stage of their religious development, this desire to receive the Eucharist is not usually because of a precocious awareness of the divine presence in the Blessed Sacrament, but because they want what is being given to everyone else.
Sadly, the wonder and delight of receiving Our Lord in holy Communion can become dulled over time. Over the course of years, there is a danger to become casual and nonchalant about the miracle of the Blessed Sacrament.
Last summer, I was at my residence preparing a homily when I struck up a conversation with an air-conditioning repairman. He told me that he had been raised as a Methodist and that he and his wife now attend a nondenominational evangelical Christian church. However, he considers himself more Catholic than Protestant.
I was intrigued and asked him why. He shared that he and his wife had 10 children. From the beginning of their marriage, they decided that they wanted to welcome as many children as God would give them. I was impressed and edified by this man’s and his wife’s generosity in their openness to life.
However, the main reason this repairman has an affinity with our Catholic faith is our understanding of the meaning of the Eucharist. Raised in the Protestant tradition, he has a beautiful love for the Bible and prays over the word of God daily. In reflecting on the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, he was bewildered at how anyone could ponder the words of Jesus and not believe he is truly present in the Eucharist.
This portion of the Gospel is often called Our Lord’s Bread of Life Discourse. It follows the account of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. As a result of this miraculous sign, many people were eager to follow Jesus.
It is in this context that Jesus states unequivocally: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (Jn 6:35). Jesus continues: “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:48-51).
I told my AC repairman that he should be Catholic. He was not ready to sign up for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes yet!
We are told in John’s Gospel that many of his disciples walked away from Jesus at this point. They found his description of himself as the bread of life and the need for his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood a bit over the top. This was too hard for them to comprehend and believe. The Gospel bluntly states: “As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (Jn 6:66).
Jesus did not attempt to cajole them and suggest that they misunderstood. He did not try to placate them by saying: “I was only speaking symbolically! This was only a metaphor!”
No, Our Lord let them go and he turned to his apostles asking: “Do you also want to leave?” (Jn 6:67) Peter’s response to Our Lord’s question is one of his shining moments in the Gospel: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-69).
Often in the letters I receive from young people who are seeking to be confirmed, they express their desire and intent to take ownership for their faith and to be faithful Catholics. Sometimes, in my homily at the confirmation liturgy, I will remind them of what they wrote and challenge them that to be faithful Catholics they need to strive, at the bare minimum, to participate in Mass on Sunday.
Think about it! The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, makes himself available to us every week in the Eucharist, and a large number of Catholics are no-shows. The Lord of heaven, the creator of the universe, wants to come and renew his life within us and we are too busy? The Lord of Lords and the King of Kings wants to abide with us, make us into living tabernacles, but we have something more important to do?
If we believe what Jesus said in the sixth chapter of St. John, the Sunday Eucharist has to be the most important event of our lives each week. How could we let anything deprive us from receiving Our Lord in this Blessed Sacrament?
Each Mass is an extraordinary miracle of God’s grace. May we never lose a sense of wonder and awe that God desires to unite himself so closely to us through the Eucharist! May we come each week to Mass with expectant and eager hearts to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and to be renewed by his love!