by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — I am no expert on Catholic theology, so I can’t give a scholarly commentary on the Eucharist.
However, as a person who attends daily Mass and spends time each week in eucharistic adoration, I can answer one question I am often asked: Why?
A Pew research poll in 2019 indicated two-thirds of Catholics don’t recognize the physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
I am not among them.
The nuns who taught me in grade school called that presence a “holy mystery” — but it is not a mystery to me.
In reading Scripture, I have come to know an incarnate God who deeply loved the people he encountered in his human experience and recognized the importance of physical touch.
Jesus’ healing power certainly did not require touch; he cured the centurion’s servant and raised Lazarus without even entering the tomb.
Yet over and over again, Jesus touched people in his compassionate acts of healing — a 12-year-old girl in Capernaum, a deaf man in the Decapolis, two blind men near Jericho, a man with leprosy in Galilee, and on and on.
Jesus knew the combination of faith and touch was powerful.
And because of that knowing, the Last Supper must have been one of the most heart-wrenching moments in Jesus’ life.
I feel it when I listen to the eucharistic prayer at Mass, recalling with Jesus the night he knew he was about to leave the disciples he loved.
He would send them the Holy Spirit to strengthen their souls; but he understood, in their humanity, they needed more.
By instituting the Eucharist — transforming the bread and wine into his own body and blood — Jesus was able to give his disciples an incredibly beautiful and generous gift.
The church calls it transubstantiation. That is a big word for what I see as the simple act of a compassionate man, deeply in love with his followers, giving them a way to touch him forever.
That’s why I attend daily Mass — so I can touch Jesus, embrace his divinity in faith and become one body with all the Catholics in the world doing the same.
And that’s why I spend time in eucharistic adoration, because I believe I am literally sitting at the feet of Jesus.
My favorite Bible story, and one I recall every time I receive Communion, is the story of the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years.
No one could cure her.
She heard about Jesus and believed in his power to heal — so much so that she fought her way through a crowd just to touch the hem of his cloak.
And it worked. She knew immediately she was healed.
I love this moment in this story because Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “Who touched me?”
I imagine the disciples thought he had lost his mind.
They looked at the throng of people around him and responded, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”
But Jesus knew one person with great faith had touched him because he said, “The power has gone out of me.”
When the healed woman came forward, Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you, go in peace.”
Each time I walk up to Communion, I think about that woman.
I know I’m going to touch Jesus, but it is my faith in his presence that will allow his power to flow through me.
When I come back to my pew and kneel in prayer, I imagine Jesus at the front of the church turning and asking, “Who touched me?”
And even though there may be a hundred people around me, I say, “I did, Lord.”
And he says, “Talk to me.”
It’s that personal. It’s Jesus and me alone together, and I pour out my heart to him.
In that moment of intimacy, I feel the Holy Trinity — God in spirit and flesh. I can’t present a pain or temptation, a fear or a need, that he hasn’t experienced in his own humanity.
And I know in my heart that with Jesus’ touch and my faith, I have the strength to continue Christ’s mission in the world.
I am never alone.