The closing line of the Gospel of Matthew reads: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). One of the ways Jesus fulfills this promise is by being available to us during each and every Mass where he becomes present to us again in the Eucharist. He is truly present after the bread and wine have been consecrated through the power of the Holy Spirit working through the priest. Jesus shares his final meal with his disciples, as we read in today’s Gospel from Mark, and during that meal he says, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many” (cf. Mk 14:22-24).
This scriptural account is also echoed in Matthew 26:26-29, Luke 22:15-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, and John 6:51-58. Jesus came to be with us so we could be one with him. The first step was the Incarnation, where the Son of God became man and entered our humanity, then he was willing to be the lamb that was slain for our salvation, and his sacrifice is re-presented during each Mass in which we consume his very Real Presence while still in the appearance of bread and wine.
What happens during the Eucharistic Rite is that the priest calls down the Holy Spirit and the accidental form of bread and wine remain the same, but the substance of these same elements are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The same Jesus who was present with the apostles at the Last Supper is present again, and we enter into communion with his very being, so to be conformed to him, to be one with him, to receive his divinity so we can become God through our participation in his life.
That is the intellectual expression of what is happening, but for me, the moment of the reality of the Eucharist came when JoAnn and I moved to Florida. We soon started going to Church at Jupiter First Congregational Church. We attended for about five years. The music was phenomenal, the sermons engaging, I became involved in leading a Bible study for teens, and we were involved in adult classes. I found though that in the final few years that I was leaving the services depressed. In our adult breakout sessions, I found that there were many other Catholics attending and sharing their concerns and frustrations with the Catholic Church. I found myself defending and attempting to help people understand the different issues they had and realized, if I was defending the Church so much, maybe it was time to return.
One, Sunday sometime around 2006, after leaving service, I drove across the street to St Peter Catholic Church, walked in and sat down in the back of what is now the fellowship hall (which we will all be back in for the summer while renovations take place in the main sanctuary) and as the service began I wept. It was like coming home. I returned again the next week and the same emotional experience happened. I would come to realize that what I was missing was Jesus present in the Eucharist. I haven’t looked back, and I have found that my life has become more fulfilled and my relationship with God has continued to grow ever since.
Jesus promised to be with his disciples and us in saying that he would be with us always. He has kept that promise in being present in the Eucharist. We can experience him in his Word proclaimed and Real Presence provided in each Mass we attend; attending each Sunday or daily. No matter how crazy or insane the world gets, no matter how much we are struggling, no matter who lets us down or is not there for us, no matter what trial, tribulation, state of confusion or sin we are in, Jesus will be there for us. We can come up to receive and consume him or receive his blessing.
Even outside of the Mass Jesus is reposed in the tabernacle. We can come to him to pray, to just look at him while he looks at us, to spend time in adoration and contemplation, to come to him that he might speak to us in the silence of our hearts. Jesus has not forsaken us nor left us orphans. Jesus is present to us and for us. Come to Jesus and find some rest, strength, courage, acceptance, affirmation, and/or love. What you find you need in the depth of your soul Jesus will provide in his presence.
Photo: Pope Francis celebrating Mass in Brazil, source – Buda Mendes / Getty Images