Christ Truly Present

by Father Joseph Keating

North Texas Catholic

Father Joseph Keating at the Feast of Corpus Christi
Father Joseph Keating at the Feast of Corpus Christi (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

In early June, the U.S. bishops had a meeting, during which one of their staffers actively managed the USCCB Twitter account. 

This normally would not have caught my attention, as I am not even on Twitter, but I did become interested after I read that a tweet got a lot of responses. The staffer asked, “If you are a young Catholic who is still Catholic, what has made you stay?”

Now, I love this question. I love asking people this question, or perhaps a simplified version: “Why are you Catholic?” I love it because it tells me so much about what someone believes. It reveals what is most important to them. It shows what motivates them. It involves their history, family dynamics, and personal goals. It is such a simple question, and this particular tweet reaped an unusually large number of responses.

“If you are still Catholic, what has made you stay?” One response was made by a classmate of mine, who simply stated, “Because it is true.” This answer tells me something I already knew about this man: that he has an insatiable hunger for knowledge. For him, truth is the most important thing. He knows God as the author of truth, and he worships the Savior who is the way, the truth, and the life. He believes the truth has set him free. It shows that no amount of scandal, sin, or corruption will make him leave, because he believes Jesus and His Church to be the bearers of truth.

I once asked an adult, “Why are you Catholic?” And he answered that he was raised by Catholic parents, went to a Catholic school, and most people in his town and his family were Catholic. So naturally, he was Catholic. But, he added, if he were raised by Buddhists, in a Buddhist town, then he would be Buddhist. 

To me, it seems like this man never took serious ownership of his faith. He never found a deeper reason to remain Catholic; it was just easier to stay than to leave. Or perhaps he didn’t feel like he was in control of his own life, but rather felt he was simply the product of all the things that had happened to him. Perhaps he still hasn’t engaged his free will in his acceptance of the faith. Maybe he thinks all religions are the same, and the differences don’t matter. This man, and others like him, are most likely to abandon the faith altogether.

Back to the Twitter question, “What has made you stay Catholic?” Some respondents cited the goodness of the saints and the witness of the martyrs. Some spoke of the beauty and traditions of Catholicism. Some acknowledged the Church’s role in building Western civilization. And many, many respondents mentioned their faith in the Holy Eucharist.

If I were to list my reasons for why I’m Catholic, my top two are these: First, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that the Catholic Church is the one He founded. And second, Jesus is still active and visible in the world through the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist.

Those are my reasons. I could just as easily have said that I’m Catholic because my parents had me baptized, and they raised me in the faith. But we all know from experience that this doesn’t guarantee someone will remain Catholic.

Fr. Jonathan Demma distributes the Eucharist to his mother Alana Demma at his first Mass as a priest at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Keller, May 19, 2018. Fr. Jonathan Demma distributes the Eucharist to his mother Alana Demma at his first Mass as a priest at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Keller, May 19, 2018.
Fr. Jonathan Demma distributes the Eucharist to his mother Alana Demma at his first Mass as a priest at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Keller, May 19, 2018. (NTC/Ben Torres)

I found my reasons, and I hope that you find yours too. I hope we all have a good, honest answer to that question, “Why am I Catholic?  Why have I remained Catholic?” If we can answer that question well, then we are on our way to sharing our faith with others.

A few weeks ago we celebrated Corpus Christi Sunday. On that feast, we celebrate in a focused way the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the altar, the Eucharist. For most of us, we learned about the Eucharist as children. We began to believe that the host of bread and the chalice of wine are mysteriously changed into Jesus’ real Body and Blood.

The Eucharist we receive still tastes like bread and wine, but its substance has changed. It is no longer bread, but Jesus’ body. If it were merely bread, we would not have so many peculiar Catholic quirks when we come into church. We would not genuflect to a piece of bread. We would not save bread in a gold box under lock and key. We would not keep a candle burning perpetually in the sanctuary. We would not kneel during Mass. We would not examine our consciences and confess our sins before receiving a simple piece of bread. We would not take a little wafer of bread to the sick and homebound. We do all these things because we believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.

And still, many who call themselves Catholic do not believe. Many of these Catholics used to believe as children but have stopped believing at some point in their lives. Perhaps it’s just too extraordinary or too amazing to believe. Or perhaps they have stopped believing in things they can’t see. Or perhaps they have been convinced by the preaching of another Christian leader who does not believe in the Holy Eucharist.

To the first objection, I would answer that it is extraordinary, indeed. And yet, if our God is humble enough to become a man and dwell among us, could He not be humble enough to come to us under the appearance of bread and wine, that He may dwell in us?

To the second objection, I reply that faith must supply the type of knowledge that is required to believe in God. If we can believe in God without seeing Him, can we not believe in transubstantiation, without seeing a visible change in the host and wine?

To the third objection, I reply that the Catholic Church’s belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is as old as the Church herself. The early Christians left us a record of what they believed, and they believed the same things that the Catholic Church believes today. For example:

St. Ignatius of Antioch, c. AD 80-110: “Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox…. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead.”[1]

St. Irenaeus, c. ad 180:  “So then, if the mixed cup and the manufactured bread receive the Word of God and become the Eucharist, that is to say, the Blood and Body of Christ, which fortify and build up the substance of our flesh, how can these people claim that the flesh is incapable of receiving God’s gift of eternal life, when it is nourished by Christ’s Blood and Body and is His member? [2]

St. Justin Martyr, c. ad 148-155: “This food we call the Eucharist…. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from Him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.”[3]

St. Paul to the Corinthians, C. ad 53-57: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”[4]

And there are many, many more examples from the early Church Fathers that I don’t have space to mention now. The point is, the early Christians believed in Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist, and we Catholic Christians still believe it today.

Bishop Michael Olson on the Feast of Corpus Christi at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Keller Bishop Michael Olson on the Feast of Corpus Christi at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Keller
Bishop Michael Olson on the Feast of Corpus Christi at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Keller (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Perhaps this historical evidence is enough to assist our belief. But even this testimony may leave a hint of skepticism in our hearts. Perhaps we still don’t completely believe. Don’t be afraid. You’re older now. The faith you had when you were seven must be nourished. It’s not that it was ever false — it’s that you didn’t find a deeper reason to believe. The well of Christian theology goes very, very deep. Lower your bucket just a little bit more, and you’ll find something there. Do not be unbelieving, but believe.

On the Feast of Corpus Christi, we held a Eucharistic procession through the streets of Penelope. This is a tradition that goes all the way back to the 13th century, to the origin of this feast — the Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena, Italy.  

It was the year 1263 when a priest by the name of Peter of Prague was traveling through the Italian countryside on his way to Rome. He stopped in the small village of Bolsena to celebrate the Mass. At this time in his life, Father Peter was wavering in his faith. He was doubting the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic host and chalice. He was losing his belief in the Catholic teaching of transubstantiation—that the bread and wine actually change into Jesus’ body and blood.

Yet, as he lifted the host over the altar that day, droplets of blood fell from the sacred host onto the white corporal on the altar. The very blood of Christ, bleeding from the host, stained the corporal and the altar stone beneath it. After the pope was informed of this miracle, he proclaimed this Solemnity of the Body of Christ — Corpus Christi in Latin.

Today in Bolsena, and in the neighboring town of Orvieto, you can actually see the stained altar stone and corporal — they are still there, bearing witness to the true presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist. On the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in those towns, huge processions form while the corporal, the altar stone, and the Eucharist itself are carried through the streets. For this reason, in parishes across the Roman Catholic world, the faithful make processions just like this one, boldly bringing Jesus Christ into the world in a very visible way. 

Father Joseph Keating at the Feast of Corpus ChristiFather Joseph Keating at the Feast of Corpus Christi
The procession during the Feast of Corpus Christi at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Penelope. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Processions have long been a tradition of the Catholic Church because processions remind us in a very concrete way that we are going somewhere. We are a pilgrim people, journeying together with Christ towards our heavenly homeland. We gather followers along the way, and we bring them into relationship with Jesus Christ. Each step we take symbolizes a step in our personal relationship with our God. As we follow Jesus in the Eucharist, our own faith journey takes on a very real meaning. We are His people, the sheep of His flock, and we follow Him wherever He goes.

During those processions we expose the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance, a vessel used to display the Sacred Host. We burn incense to symbolize our prayers rising to heaven, and to make present the sweet aroma of holiness. Some carry candles, symbolizing the light of faith that we each possess. We sing songs, manifesting the joy of knowing Jesus. We bring Christ into the world. And this is both literal and symbolic. We literally take the host of Christ’s body out into the world.

But each and every time we come to Mass, we receive from the altar the grace that is source of our Christian life, and we cradle it in our very bodies. Each time we come to Mass, we receive the real presence of Christ, and we are told to go forth in peace, glorifying the Lord with our lives.

We Christians must bear Christ to the world. This is our mission, the mission of the Church.

We should be proud to carry it out, so our friends, neighbors, and families will know Jesus and come to worship and adore Him. 

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[1] “Letter to the Smyrnaeans”, paragraph 6.

[2] “Five Books on the Unmasking and Refutation of the Falsely Named Gnosis.”

[3] “First Apology”, Ch. 66.

[4] 1 Corinthians 10:16


Father Keating elevates a monstrance

In early June, the U.S. bishops had a meeting, during which one of their staffers actively managed the USCCB Twitter account.