Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Journeying with the Mystery of the Eucharist

Y2K Collaboration Blog

It’s officially turned one month since the Walsingham Y2K Summer Festival– and what a blessing it was to #SHAREINTHEJOY of growing towards and encountering the love of Jesus Christ! If you were at the festival, whether it was your 1st or your 100th time attending, within moments of entering the Throne Room you quickly see that the main centre point is the ‘burning bush’; a beautiful candlelit podium lighting the way for what lies on top. Yet this is not merely a parallel of a decorated Christmas tree crowned with an angel; the real mystery of the Catholic faith is the belief that the Blessed Sacrament which rests above is truly Jesus Christ, who has come to be intimately present with us within a piece of bread. 

A brief summary of the terminology of the Holy Eucharist 
“The word "Eucharist" means literally "act of thanksgiving." To celebrate the Eucharist and to live a Eucharistic life has everything to do with gratitude. Living Eucharistically is living life as a gift, a gift for which one is grateful" - Henri J.M. Nouwen. 
  • As Catholics, we use the words ‘Eucharist’, or 'Holy Communion' to describe the bread and wine which becomes transubstantiated (i.e. transformed) into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist at mass. 
  • We believe that Jesus Christ first instituted the Eucharist at the Passover Feast during the Last Supper, where He broke the bread and shared the wine with his disciples saying “This is my body, this is my blood, which has been broken and poured out for you", and henceforth commanded them to do the same; "Do this in memory of me”. 
  • Although the bread and wine appears the same in sight, taste and smell; the Catholic faith teaches that through the Holy Spirit, both substances are now Jesus’ actual flesh and blood.  “Do not see in the bread and wine merely natural elements, because the Lord has expressly said that they are His body and blood; faith assures you of this, though your senses suggest otherwise” - St. Cyril of Jerusalem
  • The ‘Blessed Sacrament’ refers to the consecrated sacramental host which has been already transubstantiated during the mass, and is kept within the tabernacle of the church, or present on the altar during Adoration, both out of reverence to the divine presence of Jesus Christ. 

The Adoremus Eucharistic Congress held in Liverpool a few weekends ago celebrated this key Eucharistic miracle that is the cornerstone of the Catholic faith. In light of these recent events and in desire to grow and strengthen one another in the faith, shared below are the experiences and reflections from Y2K writers of their journey of understanding, believing and falling in love with the Eucharist.

Scriptural Reflections – Theresita Joseph

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” - Ephesians 3:17-20

Despite being raised Catholic from birth, trying to comprehend that the Creator of the Universe would choose to become present within a small piece of bread remained a continual puzzle to me. Ultimately, it was because my heart and mind felt it didn’t do justice to the beauty and awe of God, that is more easily reflected in this incredible world we live in. But then I began to think of how Jesus Himself from His birth to His death challenged all expectations of how people imagined the Messiah to be. The King of kings chose to be born in a stable, and chose to carry the sins of his own children by bleeding out and dying on the cross for them, in the most heart-breaking and humiliating way possible. The root of it is because of His love for us, and it is because of that same incomprehensible love that He chooses to become so intimately and humbly present for us in the Eucharist.

“I held the Host with two fingers and thought: How small Jesus made Himself, in order to show us that He doesn't expect great things of us, but rather little things with great love.” ― Saint Teresa of Calcutta 

Over the past year I’ve had the desire to understand the Eucharist more fully; as it is one of the key defining beliefs of the Catholic faith compared to other Christian denominations. Reading and reflecting on the Bible has been a crucial source of wisdom in helping me on that journey, and in particular, the four consecutive Sunday gospels from John 6 during the last month of August which focused on Jesus’ own teaching of the Eucharist.

In the first Sunday gospel (John 6:24-35), the Israelites ask Jesus for a miraculous sign that would help them believe in Him, reminding Him that God had previously sent their ancestors manna (bread) from heaven. Yet Jesus gives them an answer that is completely unexpected; ‘I AM the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever hunger; no one who believes in me will ever thirst’. Within the second Sunday gospel (John 6:41-51), we see how like today, many people found this response difficult and challenging to understand. But Jesus repeats his words again, and becomes more specific; “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I give is my flesh, for the life of the world”. At this, the next two Sunday Gospels (John 6: 51-58, 61-69) highlight the public outcry; ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’/‘This is intolerable language – who can accept it?’. Yet again, Jesus does not retract his words and goes even further; “In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person. As the living father sent me and I draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will also draw life from me”.

Reflecting on the whole passage from start to finish (which I would encourage you to do), emphasises how profound and indeed shocking Jesus’ words can seem. Yet this thought reminded me again of how our own human expectations of God don’t match up with His own mind and divinity, leading to the realisation of exactly how much of a miracle the truly Eucharist is. All the previous miracles in the Gospel of John involving food and drink, from Jesus transforming water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2), to Him feeding the 5000 through 5 loaves and 2 fish (John 6), demonstrate how God was preparing the way of enriching, transforming and multiplying the main properties of food and drink we use to survive, to ultimately share His eternal miracle with us; where He gives us Himself. This connection of food with eternity has been demonstrated even from the start of creation; whilst our death and disconnection with God was brought through eating from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden; Jesus’ giving His body to us through the Eucharist as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins brings us new and eternal life, that rejoins us with Him both physically and spiritually. As described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1329, 1331), through Jesus’ breaking of bread at the Last Supper, doing so signified that “all who eat the one broken bread, Christ, enter into communion with him”, and through this Most Blessed sacrament “makes us sharers in his Body and Blood to form a single body”.

“In the Eucharist a communion takes place that corresponds to the union of man and woman in marriage. Just as they become "one flesh", so in Communion we all become "one spirit", one person, with Christ.” ― Pope Benedict XVI

The Eucharist is a beautiful mystery to me, and there are many steps I’m still taking on my journey with it. Jesus’ final question to his disciples Do you want to leave?”, as he saw his disciples walking away, is the same question He still asks you and I today when we are faced with an aspect of faith that we do not understand. Jesus understands our struggles and our doubts; for his own disciples were full of questions. Yet no matter what stage of questioning or faith we may be at; we are reminded of St Peter’s defence and proclamation of faith in the midst of his own confusion and doubt; “Lord – to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”.  

Moments in Adoration – Nisha Thanikachalam

I always found the Eucharist a hard concept to understand. As a teen, it was often a creeping doubt: "What if Catholics are completely wrong about this? What if we've majorly misinterpreted what Jesus said about being the bread of life and this is my body etc? What if we're actually just eating bread every Sunday?" But I never stopped going to Mass. Every week, something drew me to church. I felt like I NEEDED to receive the Eucharist. And as I've grown and matured in my faith, I've come to realise how blessed I am that Jesus has given me this divine knowledge, that He Himself is present in the Eucharist. 

Adoration has been a key part of letting me fall in love with the Eucharist. Each time I go, I have deadlines looming, worries about finances, things I need to finish by the end of the week; my head will be full of mental post-it notes. In a silent church, my mind will start blurting out all of my problems; 'Jesus please do this and please do that'. But slowly, I forget the things I wanted to pray about and just stare at the Blessed Sacrament. And then reality strikes. Jesus Himself is in front of me. And suddenly, He puts my whole life into perspective: "Nisha, why are you wasting your life on worrying and chasing the things of this world. Chase me instead." And only then, I feel peace. My heart rests; I exhale and I smile. This is a typical Adoration for me; and each time despite my worries, I step out of church feeling refreshed, renewed and ready to start again. 

"In a world where there is so much noise, so much bewilderment, there is a need for silent adoration of Jesus concealed in the Host. Be assiduous in the prayer of adoration and teach it to the faithful. It is a source of comfort and light, particularly to those who are suffering" - Pope Benedict XVI

Jesus in the Eucharist is now a central part of my life because I know it is a moment when Heaven touches Earth. Jesus has spoken to me, healed me, consoled me, celebrated with me and loved me through His gift of the Eucharist - and I cannot imagine life without it anymore.

Thoughts on Intimacy and Sacrifice – Isaac Withers

My journey with the Eucharist has been one of intimacy - that’s the main thought I think I have always had with the idea of Jesus as bread for us - ‘He wants to be that close?’ I first grasped the idea when I was sixteen. A member of the Youth 2000 team called Kieran Driver gave a talk in which he said that we become tabernacles when we receive Jesus in the Mass, we become his dwelling place, in a physical way he becomes incorporated into our body. It's a huge thought.

The second part of that thought is then ‘why would He want to be that intimate?’ To which the answer has to be ‘because He loves us’, no other answer really suffices. Those two things clicked for me in my teenage years and that is what made me want to go to Mass. 

I heard something astounding from a Bishop Robert Barron talk this year on who the Mass is for. I’m paraphrasing, but he said that in pagan rituals, their gods would devour their sacrifices; but as the Christian God did not need of anything, in our sacrifice of offering at the Mass, what we offer returns to us from God. So, when we offer up the bread and wine, rather than taking it, God transforms it and sends it back to feed ourselves for our own spiritual journey with Him.

“The Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us” -  Catechism of the Catholic Church #1382

This year I’ve been blessed to have a chapel with daily Mass two doors down from my office and so for the first time really, I went to daily Mass most of the year. It was often in the moments of intimacy, just having received Jesus in communion, that I would have breakthroughs - I would realise things that I couldn’t on my own, mostly to do with discernment stuff, and it was all in that time of dwelling with Him. I made huge progress by just sitting in those moments with the self-sufficient God who wants to be intimate with me. That in the mere six years of my journeying with this, is what the Eucharist is about to me.

Wonder of Adoration and Miracles – Gerard Coyle

 “If Angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion." - Saint Maximillian Kolbe

I had attended Eucharistic Adoration occasionally before attending Youth 2000 (I was fortunate to have a Cathedral next to my University campus), which were productive experiences, but usually limited by time. However, Youth 2000 provided 24 hour Adoration, which was something else entirely. Since then, Adoration has become a far more intense, immersive and healing experience. It takes time to open up one’s vulnerabilities, to allow God in and be guided through your own heart. In that tent, in front of and through Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, my emotional and spiritual wounds were laid bare and mercifully healed, my Blessings counted, my faith made cast iron, my desire to live a Saintly life intensified, and a fervour to receive Holy Communion as often as possible. This was exactly what I needed, and also what the whole world needs; time spent in adoration in front of the God who loves us so passionately that he gave us the unrivalled gift of Himself in the transubstantiated bread and wine.

This incredible gift has become even more wondrous to me through scientific evidence of Eucharistic miracles, in which the Eucharist has physically become human flesh and blood. As a Veterinary Surgeon with a love for scientific investigations, I am fascinated by such evidence, especially as recent developments in modern science have allowed more facts to be revealed. Take for example the shared blood type across all such miracles (AB blood type – universal blood donor) and active leukocyte profiles (white blood cells – they shouldn’t be alive after 15 minutes outside of the body, let alone present and active after many years) [1,2]. DNA has been identified, yet, both utterly beautiful and impossible, despite being present entirely it cannot be sequenced – for Jesus had no biological father! [2] Left ventricular myocardiocytes have also been identified from histopathological analysis; not only that, but they have undergone agonal change (i.e. irreversible chemical and physical cellular change that is unique only to the process of dying or at the moment of death) [1,2]

So what we are consistently seeing in samples from Eucharistic miracles across the centuries is livingresponsive heart tissue, which bleeds for us and is currently dying. This is Christ crucified, His heart upon that Cross, in His final earthly moments before His glorious triumph over death, for love of us. He is the one who we rightly adore.

There are so many more approved Eucharistic miracles detailed, with evidence provided. If you are interested, I’d thoroughly recommend visiting this summary website [3]. For my atheist and agnostic friends, especially those in the more scientific fields, this becomes a very large, very immobile and very curious stumbling block. However, science and religion go hand in hand. Despite the many mysteries and questions, even being exposed to these amazing facts could be a sufficient starting point on a road to conversion. Curiosity naturally would follow, and the Holy Spirit can swoop in to the smallest opening to God! 

Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you” - Saint Augustine 

So to summarise what Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament could mean for you and me? One man seems to have hit that nail on the head for everyone already - J.R.R. Tolkien, who once wrote: “I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament … There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth … which every man’s heart desires.” Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament becomes as natural as looking into the eyes of a lover – for that is exactly what it is. Be vulnerable, and let the two of you adore each other.

[1] http://www.miracolieucaristici.org/en/Liste/scheda_c.html?nat=argentina&wh=buenosaires&ct=Buenos%20Aires,%201992-1994-1996
[2] http://www.miracolieucaristici.org/en/Liste/scheda_b.html?nat=messico&wh=tixtla&ct=Tixtla,%202006
[3] http://www.miracolieucaristici.org/en/Liste/list.html

Thank you for reading this blog post and we hope it inspires or encourages your own journey with the Eucharist! At all points of faith, remember that you are never too far to be open to God's grace of understanding or believing in the truth given by Jesus Christ - He will meet you at whatever part of the journey you are at. As sons and daughters of God, it is our duty grow and strengthen one another in our relationship with Jesus; so take courage in this unity, persevere in faith, trust in God through all times, and SHARE IN THE JOY! 

"Lord – to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”.  

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