St. John Pail II: The Eucharist is a mystery of presence, the perfect fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to remain with us until the end of the world
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
“No longer do I call you servants…I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” –John 15:15
Loneliness is a terrible thing. Reinforcing what is increasingly obvious in our society, studies reveal that more people than ever claim to have no one whom they consider a close friend, no one in their life whom they feel really “knows them” as a person.
Friendship is so important that the saints remind us it is one of the very reasons why Jesus remains with us in the Eucharist. His Real Presence should be for us the experience of real friendship.
Through disobedience and sin, we lost friendship with God. To restore it, God sent His Son to assume our human nature and to accomplish what we could not do by ourselves: the work of our salvation. So if Jesus calls us “friends,” then the words of the Old Testament sage are most especially true of Him:
“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds; for he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself” (Sirach 6:14-17).
We can learn a lot about why Jesus gives Himself to us in the Eucharist by reflecting upon some of the characteristics of friendship.
Friends want to be with each other
If God has said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18), it is no less true of Jesus, who is not only true God but also true Man. For He is fully human in every respect except sin, and as such He desires and longs for our friendship. No one ever wants a long-distance friendship.
Unlike our mortal lives, time and geography do not limit Christ’s presence in His risen and glorified humanity. As if to emphasize this, St. Matthew begins his narrative of the birth of Christ with the prophetic name of “Emmanuel,” meaning “God is with us” (1:23), and concludes his Gospel with the promise of the risen Lord: “And behold I am with you always, until the end of the age” (28:20). Jesus promised to leave His Church and all of us with nothing less than His very self!
It has been the unwavering, unchanging teaching of the Church from its very beginning that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist — body and blood, soul and divinity. Though His physical being is veiled to our eyes but not to our heart that sees with the eyes of faith, He is no less present to us in the Eucharist than He was to His disciples. Did not Jesus say to St. Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed?” (John 20:29).
The Church calls this presence “real,” for that is what it is — Christ is truly present in His flesh as true Man and in His divinity as true God. It is true that Christ can be present to us in other ways, but in the Eucharist Jesus is present in a way that surpasses all other ways, a presence “par excellence” in the reality of His body and blood. This means that in the Eucharist the living God dwells at the heart of our parishes and our communities. He is there, waiting for us to speak to Him, waiting for us to sit with Him. He desires for you to spend time with Him in silent prayer. In doing so, your friendship with Him will deepen.
Friendship is nourishing
In loneliness, we feel it most — a thirst and aching hunger in our heart that we cannot satisfy by ourselves. There is something about friendship that is nourishing, that helps us to become more than we can be by ourselves, that makes us better and gives us strength to weather more than we can handle alone. A real friendship actually is spiritually nourishing. But even good friends are limited in their fallen nature in what they can share and do for us. For the hunger we have, to know and be known, to love and be loved, is an “unearthly hunger,” and there is nothing that can completely satisfy this hunger except Christ.
Jesus tells us as much in saying that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53). This means that we can grow in friendship with Jesus and live His life within us not only by spending time with Him in prayer, but also by receiving Him in the Eucharist as our food. Remember: in holy Communion we do not receive a symbol or something, but someone, a person: Christ Jesus.
“Does this shock you?” This is the question Jesus asked of those who heard Him speak about His body and blood as “true food” and “true drink,” who heard Him say, “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:61, 35). If it does shock you, then tell Him so. He can help us understand the gift of the Eucharist better than anyone else.
Another aspect of receiving Jesus in the Eucharist is that in doing so we actually satisfy Jesus’ thirst for us. Unlike the regular food we ingest that is transformed into us, when we receive Jesus with the right disposition and longing of heart, He assimilates us into Him. He gave himself in order to be united to us, to stay with us until the end of time. Ponder that truth!
Friends unite around a common goal or project
In saying, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” God adds, “I will make a helper suited to him” (Genesis 2:18). Friends help each other, and when it is a project that both share great interest in, the friendship grows even stronger. And what is it that Jesus is most passionate about? The work of our redemption!
The word “liturgy” literally means “work.” Every Mass is the sacred action and work of Christ — the whole Christ — head and body. It is true that Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). But it is also true that He does not wish to accomplish our salvation without our help and the “yes” of our free will. If it were otherwise, we would not be His friends, but slaves.
The Mass is not meant to make Christ offer Himself anew for us, for He did so “once for all” (Hebrews 7:27); nor is it so that we might offer Christ instead of ourselves. The true purpose of the Mass is to offer ourselves “through Him, with Him, and in Him” not only during Mass but in everything that we think, say, and do.
Listen carefully to the Preface and Eucharistic Prayers of the Mass to better understand the great dignity of our share in the work of God for the sake of divine friendship.
Christ’s real presence calls for our presence — it is what friendship thrives on and makes it grow. Make a habit of spending time, as often as possible, in prayer and adoration before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Confide in Him as friends do; open your heart up to Jesus. Remember that friends make each other better because they want the greatest good for one another (which is God Himself) and they do things to bring that about. That is precisely what Christ wants to do for you. Are you willing to trust Him and step out in friendship with Him?