In his discourse on the judgment of the nations in Matthew 25, Jesus says, famously: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (v. 40).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church [no. 1397] reminds us that the “Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren.”
The Eucharistic Revival began in part in response to a 2019 poll which showed that only a third of Catholics surveyed believed that during Mass the bread and wine become “truly, really and substantially the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ.” Well, that particular phrasing is from the Council of Trent, not the Pew poll – perhaps they should have asked it differently!
As someone received into the Roman Catholic Church later in life, the poll response was surprising at first glance. After all, recognizing the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was one of the central factors that led me eventually to become a Catholic. Another was Catholic social teaching.
That may seem like a leap from one area to another. However, I’d like to suggest they are intimately related, and that connection might help us to understand both why there is a crisis of belief in the Eucharist and a way forward to recover our sacramental worldview.
In his encyclical on care for our common home, “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis writes: “Encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature….God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures….He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours.”
During these years of Eucharistic Revival, Pope Francis (citing Benedict XVI) reminds us that “in the bread of the Eucharist, ‘creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself.’”
Elsewhere Benedict XVI, in his encyclical “Deus caritas est” wrote: “A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented. . . . love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to [the Church] as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word.”
Servant of God Dorothy Day said: “The mystery of the poor is this: That they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for Him. It is the only way we have of knowing and believing in our love. The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love.”
Finally, St. Teresa of Calcutta, said: “In each of our lives Jesus comes as the Bread of Life – to be eaten, to be consumed by us. This is how He loves us. Then Jesus comes in our human life as the hungry one, the other, hoping to be fed with the Bread of our life, our hearts by loving, and our hands by serving. In loving and serving, we prove that we have been created in the likeness of God, for God is Love and when we love we are like God. This is what Jesus meant when He said, ‘Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.’”
All of this speaks to us, as Catholic Christians with our sacramental worldview, of the inseparability of the love of God and love of neighbor. The real presence of the whole Christ.
For as St. Augustine boldly reminds us: “If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s Table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying ‘Amen’ to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear ‘The body of Christ’, you reply ‘Amen.’ Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true!”
“For those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20).
Commenting on 1 John, St. Augustine says: “He came to gather in one, you come to unmake. You would pull Christ’s members asunder. How can it be said that you deny not that Christ has come in the flesh, [you] who [tear] asunder the Church of God which He has gathered together?”
We do well to reflect on how the manner in which we treat the most vulnerable in our midst or those with whom we hold vigorous disagreements or those we view as our enemies affects our capacity to recognize the Real Presence.
How will we honor each other’s dignity and listen to and walk with one another such that we can proclaim more faithfully the Gospel entrusted to us?
As our bishops call us all to Eucharistic Revival, let us strive to recognize and grow in love and worship of the Body and Blood of Christ on the altar and to recognize and grow in love for Christ crucified in the bodies of those vulnerable and oppressed at the margins of society, sisters and brothers, all.
Let us walk together in Eucharistic solidarity. Lift up your hearts. The whole Christ awaits.