It is a great joy and an unbelievable privilege to have made my Perpetual Vows and been ordained a deacon last weekend. In my prayer and reflections leading up to this moment, I’ve thought a lot about the roles of a Deacon. According to the Catechism, Deacons assist during the “divine mysteries” (Mass), preach the Gospel, and in a special way serve the poor.
I thought about this a lot because a recent PEW survey found that only 25% of Catholics believe the Eucharist to truly be Christ’s Body and Blood. Most see it only as a symbol. Flannery O’Connor, the great American Catholic writer, once wrote in a letter “Well, if the Eucharist is just a symbol, to heck with it.”
Flannery saw a gift far great than a symbol. In the Eucharist, God doesn’t just symbolically give himself to us. He actually does it.
He truly descends and dwells with us. Jesus says, “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55) and “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). He gives his whole self to us as a gift, so that we might in return give ourselves completely back to Him. That exchange is the goal of the Christian life. It is what we hope for and pray we can enjoy eternally as Christ’s Body in heaven.
We don’t need to be angry at our fellow Catholics who see the Eucharist primarily as a symbol. For one, our disappointment won’t change anything. Instead, we can let this survey spur us to talk more openly with friends and coworkers about our love of the Eucharist. We can mention to friends and family how important receiving Jesus in the Eucharist is to us, or how praying before the Blessed Sacrament has changed our lives. I think it is important even to talk with people who already know what the Eucharist is, so that we can all grow in our love for this great gift.
Many friends of mine who were Protestant and became Catholic would tell me what they most looked forward to was receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. The Real Presence isn’t simply a teaching; it is a gift and a relationship which is so beautiful we should love to share it.
Flannery ended her letter by saying “this is all I will ever be able to say about the Eucharist, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”