17 May 2015 + Ascension Sunday + First Holy Communion
A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a very devout Catholic couple who were not raised Catholic but both entered into full communion with the Catholic Church at a later age. They were discussing with me their frustrations about the weak commitment of Christians to their faith these days. They work in their own local parish and are committed to reaching out to inactive members of their parish. They asked me the billion-dollar question: "Father, what do you think is the central reason people no longer practice their faith?" I told them what I used to think - that people are too busy, that they don't know their faith, that the parish isn't hospitable enough, that they have become caught up in the world, and on and on. I have now come to believe that the answer is far simpler. I truly believe that when a person refuses to believe or no longer believes that Jesus is truly and really present in the Holy Eucharist given to us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, they eventually fall away.
I told them that a Christian faith, even centered on the Holy Bible, remains a religion of the past; but to believe that Jesus is truly present and in our midst is a Christian faith that is ever new. You see, if you really believe in the Holy Bible as the Word of God, you will also believe what it tells you. The words of the Mass are Jesus' words: "This is my body, this is my blood." I told them that one of the most important passages of the Holy Bible is the sixth chapter of John's gospel. It is the discourse on Christian faith. After Jesus feeds the five thousand and comes to the apostles in the boat walking on water, there is this long discourse about Jesus himself being the "Bread of Life." Many of the Jews who heard him were disgusted by his reference to his flesh being real food and his blood being real drink. They all left him. Then he turns to his own disciples and asked them, "Will you go away too?" It is St. Peter who responds, "Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of everlasting life."
Christians are supposed to be the ones who believe in the Resurrection. The Lord is not dead! He is alive and we have seen him! All these weeks we have been recalling Jesus appearances to his followers. They touch him, they eat with him. Even in the story of the apostles on the road to Emmaus, after they have discussed the Scriptures they still don't recognize him, but only in the "breaking of the bread." This Sunday we remember his ascension into heaven witnessed by his apostles. But he said, "I will be with you always until the end of time." If he left them, how can he still be with us? You see, every time we walk up to Holy Communion we are asked to make a profession of faith. We are asked a question - "The Body and Blood of Christ?" Our answer is "Amen." The word "Amen" literally means "I believe." Do you? If we don't, we have no business receiving him.
I am simply convinced that a Christian faith that no longer believes in the true and real presence in the Holy Eucharist will eventually fall away, or at best go through the motions. Read the sixth chapter of John; you can't miss it. This is why it makes no sense for parents to bring their children to religious education, or Catholic schools for that matter, and then not come to Mass and foster a Eucharistic faith in their children. What they learn will fade from memory, but if they no longer hunger to be with the Lord in the Holy Eucharist their faith will surely die.
Blessing and best wishes,