Because His Real Presence Cannot Be Destroyed

During a recent family tour of colleges in the Carolinas, it became clear that Duke University isn’t exactly a center of Catholic culture. The interdenominational chapel at this university founded by Methodists features statues (I found that deliciously ironic), including one of John Wyclif, who, in 1380 attacked the Eucharist by calling it merely “an effectual sign.”  The chapel crypt is where they bury dead university presidents and their wives. The God worshiped here feels distinctly different to me.

During the same visit of Duke, we stumbled on a lovely trove of medieval art at the Nasher Art Museum. The Duke University Art Museum began in 1969 when members of the Brummer family donated their extensive collection of medieval art to the university. The Nasher Art Museum, an architectural showpiece which opened in 2005, is a great place to explore. I was particularly provoked by the beauty of the medieval art in the collection. (Such as the statue of martyr Saint Sebastian, pictured here.)

Among the collection’s treasures are portions of the abbey of Saint Martin, Savigny. The Huguenots sacked this abbey in 1562, destroying or removing many valuable manuscripts. The abbey once was the largest church in the world and was destroyed in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Statues were scattered or mutilated.  

More grievous than the destruction of Christian art, it is almost overwhelming for me to reflect on the millions of Christians throughout history who have willingly separated themselves from the Real Presence of Our Lord. 

As I strolled through the Nasher Art Museum, I was at once saddened and reassured to see pieces of the abbey and other medieval Catholic churches displayed on the wall  in fragments – part of a statue here, an altar piece there.  How distressing to reflect on how the Church has been  broken – both spiritually and physically – by so-called reformers and by the relentless secularization of Western culture. Taking another view, however, I meditated that people had seen it important to preserve these fragments. This made me consider that Christ’s body is everywhere. No matter what physically happens or happened to our churches, the Body of Christ and His Real Presence cannot be destroyed.

Father John A. Hardon, S.J. says it better than I can. “We are to believe that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ – simply, without qualification. It is God become man in the fullness of His divine nature, in the fullness of His human nature, in the fullness of His body and soul, in the fullness of everything that makes Jesus Jesus. He is in the Eucharist with His human mind and will united with the Divinity, with His hands and feet, His face and features, with His eyes and lips and ears and nostrils, with His affections and emotions and, with emphasis, with His living, pulsating, physical Sacred Heart. That is what our Catholic Faith demands of us that we believe. If we believe this, we are Catholic. If we do not, we are not, no matter what people may think we are.”

And then, after our visit to Durham, I was profoundly moved to learn the Duke Catholic Center is located in the basement of this very same chapel and that priests and students celebrate Mass upstairs every Sunday night.

  • Teresa

    Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH, Christendom in VA are really good Catholic colleges. Plus, I have heard really good things about St. Thomas More College in New Hampshire. Good luck in your college search. God Bless and Happy New Year.

  • Allison had a lively discussion last April on this blog when Webster's daughter converted to Catholicism thanks in part to a vital Newman Center at UNC-Chapel Hill. At the time, one poster noted how seminal Duke's Catholic Center was to her faith journey. A college need not be Catholic to provide food for the journey. In fact, one might argue some Catholic colleges (I am not talking about Franciscan U. or the others Teresa just mentioned) can hamper the journey, yes?

  • Caspar Ignatius

    It's a hugely messy and controverted discussion. Of course, a lot depends on the student who's looking around. For new converts, havens such as Franciscan or Christendom are ideal choices. For kids who are already solid in their faith or who could use a good trial by fire, pick any number of the schools "in the Catholic tradition." It would be good for them to have their faith case-hardened and for the school to have witnesses. If the kid is solid in the faith and wants to go to a state school, fine as well, but if you want access to the sacraments and a good Catholic home, either a good parish or a good Newman center in the vicinity are vital. You lose seriously by not having access to good confessors. Do keep in mind, of course, that the Church calls on the faithful to send their kids through Catholic education whenever feasible, since formation in the faith is just as important as good career preparation.

  • Anonymous

    I never heard we had to send our kids to Catholic schools. Some of them are not all that good academically and the faith teaching isn't wonderful always either.