At the heart of the Catholic Church is the Eucharist. The Eucharist is not a symbol. The Church teaches that the Eucharist is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. I assert this as truth, as the Church’s truth, yet the Eucharist remains an unfathomable mystery to me.
I was reminded of this tonight while reading the latest post by The Anchoress. (In case She has moved on by now, and She moves fast, the post I mean is dated 9/7/09 at 1:01 p.m. The lovely photo of JP II with the monstrance here is from Her previous post about the Eucharist dated 8/20/09 at 1:07 p.m.) The new post is astonishing. Read it. It will force you to contemplate the mystery of the Eucharist.
The Anchoress explains that she is still processing an experience she had on retreat a few weeks back, in which she felt the strength of God’s love for her:
His love is so strong that it breaks through all of our barriers – the physical ones (how many women do you know who have gotten pregnant even while using birth control?) and the spiritual ones, and even the intellectual ones. Those intellectual barriers may well be the most fortified and resolute because they are mortared with pride (which is the Evil’s handiest tool) and then fed on hurt and fear (Evil’s fruitful gardens).
“His love is so strong…” I read it and my eyes grow moist. Yes. I know it. His love radiated down from what my human eyes perceived to be a piece of bread, what my heart and spirit knew to be so much more, and for a brief time it bathed me in the warmest, most caressing Light, and everything became different. Nothing is what it was. In the Light, the shadows and illusions fall away and you stand in the only Reality, the Completeness, the All-in-All. There is nothing else.
Oh, God, what I have seen, and still I am so wretchedly connected to this world, this earth, this thing, this me – still so entwined in my faults which are like clinging vines, ever dragging me down and back to where I would rather not be. I cannot even begin to write it; I haven’t the words, myself, so you will have to help me because I am helpless.
Is the Eucharist just “a piece of bread” or the actual body and blood of Christ? Flannery O’Connor had a direct answer to this question, as she did to many questions, in a letter to a young man trying to sort out his spiritual life. O’Connor wrote:
One of the effects of modern liberal Protestantism has been gradually to turn religion into poetry and therapy, to make truth vaguer and vaguer and more and more relative, to banish intellectual distinctions, to depend on feeling instead of thought, and gradually to come to believe that God has no power, that he cannot communicate with us, cannot reveal himself to us, indeed has not done so, and that religion is our own sweet invention. This seems to be about where you find yourself now.
Of course, I am a Catholic and I believe the opposite of all this. (Don’t you just love that? “Of course, I am a Catholic . . . ” I love that.) I believe what the Church teaches—that God has given us reason to use and that it can lead toward a knowledge of him, through analogy; that he has revealed himself to us in history and continues to do so through the Church, and that he is present (not just symbolically) in the Eucharist on our altars. To believe all this I don’t take any leap into the absurd. I find it reasonable to believe, even though these beliefs are beyond reason. (Quoted in Paul Elie, The Life You Save May Be Your Own)
I spent many young years in Protestant churches and being educated by “enlightened” Protestant dons. Today (or tomorrow and every weekday) at St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Beverly, I have a chance to receive a different quality of education. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed in our Adoration Chapel twelve hours a day, and I have the privilege of being present at least an hour each day. Bolstered, inspired by The Anchoress, and remembering St. Flannery’s beautiful words, I will plunge again tomorrow into the mystery of the Eucharist, praying for the grace truly to understand.