Monday, June 23, 2014

We are what we eat - a reflection on the Eucharist.

Depending on which country you are living in, you would have either celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi either on Thursday or yesterday.  Once a year, the Church would put the Eucharist literally on grand display in large processions in some countries, demonstrating the faith that we all share as members of the Catholic church our deep (and multivalent) faith that the God we worship comes to us in the form of humble bread (and wine). 

Why do I say multivalent?  Is not our understanding of Eucharist so fundamental that we all agree what the Eucharist is for us?  At its most basic, it should be the ideal reality.  What we Catholics acknowledge and boldly believe is that the consecrated host is the sacred body of Christ, the same Jesus who once lived and walked on the face of this earth as a human being, and who died lovingly for us on the cross of Calvary.  But what this knowledge and belief does for us individually and how each of us responds does vary, strange though it may seem.

This would be the strongest reason why there are so many different ways in which Catholics respond to the Eucharist.  For some, it seems to be sufficient that they partake of the Eucharist occasionally, and for some, it is so essential that it has to be something that is experienced on a daily basis.  That God himself awaits for us each time Mass is celebrated gives some of us real reason to wake up early and be present at daily Eucharist - far more pressing, urgent and compelling than the setting of our alarm clocks to drag our sleepily sorrowful selves up from bed to catch a live World Cup soccer match during the feverish soccer season that seems to rule many of our lives right now.  For some, the entire celebration of the Eucharist seems to be something that seems to be segmented, giving us the perceived excuse to miss certain parts of the celebration and only be present at the more important moments like the consecration of the species of bread and wine that becomes the body and blood of Christ.

If we all have a shared and deep understanding of just how significant the Eucharist is for each one of us, I believe that none of us will be late for Mass, and our lives will be unified in ways that are beyond our ken.  But as in so many things in life, we come to anything deep and significant in small, baby steps, don’t we?  The wonderful truth is that God allows each of us to see him revealing his love for us through the turns and vicissitudes of our journey called life.  My limited experience with brothers and sisters in the faith has revealed that we seem to have peaks and troughs in our shared response to being Church, and at our charitable best, we do not overtly criticize and comment too strongly about how feeble the response of our fellow pilgrims may be towards God’s presence in the Eucharist. 

God took a great risk in wanting to give us himself so clearly by being so fully present to us in the Eucharist.  Sadly, it is open to much abuse and even to a compromised understanding for the faithful, but then, so is love is it not?  Love is always open to being misunderstood, misinterpreted and misused by those upon whom it is lavished on.  Yet, when we do love in the most pure of ways, what matters is that we love, and much less that we are loved back in return.  Sometimes when we do not get a response to our overtures in loving others, we say that we have ‘wasted’ our time and our love.  These statements may reveal one thing - that we had impure motives in our loving in the first place. 

Is there unrequited love in the Holy Eucharist?  I have no doubt that there is.  But the closer that our understanding of the Eucharist is equated with God’s untiring and undying love for us in its purest of forms, the more we will be able to respond in love to the one who is love, and become loving in slow and progressive steps.  It doesn’t happen overnight, and we need to be patient – with God and with our frail and sinful selves.  The phrase ‘real presence’ is often used, sometimes ever so loosely with the term ‘Eucharist’.  While it is true that God is really present to us in the consecrated species, what is sadly lacking is the corollary – that we are sometimes not really present to God’s real presence there before us.  But when real presence meets our real presence, that is when something far more significant than a mere symbiosis occurs.  God becomes unified in us.

How does one begin to get to appreciate the Eucharist at this level?  Though there were the necessary courses of the Eucharist which were part of my seminary formation and education for the priesthood, they did not really impress these aspects of the Eucharist.  Sure, there were some good courses in the Sacraments classes that gave important theological foundations for our understanding of the Eucharist, but I can see the main problem now – no one course can give us an all encompassing appreciation of something that is so deep and yet simple at the same time, so complex and yet so sublime at the same time, or so clear and yet so mystically hidden at the same time.  It is strangely paradoxical and also paradisiacal at the same time. 

All these ways of understanding the Eucharist resulted from my now 13 years of journeying in the priesthood, and my constant reflection on how to make the Eucharist a central part of by very being.  It was a happy combination of an inner desire and the all-important grace of God.  Sure, we can learn cerebrally about the Eucharist, but it also has to be integrated to allow it to become the foundation of our lives, particularly as priests of the Lord.

Because the Eucharist is very fundamentally a meal, perhaps it is useful to always remember that just as what we eat on a physical level results in what we become, so too does our understanding and belief in what the Eucharist does for our very lives.  “You are what you eat” our doctors and dieticians tell us.  The same statement has to be said of our spiritual lives.  The more we broaden and deepen our appreciation of God’s mercy and love as revealed in the amazing miracle of the Eucharist, the greater will our lives change and become more godly, more holy, and with a much more significant display of heartfelt gratitude. 


  1. Hmmm the Eucharist. It took me more than 40 years to truly respect, love, appreciate and treasure the Holy Eucharist. And it can only happen, as you said frLuke, by "a happy combination of an inner desire and the all-important grace of God." And how do i tell myself that it is the 'work' or 'power' of the Eucharist is when i am able to do the impossible (by my own reckoning), with love. The change took place,albeit painstakingly slow, since my resolve to attend daily Mass a couple of years ago. Yes, only grace, and so, ask for that grace.


  2. What a beautiful write out of Eucharist.

  3. It never fails to amaze me, that Jesus continues to humble Himself by offering to us His very self in the Eucharist. Indeed, as unworthy as we (all) are, He invites us to “Take and eat” of his body and blood in the form of a simple wafer. Man, on the other hand, is wont to resort to grand gestures when performing (seeming) acts of love as per the dictates of the ego.

    Your metaphor of ‘unrequited love’ is especially meaningful but then; (paradoxically) to love unconditionally is always going to be a huge risk. But it is a risk that we MUST take, if we are to truly love. Christ, as always, shows us the way.

    God bless you, Fr. Luke.

  4. “................understanding of the Eucharist, but I can see the main problem now – no one course can give us an all encompassing appreciation of something that is so deep and yet simple at the same time, so complex and yet so sublime at the same time, or so clear and yet so mystically hidden at the same time. It is strangely paradoxical and also paradisiacal.............”
    Since reading this post, I have been mulling over the above because notwithstanding the books and courses, I am also left with the feeling that the Eucharist is definitely much more than all that the mind can comprehend. It has to be experienced. In coming to us as nourishment at a meal, ‘real presence’ comes to us in a disarmingly simple and gentle way – dispelling fear at the ‘awesomeness’ of this Divine Presence. For I believe we are most relaxed, at peace and genial at table, sharing a meal with friends. Yet, the rich liturgy and worship that precedes this, marks it out as no ordinary meal.
    Last night, at the celebration of our church Triduum, the celebrant (during his homiliy) told us to look at our hands and he sang softly, “I have no hands, but yours, feet but yours.....”and I gathered that somehow this is also tied to the Eucharist for by receiving and consuming Jesus we open ourselves to change, to be transformed ..........not only to be more receptive of His teaching but to become more like Him in our actions. So in the final exhortation to “go forth.....” we would have to bring him to the ‘market place.’ At the same time, this moment of ‘openess’ to Him, at Communion, also makes one feel very vulnerable . .....perhaps, it is the dawning realization that -each receipient of Holy Communion is now ‘another Christ’ and He walks with us and also in our midst...? LOVE is not so simple after all.............

    God bless you, Fr