By Fr. Tim McFarland, C.PP.S.
Many of our “mature” readers may recall carrying photos of loved ones in our wallets or purses. These have become obsolete. Now we carry lots of photos on our phones. These photos remind us of cherished memories, of loved ones and especially perhaps of loved ones who have passed from our lives. These help us to remember. However, we all know that these memories are not as good as the personal presence of our loved ones. It is always better to be able to look, listen, touch and hold that loved one.
Today’s feast is about the personal presence of Christ with us each time we celebrate Eucharist. Christ is really present in the elements of bread and wine. However, some surveys report that perhaps 40 percent of Catholics believe that Christ is only symbolically present in Eucharist, somewhat like a photo we carry. Might this help us to understand why there are fewer Catholics participating in Eucharist? I am not so naive to think this is the only reason, but think about the analogy of the photo, a symbol of the person and the real presence of the person. It does make a difference.
This re-membering of Christ has been the core of Christianity since its inception. Each time Christians celebrate the Eucharist, Jesus is once again a member of our community. Jesus took two staples of household food, bread and wine, and promised his friends that whenever they gathered for this meal with prayer, he would be with them. Jesus did not want his spirit of mercy to be forgotten. He did not want his love to be forgotten. He did not want his life and his sacrifice to be forgotten. And in the Eucharist, he is forever remembered, in a way that gives us life. These elements of bread and wine become part of our bodies and our faith tells us we become more like Christ as we receive Eucharist.
We remember Jesus, his compassion, his life, his forgiveness, his teachings, his miracles, and his love. He wanted to be remembered like this, and he still is. As Paul wrote, “every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death.” Yes, we remember his passion and death; but we are aware of his living presence among us.
Luke’s Gospel adds a challenge to this as well. In the feeding of the crowds that gathered to listen to him, Jesus doesn’t feed the crowds, he has his disciple distribute the food. Despite the fact that they had meager provisions, Jesus blessed it and there was enough to go around…with lots of leftovers.
As we re-member the personal presence of Jesus, we are challenged now to carry on the mission of Jesus. We need to hear Jesus say: “You have all that is necessary.” If we cling to our limited perception of resources, our five loaves and two fish for the more than five thousand, we are set to lose. On this day let’s call on the Lord to bless our efforts. Even though we may think the needs around us are overwhelming, with the Lord’s blessings, there will be much more than we ever thought possible.
Fr. Tim McFarland, C.PP.S., is currently a chaplain for the Franciscan Hospitals of northwest Indiana. He previously was a professor of religion at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., for over 30 years.