By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published May 5, 2017 | En Español
A week or so ago, I was speaking with a young father whose 7-year-old son is soon to make his first holy Communion. His dad is very much engaged in the youngster’s catechetical preparation for this happy occasion. However, the father has encountered some difficulties about how best to help his child understand the importance and truth of the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The young boy is quite eager for this happy moment, but he seems hesitant to accept all of his father’s explanations of how this wondrous transformation of that simple piece of bread into the very living Body of the Lord occurs and can, in fact, be real. Traditional Catholic examples and terms that describe this miraculous reality seem not to overcome his youthful skepticism.
This youngster, like all of our children, has grown up in an empirically driven and skeptical world that holds most religious terminology to be, at the least, suspicious. And they learn these attitudes rather early in life, as this young dad can now attest.
Our world trains our children to believe only what they can see, observe and comprehend. The gift of the Eucharist falls outside of those categories for all of us—even youngsters who are just learning the language of faith. The great theologians of the Church have grappled with the Eucharistic mystery, and the Church has settled on the language of “transubstantiation” as the most accurate way of describing how this blessed truth occurs.
But perhaps for a youngster—and indeed for all of us—before we dare to engage in explaining how the Eucharist happens, we ought to begin with “the why” of this mystery. The Eucharist comes to us because of love—Christ’s love for us, which is as miraculous as is the transformation of the bread and wine into his Body and Blood.
Youngsters, from their earliest age, attempt to describe what love is in terms of capacity in childlike innocent terms. They draw pictures that try to quantify how much they love their parents. Such images always touch and charm their moms and dads. But even little ones soon grasp that it is impossible to quantify or fully describe love. Love is a Divine Mystery in which we humans can all share and replicate. Love is the only human activity that begins adequately to reflect Divinity’s perfection.
Love can never be fully explained or comprehended because it is of God. Even little ones learn that love transcends all rational categories. Parents love with such intensity that they willingly sacrifice for their children and for one another. Love inspires people to do some things that simply defy rational explanations. Why would Christ choose to love us to the point of being willing to remain with us under the forms of bread and wine? Why would God’s love transcend our sinfulness and draw us into His very life in the Eucharist?
Even with the wisdom of the Church’s rich theological language to describe the miraculous transformation of bread and wine into the Lord’s very self, we all stand stunned by the fact that He does so out of love for us. As this young father helps his son to prepare for his first holy Communion, perhaps he should begin with the humble example of his own love for his son, which cannot be captured in any other fashion than to say that as a dad he gives himself over completely in tenderness to this young man.
Love defies explanation, and yet it is the first reason that we honor Christ’s Eucharistic Presence because His love for us is perfect and is the very first stage in the mystery of the Eucharist.
This youngster may still need time to capture the reality of Christ’s abiding presence in the Blessed Sacrament, but if he accepts the love of his dad, he’s probably well on his way to understanding the Lord’s love for us all, made manifest in that little host that will always resist even empirical proofs.