By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published June 11, 2020
Pelicans often come to mind when we envision seaside scenes. There’s something wondrous about watching a pelican dive into the ocean to catch its supper.
Still, it can be startling to see carvings and paintings of pelicans in churches, until we realize this bird represents the Eucharist.
You see, in medieval times people thought that when food was scarce, pelicans pierced their own breasts, so their blood would keep the chicks alive.
The Catholic belief is that Christ gives us his flesh and blood in the Eucharist for our eternal life. A Protestant asked a religious sister why she believed such a thing, and she replied with four words, “Because Jesus said so.”
Her response started the man on a journey that led to his conversion to Catholicism.
Some of Jesus’ followers were appalled when he said, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will have no life in you.” They couldn’t wrap their heads around what he was saying, so they walked away from him.
Jesus could have brought them back by saying, “Wait, I’m just talking symbolically,” but he didn’t, because he meant exactly what he’d said.
Christ’s real presence in the bread and wine is a mystery of our faith, which cannot be grasped through the senses. As a miracle, it can be difficult to embrace since we are attuned to expecting science to explain the world.
For me, it is a great comfort to reflect on the words of a man in the Gospels, who admits to Christ, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief.”
When God sent manna to the Jewish people in the desert, there was no scientific explanation for its falling from heaven. This was a miracle.
Jesus refers to manna, when he says in John’s gospel, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is flesh for the life of the world.”
Father Richard Veras writes, “Belief in the Eucharist is a gift. It is the fruit of a relationship of faith and trust in Jesus.”
St. John tells us at the beginning of his gospel, “The Word was made flesh and dwelled among us.” He is of course referring to Jesus, who assumed human form and lived among human beings.
How did God take on human flesh? This is hard to wrap our heads around. “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”
How did Jesus rise from the dead? Science calls this impossible, but countless martyrs have suffered horrendous deaths, rather than abandon belief in the resurrection.
According to science, Jesus could not have changed water into wine at the wedding feast. According to science, he couldn’t have fed a crowd with a few loaves and fishes.
Before Mass, the bread and wine look and taste like ordinary bread and everyday wine. When we receive Communion, they still taste and look the same.
But during Mass their underlying substance is changed into Christ’s body and blood. This is a miracle, not a scientific claim.
Protestants also partake of the Lord’s Supper at their services, but they consider the bread and wine to be symbols.
Flannery O’Connor was at a dinner party, where the hostess, a former Catholic, called Communion a “pretty good symbol.” O’Connor’s reply remains one of her most memorable quotes. “If it’s a symbol, to hell with it.”
She wrote to a friend about the Eucharist: “It is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”
It wasn’t a symbol that was born of Mary in the stable. It wasn’t a symbol that died on the cross out of love for us.
On June 14, as we celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, let’s be grateful Jesus didn’t leave us a mere symbol of his love, but a true miracle.
In an old prayer book, I found these words: “Jesus, I believe that I have received Thee, because Thou has insured it, and Thy word is true.”
So, the key to believing doesn’t lie in trying to wrap our heads around something—but rather our hearts.
Artwork is by Lorraine’s late husband, Jef. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.