The United States Conference of Catholics Bishops (USCCB) is calling for a Eucharistic Revival. Motivated partly by a shock poll — a 2018 PEW Research Study reveals that less than one third of self-identified Catholics expressed a belief in the Real Presence — there is also concern that, following pandemic-driven suspensions of public celebrations, some may lose the sense of the need for the Eucharist and not come back to regular Mass attendance altogether. The goal is to revive what is a perceived loss of Eucharistic vitality, so central to Catholic identity.

Catholics are not the only Christians holding the Eucharist sacred, sanctifying and a celebration of Christ’s Real Presence, though the way to express this varies. The mystery of the all-high God, Creator of the universe being present among creatures, in the elements of bread and wine no less, is clearly a matter of supernatural faith, not explained by natural means. Believer or non-believer, no one denies this. Also agreed upon by most Christians is that Eucharistic presence, however understood or characterized, is sacramental, that is to say, not physical. Jesus does not become bread and wine, literally, so that chewing the host would extract blood from it. We would say, rather, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. We also say — we proclaim — that “when we eat this bread and drink this cup” WE become the Body and Blood of Christ, which the Church truly is. By consuming Christ in the Eucharist, we celebrate what we are, and we become more fully who we are. 

This is a very provocative assertion, for it implies a holiness in the Church which is by no means self-evident these days — perhaps at any time — at least not in all of its members. This is something of a scandal, a Church which claims to be nourished and imbued by the very substance of Christ’s presence so full of sinners, invoking charges of hypocrisy. For our belief in the Real Presence of Christ at Mass to make sense, that presence must be found somehow in the holiness of the persons and the community that celebrate it. Yet how do we become holy without this godly presence, without the action of a God in our lives to save us from our sins?

No one will likely dispute that, if there is a heaven, this is not it. On earth, there is so much suffering, loneliness and abuse, that it is not like a place God would dwell in, as children might think of God living in a house, with a lawn bedecked with trees and flowers. Ask a child to draw a picture.
Our faith begs to differ. Throughout salvation history, God comes to where humanity lives, sins and all, and to knock at the doors of our hearts and homes, to be with us. This is the ultimate message of the Incarnation and the experience of the two sojourners on the road to Emmaus: God keeps showing up. I suppose this is a good enough place to start: if we are serious about Eucharistic revival, we begin with the humble awareness that it is not, first and foremost, about corralling the masses into the churches, but about bringing the Mass — the presence of Christ — to the masses!

It should be obvious at the outset that this cannot just be done online. A more personal presence is essential. What I am asking is this: how can we expect anyone to make the leap of faith, to believe that the real Jesus — body, blood, soul and divinity — is sacramentally present in the elements of bread and wine, if there is no sign that Jesus is present, alive and active in our lives every day, wherever we are, so others can witness it?

In no way does this diminish, let alone deny, the saving centrality of the Bread of Life, Jesus himself, in our Eucharistic communion. But this is more than a party we throw in honor of Jesus. It is a participation in his life, death and resurrection, that transforms us into becoming who he really is NOW, in our lives, in the present. To receive Jesus in faith is to be changed by him. We become whom we consume, transformed into who he really is.

No, we are not perfect, we are sinners. But we are also called to be holy, to live on earth as if we were already in heaven. Impossible to do just by wishing it without a will to be changed, to let Jesus into our lives, our minds, our hearts, our whole being, and to change us into his image and likeness — to be Christ-ified! Love for love. That is where revival begins.

Is not heaven to live in peace and harmony with others who do not sin, where all is forgiven and everyone is treasured, respected, treated with love and dignity? Is this not how we view a happy family table? Heaven, after all, is often described as a banquet. One way to practice heaven is to begin to make amends with anyone against whom we hold a grudge or to whom we owe some debt (cf. Mt. 5:24). Another way is to imagine the generosity of God’s mercy — and that of others who have forgiven us and put up with our shortcomings — asking for a heart renewed after our prodigal God, who seeks out the lost sheep.

A community full of those who pray, listen and forgive is likely to attract anyone looking for a spiritual home. While it may not yet be heaven, it is singing the same tunes. It might look a lot more like a place where God can be at home, where belief in the presence of Christ cannot be denied because it is real and where Mass is not just an empty ritual but a place where the truth, beauty and goodness of God dwells. Maybe even a little heaven on earth.

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