Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over—twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children. (Matthew 14:19-21)
Anyone ever heard of St. Ignatius Loyola? As a young man, he dreamed of a life of knighthood and soldiering. But he fell, gravely wounded, in his first battle.
During his long recovery, Ignatius began to read passages from the gospel and imagine himself as a minor character in them. Over time, Ignatius became intimately familiar with every detail of the life of Christ. He gave up the idea of being a soldier and longed to serve Christ as His dutiful knight.
Ignatius studied and became a priest. He founded the Jesuit order. He became famous for his unswerving adherence to Church teaching. ‘Something might look white to me, but if the Church teaches that it is black, then I conclude that it is black.’ Ignatius died 455 years ago today.
St. Ignatius encouraged frequent Holy Communion. He wrote:
One of the most admirable effects of Holy Communion is to preserve the soul from sin, and to help those who fall through weakness to rise again. It is much more profitable, then, to approach this divine sacrament with love, respect, and confidence, than to remain away.
We read in the gospel that the Lord Jesus felt pity for us in our hunger. He knows that we human beings have appetites that don’t quit. He formed us from dust, and we tend toward dust. For all the magnificent intricacy of our bodies, they nonetheless starve to death without regular feeding.
So the Lord gives us food. If someone starves in this fertile world, it is not because the Lord has failed to provide. Rather, the malice, selfishness, or stupidity of man is to blame.
We thank God for feeding us. At the same time, we listen to His solemn warnings about lowering our horizons to belly level. As a sequel to His feeding of the 5,000, the Lord gave a strict speech about our having no life in us if we do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood.
In other words, the good Lord knows we need food. But we need faith even more.
A lot of people think Catholics are weird, if not crazy, for believing in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. It is a long-standing anti-Catholic American prejudice: Those Irish, or those Italians, or those Slovenians or Poles or French-Canadians, or Mexicans or Nigerians—those Catholic people are perfectly nice and good, hard-working, pretty normal. But the business about the flesh and blood of Christ! It’s crazier than Mormonism!
Let’s call this prejudice’s bluff. We grant this: Our worship of the Blessed Sacrament constitutes an act of pure faith. We do not claim that our senses can perceive the Real Presence.
That said, we counter with this: There is only one thing crazier than believing in the Body and Blood of Christ. Not believing in it.
How did it all begin? Who instituted the Holy Eucharist? Some calm, rational person—some great philosopher, or man of science, or soft-spoken sage—some paragon of respectability? The whole business—getting together on Sunday morning, reading the gospel, praying together to the Father—did a committee of sober, civic-minded officials come up with this routine?
No. The fact of the matter is that the Holy Mass was invented by Jesus Christ. A lot of people thought that He was insane.
It would be credulous and simple-minded to believe that any old Nazarene carpenter could work miracles in the hills around the Sea of Galilee. But it would be obtuse not to understand that God, when He became man, would show forth His divine power by working miracles, like feeding 5,000 hungry people with five loaves and two fish.
It would be irrational to think that anyone other than Jesus Christ could feed us with His own Body and Blood for two thousand years and counting. But it makes no sense to disbelieve that the Son of God can and will do what He says He intends to do.
We feed on Christ by believing in Him. Maybe it is crazy to believe that Christ is God. But it is much crazier not to believe that He is.
And considering that the man Who said, “This is my Body,” and “This is my Blood,” is God—why would we doubt what He says?
We don’t claim to understand the Real Presence. We don’t claim to control it. We don’t claim to have produced it. We are every bit as mystified by this whole thing as anyone else.
It is just that we are hungry. We need food for body and for soul. And we believe in the words of Christ.