Solution to Difficulties with the Real Presence

Ecce Agnus Dei

In Chapter 62 of Book IV of Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas laid out a number of serious difficulties with crediting the Church’s faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Those difficulties include:

How the Body of Christ comes to be on the altar, how His Body can occupy this precise space that was previously occupied by the bread and wine, and how the Body of Christ can have the appearance, taste, and smell of bread, and His Blood the appearance, taste, and smell of wine, not to mention the capacity of bread and wine to nourish and inebriate, or the capacity to spoil or burn.

St. Thomas provides the idea necessary to resolve these difficulties in Chapter 63. The consecration of the Host and Chalice brings about the transformation of the substance of the bread and wine into the substance of the Body of Christ. The consecration does not entail bringing about the presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in their proper dimensions in space.

buy the world a coke

This distinction is indeed subtle, but we can understand it, if we think of a loaf of bread.

Let’s say it’s Pepperidge Farm pumpernickel. A distinct substance.

The entirety of Pepperidge Farm pumpernickel-ness is in every slice of the loaf, and in the loaf as a whole, and in even a small bite of one slice. Pepperidge Farm pumpernickel-ness does not, in and of itself, occupy space. It occupies space through the dimensions of the bread, and Pepperidge Farm pumpernickel-ness and the dimensions of the loaf are not the same thing. After all, there are tens of thousands of loaves of the same kind of bread all over the world right now. You don’t have to know how many, in order to know what Pepperidge Farm pumpernickel-ness is.

So if you hold a slice of the bread in your hand to put some mustard on it, you are actually dealing with two things: the reality of Pepperidge Farm pumpernickel-ness, and the size and shape of the slice.

Or think of Coca-Cola. The entirety of Coca-Cola-ness resides in a 12-ounce can, or a 2-liter bottle, or the tank for a soda fountain that dispenses Coke. If you go to Mickey D’s and fill a cup with Coke, you’re actually dealing with two things: Coca-Cola-ness and the size of the cup.

The consecration at Holy Mass involves the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, a miracle as great as the creation of the universe out of nothingIt is also involves a second miracle of similar grandeur: the entire dimensions in space of the bread and wine remain, with everything attendant upon that: that is, the sensible qualities and capacities.

With this solution, St. Thomas does not intend to make it easy to believe in the consecration; he cannot do that. The Angelic Doctor concedes, in fact: believing in the Real Presence is super-humanly difficult, and it should be. Only the grace of supernatural faith suffices. We believe by virtue of a gift from heaven.

What St. Thomas does show, however, is: what we believe by supernatural faith about the Blessed Sacrament does not contradict reason; it is not impossible; it is not absurd. When we premise that God Himself brings about the miracle, the whole thing does make sense.

Solution to difficulties regarding the place of the Body and Blood of Christ:

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 64

Solution to difficulties regarding the sensible qualities of the consecrated Host and chalice.

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 65

Solution to difficulties regarding the capacity of the consecrated sacrament to nourish you or make you drunk, or to rot or burn.

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 66

Crazy and Crazy, when it Comes to the Blessed Sacrament

Friday, we will travel to Washington to try to talk with the pope’s ambassador in the USA. That same day, we keep the 464th anniversary of the holy death of St. Ignatius Loyola, his feast day. [Spanish]

ignatiuswritingSt. 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 will read in Sunday’s 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. We starve to death without regular feeding.

So the Lord gives us food. If anyone starves in this fertile world, it is not because Almighty God has failed to provide. Rather, the malice, selfishness, or stupidity of man is to blame.

So 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. He spoke about our having no life in us if we do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood.

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.

MonstranceLet’s grant this much: Our worship of the Blessed Sacrament constitutes an act of pure faith. We do not claim that our senses can perceive the Real Presence. We believe Christ abides with us in the Blessed Sacrament.

So our faith in the Real Presence might look crazy to an un-believer. But we also insist: 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 Holy Mass was invented by Jesus Christ. And we well know: a lot of people thought that He was insane.

We don’t believe that just any old Nazarene carpenter worked miracles in the hills around the Sea of Galilee. We believe that God, when He became man, did this. He revealed the truth about Himself 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. And manage to do it, worldwide, for two millennia and counting. But when you consider that He is the Son of God, you recognize: He can and will do everything He said He intended 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 His words?

Lucas Cranach Feeding Five LoavesWe 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.

Since the bishop unjustly suspended my ministry as a priest, I can only say Mass by myself. I miss celebrating regular parish Masses. A lot.

It’s a hard, lonely road, celebrating Holy Mass by yourself, day in and day out, for months. Just like it’s a hard, lonely road for many parishioners, with the virus still threatening our health, keeping people at home on Sundays.

But the same analysis applies, when it comes to what’s crazy. Maybe it seems crazy for me to keep celebrating the ceremony, by myself, all these long, hard weeks. But I would be crazier not to do it.

The Holy Mass is how He feeds us, with Himself. He offered His Body and Blood on the cross for us, and conquered death. At the altar, we have communion in His risen, living flesh, our pledge of eternal life.

Let’s do everything we can to remain crazy enough to live for heaven. Communion with the Blessed Sacrament gives us the way there.

Easter-Vigil Homily

The Body of Christ Dead in the Tomb Hans Holbein

He made the heavens and the earth. He liberated the Israelites from slavery. He sent the prophets to proclaim the Messiah. And then He lay in the tomb, wrapped in a burial cloth.

We read about the cloth yesterday, at the end of St. John’s account of the Passion. And we will read about the cloth again tomorrow morning; St. John mentions how the Lord left the cloth behind, in the tomb, after the resurrection.

In Turin, Italy, they comforted the world today by taking a camera into the vault where they keep the holy shroud. We can all venerate the cloth that wrapped the dead body of Jesus, through the internet.

We do not deal in myths. We have no vague religion. You ask knowledgeable people, when will this virus crisis be over? And the only answer is… some theory. Maybe a solid theory. But a theory. ‘Well, theoretically it could be over by May 31,’ or ‘theoretically it could stretch out,’ etc.

We, however, do not stand on no theory. You’re not reading your phone or computer right now because of a theory. We Christians stand squarely on facts.

He dwells in heaven, the divine and human Christ. Father Kyle spoke Thursday about the Lord’s abiding presence at every Mass, even the private Masses that we priests celebrate these days. And Jesus remains present in the tabernacle of every Catholic church or chapel, 24/7.

The Savior remains with us. We need Him now more than ever, of course.

priest_jesus_mass

Also not a myth. Our faith in the Real Presence. Based on facts, like “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood.” “Do this in memory of Me.” “He who eats my flesh remains in Me and I in him.”

Now, a skeptic could reasonably ask: “Wait. You’re saying that one man, one carpenter, who died a long time ago, keeps you company, all over the world? That an ancient Jewish man lives in every little piece of bread you call a consecrated Host?

“Call the epidemiologists! It’s an outbreak of widespread insanity, called Catholicism!”

Ok, ok. We accept your question, Mr. Skeptic. We are not, in fact, insane, but perfectly calm and mentally healthy. How can one man live, in the flesh, in every Catholic church on earth? How?

Two-part answer.

1. He is no longer dead. This man lives, in the flesh, in heaven. He did die. Then He rose again, and left the burial shroud in the tomb. He possesses life, the likes of which we cannot fully imagine.

We do not say that a mortal man like you and me unites Himself with us in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. We say that a man like you and me, Who died and rose from the dead, unites Himself with us, in this way.

2. He is the true God. God made flesh. The Mass involves no magic trick. It involves God making His risen human body present to us. If God Himself did not have a human body, we could have no Eucharist. But He does have one.

Heaven exists. Jesus’ body dwells there. And God, Who is heaven, can make heaven present wherever He wills to do so. And we know perfectly well where and how He wills to do so. He Himself said it: “Take this. This is My Body.”

Death has a grip on the world right now. None of us will ever forget this terrifying nightmare of COVID-19. But heaven has a stronger grip. Coronavirus packs a heavy punch. But the Body of Christ, risen from the dead, stands like a brick wall of undying life.

Greater Than Solomon and Jonah Here

[written 3/4/20]

tabernacle

There is something greater than Solomon here… Something greater than Jonah here. (Luke 11:31,32)

Lord Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples. He gave us the new and eternal Passover, the holy covenant in His divine Body and Blood. The Mass.

He abides with us, here and now, in every parish church and chapel, never to forsake us. His divine wisdom can be ours, through our sacramental communion with Him. Jesus lived a pilgrim life of perfect harmony with the infallible, inexorable divine will. So we can, too.

His harmony with the Father’s will brought about His exodus, which is our exodus. He submitted to death, conquered it, and restored immortality to human flesh. He immortal flesh abides with us. He gives Himself to us as our food.

We will have troubles in this short life. The situation with the bishop has me so tied-up in knots, I hardly know what to do. If anyone has any advice, I will gladly hear it.* But Jesus Christ, abiding with us, giving Himself to us: that doesn’t change, and it sees us through everything, unto eternal life.

The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church can fall into confusion, even systemic corruption and lawlessness. But the white-hot divine center of it all, the Blessed Sacrament of our altars—that remains perennially immaculate.

From Him, the greatest of all, here with us—from the flesh and blood of Christ—will come our wisdom and our renewal. It will come. He does not fail.

_________

* By the time you read this, dear blog reader, the situation will have moved on. I’ll still be glad for advice, I would imagine. But check the latest posts first.

The Blessed Sacrament: How?

Lucas Cranach Feeding Five Loaves
Feeding of the Five Thousand by Lucas Cranach

How could the Lord Jesus feed 5,000 men and their families? The Apostles wondered. Reminds us of another question, in the synagogue in Capernaum. [Spanish]

Jesus had said, “I am the living bread come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever. The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The inquiring listeners asked: How?  How can this man give us His flesh to eat?

He gave His flesh, when He underwent His bitter Passion and death. Without this gift—Christ offering His Body, for us, on the cross—without it, the world languishes in death. Indeed, taking a sober look around us, we see that death reigns as the inevitable conclusion of all our labors. We stave off death for a while, by eating plenty of salads and sandwiches and bowls of cereal, etc., and keeping ourselves hydrated. But we can keep death at bay for only so long.

The Messiah, the Savior, possesses flesh with a greater, more enduring life. Eternal life. He conquered death in His Body—not for His own sake, but for all mankind. He gives all mankind His life-saving flesh through the Holy Mass.

The Blessed Sacrament of the altar provides eternal, divine “nourishment,” if might dare to put it this way. The Father, from all eternity unto all eternity, “nourishes” His eternal Son with divine life. Just so, the Son gives divine life to those who feed on His living Body.

How can this man give us His flesh to eat? “This man.” Jesus. How can ‘this man’ do it? Well, this man is… God. That’s the decisive fact here

MonstranceGod made the cosmos out of nothing, after all–by an act of creation so powerful that we cannot imagine it. We cannot imagine God making everything out of nothing. We cannot imagine nothing. But that is what He did: make the universe out of nothing.

So, we reasonably figure, He can give us His human flesh and blood as nourishment, too. Not impossible for the Creator to do such a thing. The question simply is: How?

Well, we know the history. The Last Supper, the first Mass. Endowing His Apostles with this mission and this sacred ministry. The handing down of the unique office of the priest through all the generations… All this history is part of the answer to How? Christ gives us His flesh to eat by the ministry of Catholic priests, which began at the Last Supper and has extended in an unbroken succession to here and now.

Not all the priests, bishops, or popes have been saints. But even the bad priests—and the lame, boring priests, like me—every priest, when he has said Mass, has given Christ’s Body and Blood as food and drink. Some priests, certainly, have even wound up in hell, for their own sins. But they still gave the Body and Blood of Christ to their people, when they celebrated Mass.

But there’s more to the question of How? How can the God-man give us His flesh for us to eat? Yes, His flesh is uniquely life-giving; it offers the “nutrition” of God. But we human animals would not seem to be equipped to consume the living flesh of the resurrected Christ. We are used to eating tacos and fried chicken and stuff like that.

So: He works a double miracle. The consecration which Christ instituted at the Last Supper involves the double miracle by which…

1. The bread and wine we present to God on the altar become His flesh and blood, in accord with His own infallible divine words. 2. His flesh and blood retains all the sensible qualities of the simplest food and drink. So that we may receive this transcendent nourishment, using our limited natural capacities to receive food.

christ-weeping

In other words, the Lord gives us sustenance that totally surpasses our capacities in a way that He has suited to our capacities. The life of God Himself, given to us as a little edible morsel of food, a sip from the chalice.

Let’s focus on this second aspect of the miracle—the fact that God Almighty comes to us in such an unassuming, humble manner; that God gives us Himself in such utter silence and powerlessness. Nothing could be quieter, more gentle, more unassuming than a Host. It reflects the way it all began…

He exposed Himself to the violence of the evil men who cruelly scourged and crucified Him. He veiled His glory then, in quiet gentleness. He did not cry out; He did not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. And in His silence then, He showed the greatest eloquence. He silently declared: I willingly die so that men may live. I willingly die for the very sinners who kill me unjustly.

So, likewise, in the Blessed Sacrament: He freely exposes Himself to people thoughtlessly receiving Him. To people receiving Him with un-confessed sins burdening their consciences. He even exposes Himself to people receiving Him without faith.

But He maintains His silence and vulnerability because it reveals the truth.  The God Whom we worship in the Sacred Host wills only to build up, to fortify, to give life.  He does not will to tear down; He does not will to destroy. He wills only gently to feed us. With Himself.

Inner Eyes

fishing1

Not everybody knows this, but we have two kinds of eyes.

We have the eyes we use to catch and throw a ball, to go looking for seashells at the beach, to watch the teacher write things on the board, and to drive a car—once we have a license.

These are our outer eyes. They help us enormously, of course. We tend to take them for granted. Until we come across someone who suffers from blindness. Then we thank God that we have the great gift of sight in our eyes.

But if anyone has ever really gotten to know someone who is blind, whose outer eyes don’t work; if any of us have ever read a book written by a blind person, or listened to a blind person sing, or tell a story—then we realize: these outer eyes are not the only eyes that we human beings have.

We also have inner eyes, spiritual eyes. With our spiritual eyes, we can see things that our outer eyes can’t see. Like memories. Like things we imagine. Some of us just used our inner eyes a moment ago, when I mentioned the beach. We imagined it, and we could see the ocean with our inner eyes–even if we do not find ourselves anywhere near the beach at this moment.

First HC in the cluster!
First Holy Communion in the cluster!
Like I said, we thank God for the blessing of our outer eyes. But the truth is that our inner eyes are even more powerful and important. Let me tell you why.

Lord Jesus walked the earth for a particular period of time. He died and rose again from the dead. For forty days after His resurrection, He continued to walk the earth and talk to His friends. They saw the risen dead man with their outer eyes, and He looked even more wonderful than before.

But then the time came for Christ to ascend to heaven. He told the disciples that He would pass away from their outer sight. But don’t worry. Don’t fear. ‘I will remain with you always,’ He promised.

When He said that—Don’t worry, even though you won’t see Me anymore—when He said that to them, did they take it in stride? Did they say, ‘Got you, Master. No problem.’

No. They did not say that at all. They whined; they complained. ‘Why can’t you stay visible forever, and make yourself visible to everyone? Why do we have to live by faith and not by our outer eyes?’

Now, if I might put His response in my own words. He replied:

“I understand why you panic like this, my children. But you fail to grasp that your inner sight is a million times for important than your outer sight. I will go to heaven, and from there I will send the power of love into you, inside you.

“Your outer eyes can see baseballs and squirrels and gas stations on the highway. But all these things come and go.

“With your inner eyes, you can love the holiness that lasts forever. With your inner eyes, you can see God, and you can see the true beauty of another person’s soul.

steviewonder“Not only that. With your inner eyes, you can see that heaven is always right in front of you. All you have to do, to step into it, is: love. Step forward in love, and you will enter heaven.”

We do not understand all these mysteries. At least I don’t. But I know for a fact that our inner eyes see more than our outer eyes. Because, for now, only our inner eyes can see Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Using the unworthy voice of His priest, Christ says, “This is my Body,” and “This is my Blood.” We do not see Him with our outer eyes. But we do know He is here. We see Him with our inner eyes, our eyes of faith. He beckons us to come to Him, to receive Him, to unite ourselves with Him.

Stumbling into the Presence

Sabrett vendor

Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. (Luke 14:13)

The Lord has always blessed me with generally good health and a solid physique. But I don’t mind telling you: 22-23 years ago, I walked the streets of my hometown spiritually very poor, morally somewhat crippled. As a man of prayer, I was lame. And when it came to the future, I was blind.

Seems like a good day today to recount what happened to me during the noon hour on a rainy Washington day in February of 1991. Maybe that seems like a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. But we would not be chatting here together like this–were it not for the events I am about to recount.

Continue reading “Stumbling into the Presence”

St. Norbert and Corpus Christi

st norbert overcoming tanchelm rubens

The Lord, of course, works in His own ways. We celebrate our faith in the Body and Blood of Christ nine weeks after Holy Thursday. The Solemnity of Corpus Christi falls shortly after Pentecost every year.

Also: the Memorial of St. Norbert comes shortly after Pentecost every year. Because the saint died right after Pentecost. Generally we keep the saints’ feasts on the dates on which they went home to God.

So: Is it a fluke that Corpus Christi and St. Norbert Day always fall pretty near each other? Don’t think so.

St. Norbert died almost 900 years ago, before there even were any “Protestants.” But guess what? He had to contend with people who denied the Real Presence. He helped confused Christians who had been taught that the Eucharist is only a symbol. He lovingly preached to them and brought them back to the more simple faith of Christ’s Church.

The heresy is called “Sacramentarianism.” It eventually became the doctrine of the Swiss Calvinists.

Listen: Of course we love all our brother and sister Christians. We rejoice to call them brothers and sisters in the Lord. But sometimes we have to ask them: Which part of the ‘This is my Body’ and ‘This is my Blood’ don’t you get?

Not that we claim to understand it. We most certainly do not understand it. We believe in it, and we trust that we will understand all when we get to heaven, please God.

Crazy Catholics X 2 (Corpus Christi)

Non-Catholics sometimes express astonishment regarding our worship of the Sacred Host and the chalice. “Those Catholics actually believe that it’s the Body and Blood of Jesus! They kneel down in front of the consecrated bread! They fastidiously clean all the plates and cups and never let a crumb fall—or a drop get washed down into the sewer. They keep the hosts they have left over in a special box, where they burn a candle 24 hours a day!”

Let’s reflect briefly on the two categories of people who think we are nuts about this.

Continue reading “Crazy Catholics X 2 (Corpus Christi)”

St. Ignatius and the Crazies

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.

Continue reading “St. Ignatius and the Crazies”