Up Front and Personal

Honoring the Real Presence

by Laura Kelly Fanucci

“You are so precious,” she whispered to the baby in my arms.

I handed her back the cup, a silver chalice brimming with the precious blood. In a lovely twist of irony, she used the same holy word to describe my infant son.

Did she know how perfect her words were?

St. Augustine proclaimed that in the Eucharist, we become what we receive. What if I could see not only my own child, but every sinner with whom I shared that sacrament as precious in God’s eyes?

On Aug. 5, the Pew Research Center released the latest survey on Catholic belief in the Eucharist, amid much lament at the shrinking number of Catholics who believe in the Real Presence.

Immediately, we heard calls for a return to liturgical reverence — more sacred hymns, more adoration, more kneeling, even more modest clothing — as a way to restore faith in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.

But here’s one take I haven’t heard: Could deepening our respect for humanity help deepen our faith in divinity?

The power of “imago Dei” — our belief that each human bears God’s image — is that our love of God compels us to love the humans that God has created. But the opposite also holds true: If we dismiss each other, we degrade God in our midst.

Take the ways we talk. Contemporary discourse is marked by an easy tendency to demonize the other. I confess I’ve done it too. We hear the latest news about that politician we can’t stand, and we angrily decry them as an idiot, an animal or a monster.

Lately I’ve tried to catch myself, especially when little ears are listening. “I don’t hate that person,” I reframe my words for my kids. “I don’t agree with his politics, and I think his behavior is wrong, but I still believe he can be a good person and that God loves him.”

History proves the evils of dehumanization. For my children’s sake and mine, I have to watch my language.

As I’ve meditated on our collective faith in the Real Presence, I wonder how we honor each other’s human presence — or don’t. If we can’t behold the beauty of another person in flesh and blood, how can we begin to appreciate our God present in flesh and blood? And when we behold each other — an exercise of holy imagination to see another with God’s eyes — how do we ultimately see ourselves? Self-loathing runs rampant in our time. Researchers claim that loneliness and isolation may never have been higher in the history of human existence.

Do we struggle to see Christ present in the sacraments because we cannot imagine ourselves worthy to receive God in such an intimate, bodily way — especially when our culture has twisted our views of intimacy and bodies?

All these questions make me wonder if coming to see another as precious — whether myself, my child, my neighbor or a stranger — could help me to deepen my faith in the precious body and blood.

Watch our words. Behold each other. Remember our worthiness. Is believing in the Real Presence in the Eucharist as simple as this?

Surely not. The mysteries of our faith demand a lifetime of prayer and pondering.

But we can each deepen our faith in the Real Presence — and help our children and grandchildren to do the same — in small ways each day. After all, what could be smaller than a bite of bread or a sip of wine? Yet this is our God, truly present to us in flesh and blood. This is a mystery worthy of our wrestling and a presence worthy of our honor.

Fanucci writes the “Faith at Home” column for Catholic News Service.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *