Something new struck me in my travels throughout the United States and the world this year. In the churches I visited, I discovered saints unknown to me, holding Eucharistic images like a monstrance or a ciborium. I would snap a picture and if there was no identifying information, I would ask someone, “Who is that saint?” I did it, in part, because the United States was going to be embarking on a three-year Eucharistic revival to deepen belief in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and perhaps as I learned about them, they might be helpful to my preaching and personal devotion. These saints quickly became, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, my personal cloud of witnesses. For me, they were witnesses to Eucharistic devotion. And for you, they can be too.
St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States and its Cathedral Basilica is the oldest parish. Lots of tourists wander around the cathedral, taking in the beauty and learning about the Catholic faith. To this end, there is a special section partitioned off for private prayer and adoration. In this chapel there are mosaics on the wall. One caught my eye. It had the Blessed Mother in the middle who was flanked by St. Clare of Assisi and a small little girl. I asked someone who the girl was and learned it was the patron saint of first communicants—Blessed Imelda. This young girl was born into a noble family. As a child, she attended Mass and prayers at a local Dominican convent and at the age of nine expressed an interest to join the nuns. Her parents and the nuns allowed her to enter at such a young age. As she prayed alongside the nuns, Imelda had a burning desire to receive her First Communion. The mother superior consistently told her she was too young because the age for First Communion was older than what it is today. Imelda didn’t stop asking her superior, but she also took it to her boss, praying before the Blessed Sacrament and asking Jesus to grant her permission to receive her first Holy Communion. Around the feast of the Ascension, the Lord made it clear that Imelda was to receive her First Communion. As she prayed in the church after Mass, a host with bright shining rays emanating forth was suspended above her head. The priest at the convent took this as a sign from the Lord that Imelda was ready and prepared to receive the Lord in Holy Communion.
St. Raymond Nonnatus
St. Raymond Nonnatus followed me around it seems wherever I went. I first noticed him in the parish church of San Sebastian in Garabandal, Spain. In the highest nook of the high altar, he was tucked away. I inquired of the pastor the identity of the saint, and as I understood from his Spanish explanation, he told me it was St. Raymond who was known to help pregnant women by his prayers of intercession. I saw his statue in Mexico City and found a holy card of him at a shrine bookstore here in the United States. St. Raymond was another saint with a burning desire to receive the Holy Eucharist. A Mercedarian priest, he was held captive at the end of his life. As he was dying, he wanted to receive viaticum but there was no priest to bring him the Sacrament. His desire was seen by the Lord, who appeared to him and gave St. Raymond his food for the journey. With this apparition and heavenly communion, St. Raymond died fortified by the sacraments.
Saints Toribio Romo and St. Juan de Sahagun
When I was in Mexico City, I encountered two saints that I also knew nothing about. When I arrived at the seminary I was staying at for the week, the rector showed me the chapel, and a smaller chapel dedicated to St. Toribio Romo. The very first thing he said to introduce St. Toribio was, “He’s a very Eucharistic saint.” Biographies I found of him online indicated a similar sentiment. But it didn’t tell me exactly what that meant. The same was true for St. Juan de Sahagun. My two priest friends and I walked into a random church as we walked around Mexico City. We did so in order to see the beauty of the churches and also to spend a few moments in prayer before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. One church had a statue of St. Juan de Sahagun. I was curious as to why he was holding a host above a chalice. Biographies of St. Juan that I found said he had a tremendous devotion to the Blessed Sacrament but did not explicate further.
What might that phrase mean? I’d imagine it meant that they promoted frequent reception of Holy Communion and made the Mass available to their people. Their preaching probably emphasized the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. And they probably made visits to the Blessed Sacrament in the Church or through holy hours of adoration. Like them, we too can strive to have a deep devotion to the Eucharist, by doing these very things.
St. Juliana Falconieri
I led a bus pilgrimage for my parishioners to St. Louis and Chicago. One of our stops in Chicago was the Basilica of Seven Sorrows. It’s a parish run by the Servite order. In the sanctuary, there was a painting on the wall of a woman religious on a bed, with a priest bent over her and administering the sacraments, while servers and other sisters looked on. Not knowing who the nun was, I asked the priest who was giving our tour. He told us the story of St. Juliana who at her death had a desire to receive the Eucharist. Due to her illness, she was not able to but her Eucharistic faith prompted her to ask the priest to open the corporal on her chest and to place the host on it. The host disappeared and quickly thereafter Juliana died. Upon her death and examination of her body, a cross was found on her chest; the same cross imprinted on the Holy Eucharist. In a miraculous manner she received her last Holy Communion.
The Desire of the Saints
The stories of the saints are meant to inspire us. For St. Imelda, St. Raymond, and St. Juliana, each had a burning desire to receive the Holy Eucharist. Their desire should inspire us with the same desire and fervor. Every Sunday you should desire to receive the Holy Eucharist, and if that desire isn’t there, ask them to help you to desire it, because with every Holy Communion, the Lord Jesus makes His home within you. As we learn their stories, we can begin asking these saints to intercede for us and our Eucharistic devotion. Surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who loved the Holy Eucharist, may they help to deepen our faith, belief, and devotion to Jesus present body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist received in Holy Communion, reposed in the tabernacle, and adored on the altar.