During the spring of 2020, when public Masses where suspended in our diocese, I (as many around the world) felt lost without easy access to the Eucharist.
I need to qualify that statement by saying that I was one of the lucky ones – my spiritual director invited my husband and I to occasionally assist him at his private Masses. When it was time for spiritual direction, we would meet in his large church with plenty of room for social distancing – and the tabernacle but a breath away.
In truth, living in the United States and having friends who are priests, I am spoiled. As I sit here, in a larger city in my state, writing this article late at night, I can think of multiple adoration chapels I could go to and pray at right now. I am well aware that this is not the case for many of the Catholic faithful, and I know that my experience two years ago was only a taste of their daily reality.
I loved the Eucharist before Covid. But that time when I could not be with Jesus in the tabernacle whenever I wished – it made me long for Him more than ever.
Doctrine Rooted in Relationship
I have a graduate degree in theology, and I can happily explain to you the complexity and beauty of the theology of the Eucharist. But the reality of the Eucharist can not be encapsulated in words. Before meeting my husband, whenever I dated a guy, I could list all of the things that I liked about him. When I met my husband, he was the first man that I could honestly say that I loved not for his attributes, but rather because he was himself. It was not the idea of him that I loved, but rather him. (Although, granted, I enjoyed and continue to enjoy learning about him. Love delights in deeper knowledge of the beloved.)
So it is with Christ in the Eucharist. It is good and right that we should know and fully assent to belief in the Eucharist. But the acquisition of that knowledge takes on a different tone when it begins with relationship. When it is rooted in Christ’s call to us and our response to Him, any knowledge acquired fits into that yearning – of Christ longing for us and us longing for Him.
For example, with each of my babies, I have introduced them to the doctrine of the Eucharist in the same way – I teach them to blow kisses to Jesus in the tabernacle. As they grow older, we spend more time visiting Him – just stopping by our church or a chapel for a brief moment with Jesus in the tabernacle. As I deeply genuflect on entering the church, or as I blow kisses to a passing church when driving, I convey the same message – this is our Beloved. Having daughters, I emphasize this language around the Eucharist, especially, drawing on the example of so many female saints. I use the same terms of endearment for Jesus that I use for my husband and my children – terms of endearment that my daughters are familiar with. I teach them to call Him, “Jesus, my Love.” Sometimes we even call him, “our little Jesus,” as we contemplate and wonder at the infinite love of a God so great who remains hidden in the tabernacle for love of us.
Two of my three daughters have already received First Communion, and it has been beautiful and fascinating to watch their relationship with Him develop (in a way unique to them each). My youngest is four years old, and when she was two, she started adamantly referring to Jesus as “my brother.” As the current baby of the family, she knows what it is to be loved and doted on, and knowing that God is her Father, Mary her Mother, and Jesus her “Big Brother,” gives her an opportunity to rest within that relationship. Right now, her spiritual communion takes a form that is beautifully in keeping with her personality. When I return to the pew after Communion, I ask her, “Do you want a snuggle from your big Brother?” And, more times than not, she immediately burrows her little head into my chest, where she knows he resides in those precious moments immediately after reception. I wrap my arms around her, and I whisper to her, “He loves you so much. You are his baby sister!”
All of this is done very intentionally. My daughters all know the Catholic doctrine around the Eucharist. But they are learning more than the doctrine – they are learning to know and love Christ Himself.
Although they are children, this is true for adults, too. Our experience of the Eucharist completely changes when it is viewed in the context of relationship.
I do not mean that this understanding of the Eucharist results in more strong feeling or consolation in prayer. Rather, our understanding of love, worship, and sacrifice radically deepens when we contemplate the gift of the Eucharistic presence in this way. As any married couple can tell you, love often deepens the most in times of suffering, sacrifice, and lack of feeling. The union often deepens in those times in marriage, and the same can be true in our spiritual lives.
What We Are Created For
On Holy Thursday this year, our pastor gave an impassioned homily about the importance of the Eucharist, imploring us to strengthen our belief that the Eucharist is worth even dying for. Building on this, what is needed is a recognition that the Eucharist – and union with Christ through the reception of Him in this sacrament, or through our ardent desire in spiritual communion – is the fulfillment of the longing of our souls.
As St. Augustine so aptly said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” There is a restlessness within us. Too often, we attribute that restlessness to boredom and race to fill our lives with busyness. In reality, that restlessness is more akin to the restlessness of a one in love waiting for the arrival of their beloved. One in that state cannot fully settle, and no distractions satisfy in the way the presence of the beloved can.
God is the one we are created for. He is the one we long for, even though we may not acknowledge it. And the answer to that deep, painful longing is found waiting – in a tiny, white host, hidden in the tabernacle for love of you and me. There waits Christ, longing more deeply for you than you ever could for Him.
He waits for you.