The question of who is the greatest is debated in every sphere of life: athletics, music, art, writing, philosophy, theology, and the list goes on.
In fact, it was debated in Christ’s time among His Apostles. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (Matt. 18:1–4).
Greatness is measured in true humility. Greatness is found in becoming like Our Eucharistic Lord: small, hidden, and overlooked. It is no wonder Our Lord would often appear as a tiny child in the Eucharist to various saints like Faustina. Our Lord wants us to never forgot that in order to become great, we must become little. Yes, we must cast aside all pride before receiving His Real Presence by literally humbling ourselves in the sacrament of Confession.
Most Catholics believe that St. Thomas Aquinas was the greatest philosopher and theologian who ever lived. To this day, no saint has come close to the depth and breadth of writing found in his Summa Theologica.
But who is the greatest Eucharistic Saint? Certainty, Our Lord’s words above suggest a child or having a child-like disposition—one who does not seek to lord over others, but one who trusts the Lord of Lords.
Perhaps St. Tarcisius, a twelve-year-old acolyte who was martyred in the third century for bringing the Holy Eucharist to those in prison. His own peers killed him.
Perhaps Bl. Imelda who died on her First Communion Day at the age of eleven. She would sometimes declare, “Tell me, can anyone receive Jesus into his heart and not die?” She prophesized her own death, for she died of love. Bl. Imelda is the patroness of First Communicants.
Or the great Franciscan brother, St. Paschal Baylon, who would spend hours before the Blessed Sacrament. He also defended the doctrine of the Real Presence against a Calvinist preacher. At his funeral Mass, his eyes opened during the consecration. He is the patron of Eucharistic Congresses.
And who could forget St. Clare and her boldness to drive away her attackers with the Blessed Sacrament. She fought not with swords, but with the Holy Eucharist, Jesus, Who was pierced by a lance for the salvation of souls.
And let’s not forget St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote arguably the greatest Eucharistic hymns and whose teachings on transubstantiation were essential to Catholic teaching.
It is true that every saint was devoted to the Holy Eucharist (excluding the ones who died before the institution of the Eucharist, such as St. Joseph), but is there one saint who might be considered the greatest saint of the Eucharist?
There is indeed one saint, whose love for the Eucharist is singular. This is neither my opinion nor is it Fr. Don Calloway’s opinion, who recently wrote a new book called: 30 Day Eucharistic Revival: A Retreat with St. Peter Julian Eymard that I was privileged to contribute to. No, it is the opinion of several popes. And that saint’s name is St. Peter Julian Eymard. Pope St. John Paul II along with several popes called St. Peter Julian Eymard “the Apostle of the Eucharist.” Sophia Press also has a beautiful book by him called How To Get More Out of Holy Communion.
So what makes St. Peter Julian Eymard’s Eucharistic piety stand out?
From his infancy, St. Peter Julian Eymard’s mother instilled in him a Eucharistic love as she would carry him to Benediction and later he would accompany her on her daily visits to the Blessed Sacrament. He was born on February 4, 1811 in La Mure d’Isere, France, a small town in the southeastern region.
One experience sheds light on St. Peter Julian Eymard’s great love for the Holy Eucharist. One day, St. Peter Julian Eymard’s sister found her five-year-old brother next to the tabernacle with his ear pressed against it while standing on a stepladder. When she asked her brother why was so close to the tabernacle, a young Peter said he wanted to hear Jesus.
St. Peter Julian Eymard was ordained a priest at the age of twenty-three for the Diocese of Grenoble on July 20, 1834. Throughout his life, he loved to preach Eucharistic devotions and had a great love for the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph.
As he carried the Blessed Sacrament during a procession at St. Paul’s Church in Lyons, St. Peter Julian Eymard had a moving experience, which led him to devote his entire life to promoting the Holy Eucharist. Over the course of his life, his focus changed from “reparation,” influenced by Jansenism heresy, which centered on our sinfulness and unworthiness, to God’s love. As a dear friend of St. John Vianney, St. Peter Julian Eymard’s one desire was that the faithful’s hearts would burn with love for the Holy Eucharist.
His zeal for the Eucharist led him to found two religious communities to promote Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament: the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament for men, and the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament for women. He also promoted 40 Hours Eucharist Adoration, nocturnal adoration, and perpetual adoration. Yes, St. Peter Julian Eymard was ahead of his time. Indeed, he was leading France’s First Eucharistic Revival. In the words of the famed American priest, Fr. Francis Lasance, St. Peter Julian Eymard was in “recent times the foremost propagator of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.”
Despite St. Peter Julian Eymard’s numerous writings on the Holy Eucharist, perhaps as much or more than any other saint, his life has remained hidden. This is because St. Peter Julian Eymard was truly humble and preferred to remain hidden like His greatest love: Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Or in St. Peter Julian Eymard’s own words, “God gives me the grace to suffer everything with joy for the establishment of His eucharistic kingdom, to esteem as the greatest grace to be unnoticed and unknown by society and by religious people.”
The greatest in the kingdom are those who seek to be the lowliest. For this reason, St. Peter Eymard is counted among the greatest Eucharistic saints, perhaps even the greatest, well after Our Lady! He was particularly fond of the title, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament! It was Our Lady who guided him to love and prefer Jesus above everything.
St. Peter Julian Eymard once beautifully wrote, “If we reflected on the love of Jesus Christ for us in the Blessed Sacrament, our whole life would be but one continuous act of love and gratitude.” Yes, a thousand lifetimes would never be enough for one devout reception of Holy Communion.
As we prepare for the National Eucharistic Revival in Indianapolis this summer, let us follow in the footsteps of “the Apostle of the Eucharist.”