“Make a left here,” my mother said, and then crossed herself.
Turning the steering wheel, I gave her a sideways glance. “Are you making the sign of the cross because of my driving?”
“No,” she replied, pointing. “We just passed a Catholic church.”
For my mother, and for many in her generation, honoring the Blessed Sacrament was second nature, whether you were inside or outside of a church. Walls of stone and brick couldn’t hide the fact that Jesus was in the tabernacle, hidden in the host. You might not have been able to genuflect while in the car or on the bus, but you at least blessed yourself, and even lowered your head a bit. You were on holy ground, even if that ground was a city sidewalk.
Earlier this month, a Pew research study found that only 31% of Catholics in the U.S. believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist; the remaining 69% regard the bread and wine as mere symbols. The report has aroused sorrow, outrage and frustration among leaders and laity, with fingers being pointed at culture, clerics and catechists alike.
There’s certainly plenty of blame to go around, and it’s reasonable to expect that the sexual abuse scandals, secularism and spotty faith formation have eroded belief in the real presence.
But there’s another culprit, and for those of us who are still in the pews, we have only to look in the mirror.
If at Mass we confess our sinfulness, extol the Almighty’s glory, listen to the word of God, profess our faith, kneel at the consecration, offer one another a sign of peace, invoke the Father’s blessing, acknowledge we’re unworthy to receive the Lord — if we do all this, then receive holy Communion and re-enter daily life unchanged, we have utterly failed to welcome Christ into our hearts.
And by extension, we have failed to welcome him into a world that desperately needs him.
In his oft-quoted Sermon 272, St. Augustine exhorted those who approach the altar to “be what you see, and receive what you are.” Yet how often we consume the host, perhaps say a quick prayer, and then resume our routines of thought and habit.
And maybe those routines aren’t too bad. After all, we’re not cheating on our taxes or letting the dog run all over the neighbor’s lawn. We buy a turkey for the Thanksgiving food drive, and we’re generally not impatient in the checkout line at the store. The kids turned out fine, and the grandkids are coming along nicely. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that just under 1% of the global population controls almost 45% of the world’s wealth, says Credit Suisse.
The problem is that 35% of the world’s women have experienced sexual and/or physical violence, according to the World Health Organization. And for most victims, that violence is at the hands of a partner.
The problem is that there are almost 56 million abortions worldwide each year, and some 70.8 million forcibly displaced people on this earth.
The problem is that our planet is warming at a rate beyond any witnessed in the past 2,000 years, while our oceans and the creatures within them are choking on plastic waste.
But big numbers are overwhelming, and thanks to what psychologists call “psychic numbing,” we simply shut down when we try to take in those kinds of statistics.
So let’s narrow our focus a bit.
Having received the Eucharist, do we pray for those who have hurt us?
Do we hold our tongue from gossiping about the coworker who doesn’t quite fit in?
Do we look into the eyes of that homeless person at the traffic light, and see a fellow human being?
Do we give thanks for every drop of clean water and every morsel of fresh food we enjoy?
Do we silence our hearts and minds, even for a moment, and listen for the voice of God?
Maybe if we start with these tasks, others will come to see the real presence in us, and we won’t need a survey to tell us what we already know in our hearts.
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