by Rachyl Duffy
Posted on February 9, 2016 | COMMENT
Have you ever done something that gives you life?
The feeling is unmistakable. Perhaps you have felt it while dancing wildly in the rain or reaching a mountain summit; while watching a parade or exchanging Christmas gifts with loved ones. Maybe you have felt it during late-night conversations, or the first time you kissed someone you truly loved. Many feel it while exercising - biking, swimming, winning races. Rollercoasters after dark, fireworks and barbecues, blasting happy music on the road with the windows down... these are the types of experiences that make us feel alive. They make life worth living.
One year ago, I was in the little town of Blue Hill, Maine for seven weeks of summer. Until then, I had never been without regular reception of the Eucharist. From the beginning of my life, I have gone to church every single week. But Blue Hill, Maine does not have a Catholic church. So last summer, in my reluctance to ask anyone I knew to trek me out to the nearest town on Sunday mornings and wait around until I was done, I made the decision to simply watch Mass online. I believed that, while I would seriously miss being in the church environment and receiving the Eucharist, my life would still be more or less the same. After all, our Lord is omnipresent. He is in every one of us. Unless we choose to shut him out, he fills our souls. He is inescapable. These facts beg the question - what difference does it really make if we receive Jesus in the Eucharist?
But last summer, I watched as my life slowly disintegrated. I became much more insecure than I had ever been. All of my relationships, old and new, were strained. Everything that hurt me felt like a personal attack. A loneliness I had battled all my life came back with a viciousness I had never known. I felt lifeless.
I tried many things to feel happy again - drinking too much alcohol, spending money on coffee and unnecessary trinkets. I tried to get close to people, but no one offered me the acceptance I craved so much. Many people were actually scared away because they could sense that I would be a burden to them. I tried to stay close to God, to remember to pray and speak with him... but it only seemed more burdensome and pointless over time. I grew reluctant to watch Mass online, even missing a couple of Sundays. I spent hours journaling and reading, which actually helped me in the process of self-discovery... but when I went to sleep at night, in my core I still just felt empty. In short, my life got very hard. Reading over those old journal entries is painful. I was full of hate, sadness, desperation, loneliness, and confusion - everything that comes with distance from God.
But then, immediately after my festival, Sunday came. There was a church ten minutes away from my new graduate school. How convenient, I thought. I was ready to get back into the routine of weekly mass. But I had no idea how it would hit me. That Sunday, I bathed in the sound of the fantastic choir and cantor, watched the priests go about their routines in their vestments, knelt and prayed, and stared at the incense as it dissipated into the air. But these experiences were nothing compared to the moment I received the Eucharist again. Tears came into my eyes as I approached the altar and as I knelt back down afterwards. I was glad for the music to hide my sniffs and sobs. I was amazed. Very tangibly, I felt warmth, love, acceptance, understanding, and security flood into me. The happiness I felt was everything I had desired and hoped for. The feeling was unmistakably Jesus. I knew I had received Him. Through His presence in the Eucharist, our Lord and Savior had given me life.
Our Lord knows us. He created us. He knit us together in our mothers' wombs (NIV, Ps 139:13). He knows that a Christmas dinner, a beautiful sunset, and an ocean swim can make us feel full of life. He designed us this way so that we would know beauty - so that we would be pointed towards Him! God knows that we need life-giving experiences in the physical world to keep us alive in Him. This is why God took on a physical nature by sending His Son into the world to spend time with us and teach us. This is why the feast of Passover was designed such that the slaughtered lamb had to be shared as a meal by the whole household. If the lamb was not shared as a meal, the covenant with God was not considered kept.1 Participants in the feast experienced communion, togetherness, and peace. Best of all, this is why Jesus became our Passover lamb - so that when we come together to experience the Eucharist, we not only feel alive, but are actually given true life! Through the beautiful experience of the Eucharist in this world, we can feel truly alive. I know I did, that fateful Sunday when I received the Lord anew.
When Jesus walked the Earth, He became an earthly manifestation of God's power and love in time and space - a "sacrament".2 Our Lord instituted many more sacraments while he was on Earth, which the Church has continued to develop and refine based on Scripture, Tradition, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Jesus sent for us. Through the Church, we have access to the sacraments of Baptism, Confession, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and, of course, the Eucharist. All of these sacraments were designed by God Himself to give us that sense of life and wonder we love as we become more closely united to Him.
John chapter 6 is very clear. In verse 51, Jesus says, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh" (NIV). He also says in verse 55, "My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink." Scholars tell us that, judging by the language used, these words are spoken entirely without metaphor.3 Jesus' language was so drastic and literal that the Jews grumbled and argued, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (52). But Jesus responds in verse 53 not in a way that clarifies a misunderstanding, but in a way that intensifies his statement. "Very truly, I tell you," He says, "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (emphasis added). These words were so drastic, so difficult to believe, that John then says in verse 66: "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." This is the only passage in the entire Bible that directly mentions Jesus losing.4
The teaching of Jesus' presence in the Eucharist is not an easy one. But if anyone receives the Eucharist with faith and openness, that person receives the opportunity to be filled with life - to feel alive. It does make a difference whether we receive the Eucharist, just as it makes a difference when we can't make it home for Thanksgiving. The Eucharist is an earthly manifestation of God's power and love in time and space. We can see, touch, taste, and feel God's presence. When I stopped receiving the Eucharist for seven weeks, I had no idea how far I was from happiness until I received Jesus again full of faith. Trust in the words of Jesus. You will be happier if you receive Him. You will feel alive.
And that truly makes life worth living.
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Rachyl was the 7th Place winner of the Veils by Lily Real Presence Essay Contest.
- Scott Hahn, “Understanding the Eucharist” Podcast audio. https://www.lighthousecatholicmedia.org/store/title/understanding-the-eucharist
- Parker, Kenneth L. Catholic and Cornered: Answers to Common Questions About Your Faith. (Liguori: Liguori Publications, 2011), 31.
- Hahn, “Understanding the Eucharist.”