Sunday, June 18, 2017

In My Pocket

  Solemnity of the Most Holy Body & Blood of Christ   A 

When I was a boy—and for quite a long time—I had an imaginary friend.  I called him “Mr. McGoo,” and had all kinds of stories about him: about his adventures, about his wife and kids, about where he lived, about his annual vacation in Florida.  Probably the most remarkable thing about Mr. McGoo was his size: he was just a little guy, and I’d carry him around in my pocket.

You’ll be happy to know that I don’t believe in Mr. McGoo any more…but I did think about him last week.

I was taking the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle, in order to bring Holy Communion to some of our homebound parishioners.  I did as I always do: I carefully placed the Sacred Host in the gold pyx, put the pyx in the black leather burse, and then slid the burse into my shirt pocket.

Which is when I realized: the garage sale was going on outside the church, and I’d be walking right through the middle of it to get to my car.  You see, whenever I carry the Blessed Sacrament on my person, I aim to carry on as if I were still standing right in front of the tabernacle—because, in effect, I am.  I turn off the radio in my car.  I don’t brush people off, but I also don’t stop to engage in conversation.  I try to stay very mindful of Who it is that I have with me—and what an immense privilege that is.

And so I thought about how I’d answer somebody at the garage sale if they asked, “What you got there in your pocket, Father?”  And the quickest, truest answer would have been, “Jesus.”  And then I wondered: would most people who hear me say that take me just the way my family did years ago when I said I carried Mr. McGoo in my pocket?

Our Catholic faith is that the Holy Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus Christ—his Body, Blood, soul, and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine.  But to so many modern ears—including, sadly, many Catholic ears—that sounds like talk about an imaginary friend: a comforting idea, but not at all real.

Some of our parishioners recently attended a conference and came back with this story.  Their presenter shared some of the discouraging statistics about the number of Catholics who do not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  You may have heard some of these yourselves.  Depending on the survey, the statistics range from 10% of practicing Catholics to more than 50% of all Catholics do not believe what the Church has always taught: that the bread and wine really and truly become the Body and Blood of Christ.  

In contrast, the presenter then spoke about a parish she knows—down in Florida, I think—which is located in an area where many people practice voodoo and other occult religions.  Some of their sacrilegious rites call for a consecrated Host taken from a Catholic church.  And so in this parish, they have appointed “bouncers” to stand next to the priest and other ministers of Holy Communion in order to make sure no one tries to leave Mass with a Host. 

The speaker’s point in putting these two things side-by-side was to highlight the sad state of affairs: there are non-Christians who have a greater faith in the real presence than do many Catholics who come to Mass every Sunday.

The Church’s faith in the Most Blessed Sacrament is based on the absolute highest authority: the word of the Lord himself—as we just heard Jesus say in the gospel: “My Flesh is true food, and my Blood is true drink”; as he has repeated to us in every Mass since the Last Supper: “This is my Body, this is my Blood, given up for you.”  The Father has given us the living Bread from heaven.  We mere mortals are provided with the Bread of angels: the real presence of the Son of God, who remains with us in the Sacrament of the altar. 

We must never neglect this amazing truth!  Pope John Paul II used to encourage Catholics to renew their sense of “Eucharistic amazement”—the sense of wonder, awe, and reverence that rightly should be ours at so incredible a gift.  And our deep faith in it should be clear in how we act and speak in relation to the Eucharist.  Do I reflect faith in the real presence by how I dress for Mass?  By how I behave in church?  By how I speak about sacred things?  By giving the liturgy my full attention?  By how I prepare for Holy Communion?  By how I handle the Sacred Host?  By getting to Mass on time?  And by staying until it’s finished?  By not being too quick to excuse myself from attending? 

My old friend, Mr. McGoo, never really lived in my pocket; he only lived in my imagination.   But I firmly believe that Jesus really and truly comes to me in Holy Communion to live behind my pocket: to remain always in my heart.

May the heart of Jesus, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored, and loved, with grateful affection, in all the tabernacles of the world, even until the end of time.  Amen.

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