Dan is a dear friend of mine. He is a young man from here in Denver whose family I have known for years. Dan has trisomy 21—Down syndrome—a genetic condition that impacts his physical and intellectual development. Dan is intellectually delayed. He is also a beautiful young man who really knows and loves the Lord.
When Dan was 7, I served as the rector of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. His parents came to the seminary and asked when Dan could receive holy Communion for the first time.
Frankly, I wasn’t sure. To receive the Eucharist, Catholics must be able to distinguish the sacred hosts and the chalice from other kinds of food and drink. They must understand on some level that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. I wasn’t sure how I would know when Dan was ready to receive holy Communion.
I found out quickly. One day Dan and his parents were present in Christ the King Chapel as I celebrated Mass. As I distributed the Eucharist a small voice filled the silent Church.
“Clap!” Dan exhorted, pointing to the host. “There’s Jesus!”
Dan was ready. He recognized the sacred presence of Jesus Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters, last Sunday we began Gospel readings at Mass from the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. We will continue to read from this chapter through the month of August. John 6 reflects on the Bread of Life—beginning with the miracle of the loaves of fishes, the manna sent from heaven, and ultimately, the eucharistic body of Jesus Christ.
In the climax of John’s eucharistic pedagogy, Jesus Christ proclaims that “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
That day in the chapel, my friend Dan expressed something extraordinary about the Archdiocese of Denver—an unbridled and enthusiastic hunger for the body of Christ.
The Church in northern Colorado is alive with eucharistic vitality. This is a Church that knows the sacred presence of our Lord—which knows that Our Lord’s flesh is the true flesh of the Eucharist. That is evident in the number of parishes that have eucharistic adoration.
I am grateful to God for calling me to this place to serve as your archbishop.
My prayer, for each of you, is that you will concretely recognize the eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ—the great gift the Father has given us. But my prayer is more than that. It is one thing to recognize Jesus in the Eucharist—to know that Christ is sacramentally present in the sacred host and chalice. It is another thing entirely to be transformed by that presence.
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI reflected that when we receive the Eucharist: “God no longer simply stands before us as the One who is totally Other. He is within us, and we are in Him. His dynamic enters into us and then seeks to spread outwards to others until it fills the world, so that His love can truly become the dominant measure of the world.”
To be transformed by the Eucharist means that we ourselves, in union with God, can share the life of the Trinity. This sharing means that our sinful desires can be cast out and our selfish inclinations made pure. To receive the Eucharist gives us the ability to love as God loves—to become holy.
This is my prayer for the Archdiocese of Denver—that we may be purified, refined, sanctified—to holiness. That we may not only recognize Jesus in the Eucharist, but enter into a communion with him. For this, we must truly desire from the depths of our hearts to be transformed, to seek to develop lives of prayer and sacramental participation, and to cooperate with the grace of the eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ.
When we know Jesus, as my friend Dan does, we will recognize him. When we recognize him, our lives will be transformed.