For months, the clergy and faithful of the archdiocese have been discussing and praying about how we are called to live out our faith in an apostolic age — in a society in which faith is neither the foundation nor a reference point for its existence. Providentially, the Church in the U.S. is simultaneously concentrating on fostering a revival of Eucharistic devotion over a three-year period.
The answer to how we live as disciples of the Lord in a secular society is that we must abide in relationship with Jesus, especially in the Eucharist. Christ makes this point himself during the Last Supper. After he had celebrated the Eucharist for the first time with the disciples, turning the bread into his body and the wine into his blood, Jesus told the apostles the parable of the vinedresser and the fruit vine.
Biblical scholar Dr. Brant Pitre makes the connection between abiding in relationship with Christ and the Eucharist even more explicit when he notes, “when Jesus starts to talk about a vine and fruit, which would be a grape vine and grapes, the context, the immediate context, is his just having identified a chalice with the fruit of the grape, or the blood of the grape as the Bible calls it, with his own blood” (Mass Readings Explained video series). Read in this light, the parable’s Eucharist meaning is even more apparent:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:1-5).
Jesus is not content with saying that we need to abide in him. He gives us instructions on how we should do this: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love … This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:10, 12).
In the Eucharist, we see how tangibly Jesus loves us. He gave his life for us! He died for the sins that each one of us commits. In his death and resurrection, he conquers sin, death and the Devil. Every time the Eucharist is celebrated, his sacrifice is made present and he abides with us.
Occasionally, the Church receives the grace of a Eucharistic miracle to remind us of the hidden but no less real fact of Jesus’ presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
In 1996, when Pope Francis was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, one of these miracles occurred in his archdiocese. After Father Alejandro Pezet had distributed Communion, a parishioner approached him and said that she saw a host in an empty candle holder on one of the church’s side altars. Since the host was dusty, Father Pezet did not consume the host but had it placed in a dish of water in the tabernacle to dissolve. Eight days later when the host was checked to see if it had dissolved, there was a blood-colored mass in the water. A forensic cardiologist, who had no idea what the source of the sample was, examined the mass and reported that it was a part of the left ventricle of a human heart, the area that pumps blood out to the rest of the body. Even more interesting, the heart tissue contained white blood cells, which can only survive in living tissue. These white blood cells become embedded within heart tissue when it has been subjected to trauma.
St. Mother Teresa got it right when she said, “when you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then; when you look at the Sacred Host, you understand how much Jesus loves you now.”
If we are to abide in relationship with Jesus, we must receive his life through worthily receiving the Eucharist. But if we reject his words and do not abide in him, then we will be cut off from the branch and gathered up to be burned (Jn 15:6). When society rejects God, it is cut off from him and things go awry, as evidenced in both salvation history and human history. Only when we abide with Jesus will we bear fruit. He is our lifeline.
Blessed Peter Eymard, the 17th-century founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, put it this way: “A fire that has no room for expansion will soon go out — Thus our Lord, desiring to be loved by us and seeing us so incapable of loving Him as we should, puts His own love into our heart, or rather loves Himself for us.” (The Sentinel of the Blessed Sacrament, p. 324).
As we begin our National Eucharistic Revival, let us seek to intensify our connection to Christ through frequent Confession and reception of Jesus in the Eucharist so that we will have the strength and food for our journey.