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True food, true drink

If you haven’t read Graham Greene’s “The Power and the Glory,” you should.  Like all of Greene’s work, the novel is compelling—and deeply Catholic.

In fact, “The Power and the Glory” contains one of the most powerful reflections on the Eucharist in the western canon of literature.

The scene is absolutely agonizing.  And deeply beautiful.

The book is set in a period of religious persecution in Mexico.  The protagonist is a priest, clandestinely providing ministry to faithful bands of Catholics across the countryside.  His ministry keeps the faith alive.

At one point, the priest needs to purchase wine for Mass—wine which can only be purchased on the black market.  He arrives at the home of a bootlegger, and is told there is no wine.  To avoid suspicion he must purchase brandy—useless, and a waste of his money.  He despairs.

Finally, for the last of his money, the bootlegger produces the last bottle of wine in town—some of which the smuggler drinks himself.

Just when the priest has hope, the chief of police arrives.  He bursts into the room to the terror of the priest.  But he makes no arrests.  Instead, he asks for a drink.  A drink of the priest’s wine.  He has one glass, then another.  The priest sits in agony, a smile masking his despair, as the chief of police drains his bottle of wine.  The priest sits watching, with “all of the hope of the world draining away.”

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To the priest and his people, the Eucharist was “all of the hope of the world.”  They needed the Eucharist.  They clung to it.  Without it, the priest knew, believers would begin to scatter.  The faith would be lost.

The priest’s agony reveals the truth Jesus proclaims about the Eucharist: his flesh is true food, his blood true drink.  No one agonizes over a symbol. No one risks everything for a sign.

The Eucharist is the true presence of Jesus Christ—true food which provides true nourishment. And we should depend on it.  Pope Benedict XVI recently encouraged Catholics to “rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves … on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples.”

To survive the Christian life, we need to feed ourselves on the bread of life—the Eucharist.  It sustains our life.  Without the Eucharist, we face sure and certain spiritual death.  With the Eucharist, our faith will be alive—we will live in Jesus Christ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reflects that “life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet … growth in Christian life needs the nourishment of Eucharistic Communion, the bread for our pilgrimage until the moment of death.”

Too few of us appreciate the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or its potential.  When we receive the Eucharist faithfully and when we adore it regularly, we know concretely the transforming power of Jesus Christ.  Until we develop those habits, we may have no idea what we are missing—only that without Christ, something truly is missing.

Whenever you receive the Eucharist, speak heart to heart with Jesus Christ.  He is uniquely present to you at that time.  Open yourself to him.  Open yourself to him in Eucharistic adoration as well—I encourage you and your families to adore the Eucharist weekly.

It is now one month since the tragic shootings in Aurora took place.  For many, the healing has begun.  But for many, life is still marked by uncertainty, anxiety and fear.  For many, the pain and sadness is still very real.

Our Lord is waiting—in the tabernacle, in the monstrance and at Mass.  He wants deeply to give his true presence to us.  He wants to free us from sin, from fear and from darkness.  He desires to heal us.  He is “the hope of the world.”

The grace of the Eucharist is unimaginable.  But it seems, to many, implausible.  It is truly, as Our Lord says, “a hard teaching.”

But the words of Jesus are the words of eternal life.  We need only trust in them and commit to them—and we will have life in Him.


Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).

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