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Scott P. Richert

O Sacrament Most Holy

By November 30, 2013

Follow me on:

Oh, come, all you who labor
In sorrow and in pain,
Come, eat This Bread from heaven;
Thy peace and strength regain.

In my freshman year at Michigan State University, I left the Catholic Church. This sounds much more dramatic than it would have seemed to anyone on the outside looking in. My period of wandering in the wilderness was not even 40 days and 40 nights, let alone 40 years. I left the Church for four weeks--a period so short that some surveys of religious practice would say that I was an "active Catholic" during that time.

Yet those four weeks may have been the longest of my life. I knew that I was missing something, but I did not know what it was. On the off chance that what I was missing was some spiritual solace (I doubted it, at the time) I went one Sunday to a venerable East Lansing institution, the People's Church ("nondenominational and nonsectarian"), and even received communion--some crumbly leavened bread and wine in a plastic cup. I left as empty as I came, never to return.

On the last Saturday in November 1986, I found myself walking along Michigan Avenue toward the state capitol in Lansing. It was a nasty night; the snow on the ground was giving way to the sleet that had soaked me from head to toe. A warm yellow light shone on the sidewalk up ahead, and as I came into its rays, I glanced up at the building from which it emanated: the Church of the Resurrection, a parish of the Diocese of Lansing.

Cold and tired, on impulse I pulled at the handle of the door, not expecting it to be unlocked. It was; and to my surprise, the light was coming not just from the vestibule but from the sanctuary. I had never been in this church before, so I decided to rest a moment while taking a look around.

As I entered the empty sanctuary and came upon the first row of pews, years of habit kicked in, and I turned toward the tabernacle and genuflected. And at that very moment, I realized that I was wrong; I was not alone. I sensed a presence--no, more than a mere presence: the presence of Someone, Whose presence I had not felt in four weeks (not even, or perhaps especially not, when receiving communion at the People's Church).

As a child, I had never doubted the Real Presence, and I cannot say whether, even in my short wandering in the wilderness, I ever lost faith in it. What I can say with absolutely certainty is that, on that Saturday night in November 1986, I had not entered the sanctuary of the Church of the Resurrection expecting to feel the presence of Christ. The experience was not a wish or desire; it was as real as walking into my home today and knowing, without seeing or hearing them, that my wife and children are there.

For Catholics, such experiences are so commonplace that they become something like background noise, like the transit of the sun across the sky, like the act of walking or chewing or breathing. Because this experience is so much a part of our lives, we often forget that we are indeed experiencing it.

There are times, of course, when we may be reminded. I have had the experience, and know many others who have, of walking into an unknown church in an unfamiliar town, and knowing immediately, without searching for a sanctuary light or a tabernacle, that this is indeed a Catholic church. Conversely, on Good Friday, when we walk into a church where the tabernacle is empty, we may genuflect out of habit before it hits us: Something--Someone--is missing; He is not here.

Our experience of the presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar is what we would expect if the teaching of the Church is true: that this is not mere bread and wine, but the Body and Blood of Christ. When we receive the sacrament worthily, we know the effects of grace. When we deprive ourselves of it because of our own sin, we know what we are missing. (And if we have had the misfortune of receiving it unworthily, we know that it does not return us to peace and strength, but heightens our unhappiness.)

Those times when I have made the effort to be a daily communicant (or at least to spend a few moments in front of the Blessed Sacrament) have been the most productive of my life. I mean that in many senses: They are the times when I have made the greatest progress in uprooting sin (or even simply bad habits); the times when I have been a better husband and a better father; and, yes, even the times when I have written more and written better and best fulfilled my duties at work.

I cannot say this about any other discipline or any other food--and not because I haven't tried. The difference is an experiential one; yet it is one that makes perfect sense in light of the teaching of the Catholic Church.

And I see the evidence of the graces obtained from Holy Communion not only in my life but in the lives of others. Most Catholics who pay any attention to their fellow parishioners know that there is a qualitative difference between the lives of daily and of weekly communicants. (Sadly, some priests are the exception that proves the rule: In celebrating Mass every day, they must receive, and the validity of the sacrament does not depend on their personal worthiness.)

Graces are not marks on a tally sheet; rack up enough, and you can enter Heaven, free and clear. Grace is the life of God within our souls, the action of the Holy Spirit Whom Christ promised to send to be our comforter and guide. The evidence of the truth of the Church's teaching on the Eucharist (and, more broadly, of Her teaching on the sacraments) is found in the lives of the men and women who approach the altar of the Lord in the fear of God and in faith.

Sadly, Catholics today all too easily lose sight of this. We are not only Christians but modern men, after all, and we have been taught from an early age that knowledge derives only from the strictest evidence of our external senses, and that nothing can be considered true unless we can conceive of a set of circumstances that could prove it false.

But even the strictest modern empiricist does not live his life according to such rigorous principles. To determine which direction is east, he does not perform an elaborate set of calculations based on the observation of heavenly bodies; he acts as if the sun rises in the east, because in a very real sense it does.

The narrowest of modern empiricisms can tell us nothing about the deepest truths of human life. How can you falsify a mother's love? More to the point, why would you want to? To prove that your mother's love is true? Such a demand is perverse, at best.

Yet we fall for it. We think that in order to defend the Faith, we must make our arguments on their terms, not realizing that their terms not only would have been rejected by the greatest minds of millennia past but are set in order to exclude all of the evidence that we know, from our own experience, proves the truth of the Faith. We point, for example, to well-documented Eucharistic miracles--the turning of the bread to flesh in both essence and accidents; wine that takes on the accidents of blood after the consecration--as if these are proof of the truth of transubstantiation.

They aren't. They may be miracles of a different sort, but transubstantiation by definition means that the accidents of bread and wine are retained, while the form changes to the Body and Blood of Christ. Such Eucharistic miracles tell us as little about the mystery that occurs at every Mass as would "scientific" experiments on the consecrated species.

The real evidence of the Real Presence of Christ lies in the change that the sacrament works in the lives of believers. That evidence is there for all who have eyes to see and ears to hear. That those who do not believe in Christ cannot see it is no surprise; indeed, it is to be expected. The greater worry is that we, in letting nonbelievers set the terms on which we understand our Faith, may close our own eyes and stop our own ears.

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
Lo! o'er ancient forms departing,
newer rites of grace prevail;
faith for all defects supplying,
where the feeble senses fail.
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Comments
November 9, 2009 at 5:59 pm
(1) Eastvanistan says:

So all the evidence we have for the truth of the ‘Real Presence’, transubstantiation, etc. is the difference in the lives of those who buy into it.

Leaving aside the matter of the quality of such ‘evidence’, how to you suggest we evaluate the religious beliefs of the other 4 or 5 billion non-catholic believers on earth? They experience their gods in much the same way and see the same improvements in their lives but (even though these religions have a comparable number of devotees and have persisted as long) you maintain they are wrong and you are right.

The inference to the best explanation is not hard to make: *Believing* brings those people solace, just as it does for Catholics, not the veracity of the beliefs. If one group had found the ‘one true god’ and he/she/it was the source of the positive changes in the lives of his/her adherents then we would expect the prayers and rituals of the others to offer no improvement in their lives. But improvement there is (why else would they go on worshiping?).

What to make of this, Mr. Richert? How could one billion Muslims be wrong?

I still take great issue with your claim to hold your religious belief on empirical grounds (as do others here, evidently) but I let my post on your previous entry speak for itself.

November 10, 2009 at 1:11 am
(2) Michael J. says:

RE: How could 1 billion Moslems be wrong?

Easy. They follow the greatest of the false prophets.

November 28, 2011 at 9:09 pm
(3) gsgray@eircom.net says:

What I find even sadder is that Christians dont realize that Moslems preach from the Quaran that Jesus was not Crucified but rather they got a look alike and crucified him and that the real Jesus was allowed to roam around Jerusalem considering there religion did not come into being untill 622 A.D who made up that rubbish and heresy and what would they know since there religion did not come into being for hundreds of years later. Plus they put Fatwah’s out on people its also obvious that the Ten Commandments of Moses is ignored. They more follow Zeus the pagan god of War. We hear all about Mohammed the Prophet , who is talked about as if he was god( AND WAS A MAN) and Allah who is God we hear NOTHING.

November 10, 2009 at 11:44 am
(4) Tom Piatak says:

An outstanding reflection on the Blessed Sacrament.

November 10, 2009 at 2:02 pm
(5) pat donlevy says:

Thank you Scott for your writing today . Yes, It is always through God’s grace and our willingness that we can be transformed from a life without the Eucharist and a life with the Eucharist.

As a cradle Catholic , I have a heart full of gratitude for my parents and for persons like you who have reached out to make others more mindful of the tremendous gift of our Catholicism through the efforts you have made.

Let us encourage one another as we go forth(See Romans 1:11-12)
There are those who are questioning the different concepts of our faith transubstantiation, intercessory prayer with the saints and salvation by faith and works. Yet, let us not be troubled! Let us continue marching along with our heads held high praying for the day that all will be one. Pat

November 10, 2009 at 4:09 pm
(6) Mary says:

God Bless you Scott, for the wonderful article about how we feel the Real Presence each time we step into our Catholic Church. Like Pat, I am a cradle Catholic now 71 years old and the same reverence I felt while a little girl living within the Parish where my father was a Teacher, we could come running, playing and screaming all over the Church compound, but the minute we neared the Church door, the Real Presence immediately hit us and we, automatically stopped short and made a sign of the Cross.

We do not criticise other Religions or Faiths but we cannot deny that which to us is as real as the knowledge that tomorrow morning, the sun will rise from the East and set in the West.

Our Faith in Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity is as real as our breathing or the beating of our hearts. We certainly do not take time to listen to it to know it is beating, we breathe without thinking about it, but we know we shall stop living if the breathing stops and the heart stops beating. God bless you Scott for the way you are helping us in walking our Holy Path of Faith in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church

November 11, 2009 at 4:53 pm
(7) marge says:

Richard

Could you sometime list some of the ejaculations that
we learned as children. Thank you

November 16, 2009 at 7:29 pm
(8) DebM says:

Thank you, Scott for a wonderful article. I can truly identify with your experience.
I was brought up Catholic, but when I divorced my abusive husband, I was physically safe, but by not being able to receive the Sacraments, I felt an awful emptiness. My pastor helped me through the annulment process and while it was a painful and lengthy process to go through, it was worth it. Last year, on the 11th wedding anniversary of marriage to a wonderful man, I received the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Holy Eucharist, and Marriage (my husband and I had been originally married in another church). I cannot even tell you how overcome with emotion I was, being back. I weep after receiving the Body of Christ- the joy and gratitude is impossible to put into words.

November 29, 2011 at 8:57 am
(9) Beatrice says:

i understand how you feel. i gave birth out of wedlock and for 2 years i was cut off. it was devastating. you don’t appreciate what you have until it is taken away from you.

November 18, 2009 at 10:12 am
(10) Chris says:

To believe in the Real Presence is a gift. To those that have been given the Faith they need nothing but that sanctuary lamp alite. We view the Blessed Sacrament through eyes of faith…to those that believe no reason is necessay; to those that dont believe, no reason is possible.
Chris is truely present under the guise of bread and wine, this i firmly believe.

December 19, 2009 at 4:17 am
(11) Jose Kavi says:

Many thanks for the sharing. Could you explain why you left the Catholic Church for four weeks? It would help others.

July 21, 2010 at 6:42 am
(12) Francina Michael says:

Dear Scott,

I just happen to drop in to this site while googling…. and i paused at your article and spent few seconds. But just caught up with your experience. I have gone thro’ a personal and similar experience. I was married to a CSI (Anglican/Lutheran christian) i was kept away from my church. I did understand the real meaning and value of receiving Jesus was only then… i missed him every second.. Every sunday when i had been to church i was returned empty in my heart… then I realised the much value of our “mass” which we usually take it for granted..

When i used to see my fellow catholic people in those times.. i used remark them saying “lucky Catholics”. Now, that I’m back to my Roman Catholic church I feel that.. I have gained my life’s wealth… and found back my God whom I had left for my personal benefit. Today I’m glad to be as his child and never again i would compromise for him.

September 14, 2010 at 11:39 am
(13) Edward.Fullerton says:

Scott ,we need to constantly reminded about the pervasive errors of what is secular.

November 28, 2011 at 1:42 pm
(14) Patti Day says:

As a Catholic who left for much longer than 4 weeks, even longer than 4 years, I am thrilled to be home. Two of the greatest blessings of our faith are receiving the Holy Eucharist and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Never did I imagine finding the the fulfillment that has blessed me since returning to my Catholic faith. Many may hate us for proclaiming our beliefs, but they don’t understand what they are missing.

November 30, 2011 at 1:33 am
(15) Rose says:

Dear Scott, thank you for sharing your experience. I thought I was alone. I left my abusive marriage 17 years age got into another relationship and had a wonderful baby boy but all felt empty because of lack of holy communion – This year I was helped by my centre Priest to go back to the altar for communion after deciding that I stay single but whenever I recieve the body and blood of jesus tears of joy just roll dowm. Be blessed

November 30, 2011 at 9:13 am
(16) Angela Mac Dodoo says:

Thank you very much Scott,
l’m always secured when l am in the Catholic church.
I feel wake and alive throughout the mass.
When l surrender myself totally to him he blesses me beyond my understanding.
In his presence l am able to do all things Amen

December 1, 2011 at 6:12 am
(17) Mary42 says:

Thank you, for this wonderful Post about the Real Essence, the Very Centre, the Very Apex of our Catholic Faith and the entire God’s Salvation Mystery

December 3, 2012 at 6:44 pm
(18) Karl says:

Deb M,

On what grounds was your marriage found null?

Canon 1095 2 and 3, are the biggies, especially 2.

December 5, 2012 at 11:16 am
(19) Anne S. says:

I agree with Pat Donlevy’s comment from two years ago:

“As a cradle Catholic , I have a heart full of gratitude for my parents and for persons like you who have reached out to make others more mindful of the tremendous gift of our Catholicism through the efforts you have made.”

I often think of the gift I was given of being born into a very good Catholic family. It really is a gift and I try not to take it for granted. Where would I be had I been born in a non-Catholic family? I believe that those who struggle to find the Truth and find their way to the Catholic Church are amazing! God probably knew that I was too weak to find the Catholic Church, and so He had me be born into it. I am most grateful to Him for doing that.

Thank you, Scott, for all you are doing to help others to know the Truth of Catholicism. If you helped only one person by all of your work … what joy in heaven there would be for just that one person!

December 6, 2012 at 11:09 pm
(20) Beverly Rademsky says:

Scott – Your article was just beautiful. I’m a cradle Catholic and every time I walk into a Catholic Church I feel peace and, yes, a presence. I could never leave the Church no matter what. Thank you for this wonderful article.

December 7, 2012 at 1:03 am
(21) Mike says:

Scott,

As an adult that converted to the Catholic faith, I feel as though I know how you must have felt during those few short weeks. Sometimes in life, we really don’t know what we have until we lose it. Even for a short time. I love being Catholic, and I often say that I am “Catholic by choice”. Thanks for sharing your inner feelings with us and reminding everyone of the value in receiving the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Jesus said, I am the living bread that comes down from heaven that gives life to the world. And He does, for in each and every Mass, He comes down from heaven and changes the bread and wine into His body and blood, and gives life to the world! He is the “bread of life”.

January 25, 2013 at 12:25 pm
(22) Francis Randy Allen Schatz says:

Interesting article. I was taught as a child to believe in the Eucharist, but it didn’t sink in very fast. When I was a young teenager I remember feeling envious of the contemporaries of Jesus that got to touch him, to hold him like Mary, or to lay his head on Jesus’ chest like John did. After receiving communion one Sunday after that I went back and knelt down in my pew, and quickly sensed someone laughing with hunorous joy at me. I then ‘heard’ a voice speak inside of me. It said with such vigor and joy “Now I can hug you from the inside out all week long.” I left the chuch with a smile on my face that Sunday.
But nothing hit me more in understanding how true the real presence of the Jesus is in our Catholic communion than when I was deprived of him for over six months. In 2004 I was diagnosed with cancer. The following chemo treatments were so severe that much of my short term memory was effected. After six months I went to Mass Sunday morning, the first time since I was diagnosed. After I received Jesus I went back to my pew and started to cry. There I was a grown man in the back of church with tears running down my cheeks. My friend was with me again hugging me from the inside out. My joy was complete. I didn’t realize how much pain I had inside from missing him.

December 1, 2013 at 9:35 am
(23) Christopher Check says:

Beautiful piece, Scott.

I doubt whether it will help the scoffers in the combox, but your reflection reminds me of my taking a trip to the Baltics a few years back and popping in to one admittedly magnificent church after another in Helsinki, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, etc. Not one was a Catholic church (some had been), and while all had the sense of (at least the trappings of) what was in its origins Catholic architecture and design, they all suffered from the fact that God was not Really Present in them. Each one left me with a feeling of loss. There was even a church in Arhus or Stockholm (I can’t remember) where the service was considerably more traditional in its form and music than many Catholic Masses. I watched for some time. Among my traveling companions was a fine gentleman with great devotion to the Tridentine Mass. Our subsequent trip to the local Catholic Church was a liturgical disappointment to be sure, but when he asked me where I felt more at home, the answer was easy enough: Where God is.

There are few things I love more than exploring old churches.

December 5, 2013 at 7:20 am
(24) Drewa says:

I was received into the church in 2004 at the age of 57yrs after first receiving instruction in 1963 – I don’t like to hurry these things! And even since then I have had many doubts/lapses, but it is my belief in the Eucharist that pulls me back. I used to say I could always feel the Presence in a Catholic Church but a few years ago now I went temporarily to a church where I could not feel it. I couldn’t understand what was happening, so after Mass I scouted around and found a small Blessed Sacrament chapel at the side of the church which was completely enclosed with sides, a roof and doors. I opened those doors and was hit by a “whoosh” of energy/power, call it what you will, that threatened to knock me over! It was probably the most amazing religious experience I’ve ever had and I wanted to rush back in the church and shout “Why are you keeping the Real Presence out?” but I didn’t. All they needed to do really, if they didn’t want a central tabernacle (why wouldn’t you?) would have been to take the glass out of the windows on the side of the chapel which abutted the main church. It made me so sad to see Jesus shut out from His people.

December 5, 2013 at 12:45 pm
(25) TAF says:

I found much wisdom from reading your piece. My youngest son told me a couple of years ago, while in high school, that he could no longer attend Mass because he did not believe that the Eucharist was truly the body of Christ. It was a very humbling moment for me. I have never had a “whoosh” feeling as did Drewa, but have always felt comfort and peace in Catholic Churches. I must say that I don’t understand the will of God, but trust in him. And I pray that my son does come back to the faith with an experience such as yours, and without me trying to “prove” anything by citing Eucharistic miracles and such.

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