Eucharist: The center of our existence

  • Written by Nina Butorac
  • Published in Commentary
Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield gives Communion to a man attending Mass on the U.S. side of the border in El Paso, Texas, Feb. 17, 2016. About 550 guests situated on a levee north of the Rio Grande participated in the Mass Pope Francis celebrated in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Msgr. Bransfield is general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Photo: CNS/Nancy Wiechec Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield gives Communion to a man attending Mass on the U.S. side of the border in El Paso, Texas, Feb. 17, 2016. About 550 guests situated on a levee north of the Rio Grande participated in the Mass Pope Francis celebrated in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Msgr. Bransfield is general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Photo: CNS/Nancy Wiechec

We are steeped in the body and blood of Christ, and that should make a difference in our lives

If we believed everything the world tells us about the Catholic Church, there is little chance that intelligent people like ourselves would be in it at all. But the world has never understood the true character of the Catholic Church, and it is high time we Catholics took matters into our own hands and stated it plainly.

We are a eucharistic community. We are Christ-ridden people. I don’t mean to say we are Christ-like in our behavior — I mean that we are suffused with God, thoroughly steeped in the body and blood of Christ. Really. Concretely. In our guts.

We are taught that the Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus Christ. The Eucharist is not a metaphor or symbol. When we receive Communion we are receiving God, just as creation received God in the Incarnation.

We are part of that creation, and we are in communion with that creation — in everything and everyone, in every culture and every creature on this planet, and in the very stuff of the planet itself. We are in communion with every subatomic particle and every star at the leading edge of our expanding universe. And here we are, the Christ-bearers, conscious somehow of this tremendous reality, and believing that God enters this reality to sanctify it thoroughly, and us uniquely. I think it is fair to say that we are all, each of us, truly sacramental. We are the outward sign of an invisible and remarkable grace.

Flannery O’Connor, one of our great Catholic writers, recounted a conversation she once had with a literary nonbeliever who had kindly suggested that the Eucharist was a very fine symbol indeed. O’Connor replied: “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.”

“That was all the defense I was capable of,” she said, “but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it … except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”

What does that mean, “the center of existence”? I suppose we each have to answer that in our own way. But when we participate in the Eucharist, we are Eucharist — we are the body of Christ that is the church. And this church, this people — though flawed, varied, broken and sinful — is always and profoundly sacramental.

If creation is suffused with God, the God who comes down from heaven to share in his creation, then creation must be “charged with the grandeur of God” (to quote Gerard Manley Hopkins), and we ought to pay close attention. If creation is suffused with God, the God who comes down from heaven to share in our humanity, then we are the voice of that creation, its only conscious part, and our voice ought to proclaim the truth of it, and our actions confirm it.

If we are a eucharistic community, then our words, our actions — our “outward signs” of the invisible grace of God incarnate — are critical to our sacramental character. It is we as church who must make Christ present to the world — not as culture warriors, but as a eucharistic gift of love. If the world is ever to know Christ, if it is ever to know the fulfillment of the Christian promise, then we must always speak the whole truth, love unconditionally and do the work of human hands, however we are gifted. We must make the Eucharist the center of our existence — in our lives, in our labors and in our guts.

Nina Butorac is a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle.