“Are you going up for communion?”

One of the advantages of lockdown for us as a family has been the extra time we have to prepare, cook and enjoy different types of food. I have to confess, this food has not always been of the healthy variety!! We have made our own fudge cake, rocky road, chocolate brownies, cupcakes, millionaire shortbread and even our own bread. But when it comes to our basic meals, we have tried new things and made our healthy food more tasty and enjoyable.

We all love good food and there is nothing better than enjoying food with others. Whether it is a cheeky mid-week McDonald’s, a take-out on a Friday night because you are too tired to cook or a meal out with friends as Nando’s, eating food offers us both great pleasure and a great way to socialise.

Today, more than ever, we are hearing about the importance of eating healthy food, watching the carbs and how a healthy diet is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. Good food nourishes us, gives us the strength and vitality that our bodies and minds need.

Yesterday, the Catholic Church (and some traditions with the Anglican communion) celebrated…well…food! A completely different kind of food. It is sometimes called eucharist, the blessed sacrament or it is more commonly referred to as communion. The feast is known by its Latin name “Corpus Christi”, meaning body of Christ. It celebrates the belief that the bread, when consecrated at the Mass, actually, truly and really becomes the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Not just a symbol of Jesus or representing him. But it actually is him.

Think about that for a moment. It just sounds too good to be true you might think? I get that. Really I do. Take a look at the picture below.

Well, it looks…er…round and white you might say? There is a cross in the middle. That’s about it. Nothing special.

That is indeed how it looks. If you were an onlooker at Mass, you would see no change. It looks the same as above. If it was brought to the laboratory after consecration, it would contain the properties that any host would have (except in the cases of Eucharistic miracles which I don’t have space to discuss here. But see: https://aleteia.org/2018/02/27/4-amazing-eucharistic-miracles-from-the-last-20-years/).

But from the earliest days of the Christian faith, there was a belief that the bread was the real person of Christ. Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch (died 107 AD), who would have known those who were close to Jesus’ disciples, wrote in one of his letters about people who denied “the Eucharist to be the real flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ.” This is very early evidence considering the last gospel was written around 90-100 AD. And this belief, though challenged in many ways throughout the history of the Catholic church, has never changed.

When we really think about what this means for you and me, it is quite incredible. But so many do not grasp the great gift this is for them.

When I have attended Mass, either in school or in a parish, as people are filing up the aisle to receive communion, I have undoubtedly heard someone whisper to another in the seats: “Are you going up for communion?” Perhaps you have said it! And I have often tried to wonder what is going through their minds. Could it be as simple as worrying about walking up in front of so many onlookers in the church? Is it the need for someone to go with them rather than them going up on their own? Or is it that they know it is something really important and they are looking for reassurance that it is ok to go up? For a number of young people, they sometimes don’t like the taste of the host. Or it can be the fear they might do something embarrassing when they get to the priest.

Unfortunately, communion can often give rise to feelings and emotions such as fear, embarrassment, awkwardness, discomfort and sometimes conflict. Sometimes, communion is viewed as being something that you receive only if you are a really committed Catholic or you are a really good person. It is like a reward of some kind.

What would I say to anyone who has these feelings, emotions and thoughts? This is what I would like to say.

Firstly, I know this is hard to believe. It requires faith. Faith is often believing in something that we cannot see. Yes, the host looks like a host (what we see) but a profound change has taken place (what we cannot see). There is something happening despite what appears in front of our eyes. I can’t prove it to you. All I can do is pray that you can see it with the eyes of faith.

Secondly, it is one of most incredible acts of love that God could possibly give us. The amazing and incredible events of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and the event of Pentecost can seem so distant from us. And we struggle as humans to experience God because God is so utterly different from us. But what if God wanted us to experience his presence every day if we wished? What if we had something real and tangible that would help us know God’s presence in a deep way? What if God became…food? Crazy isn’t it? It really does seem too good to be true! That you can actually experience God’s presence, compassion, healing, comfort and love through eating food; that he actually becomes food for us.

Almost as crazy as God, the all-powerful and all-knowing creator of the universe becoming a…baby? A baby born in a feeding-trough surrounded by animals? As ridiculous as God, the all-powerful and all-knowing creator of the universe being arrested, mocked, beaten and dying like a common criminal on a cross? As unbelievable as being told that God’s great revolution in the world can be compared to a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds? That to live is to die? To be strong is to be weak? To be poor is to be rich?

You see, much of what God does can be described using the words “It’s just a…” or “It was only…” or even “It’s nothing but…” It has always been that way. David was just a shepherd. Jeremiah was only young. Paul was nothing but a murderer. So it is with the bread that is consecrated by the priest at Mass. It can “just look like” or “can only be” or is “nothing but” a wafer of bread. But it is more than that. Taking this bread will mean that you actually take the presence of God within you in a way that no other form of prayer can match. It will give you nourishment and strength to live your life in a way that you have never lived before. Could God be any closer to you?

Lastly, especially if you are feeling that you have to be perfect or very holy to receive the body of Christ, Pope Francis has said that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

Powerful medicine. Nourishment. Whatever shame you carry, whatever guilt you are holding onto, if you are struggling and simply existing in life instead of living it, if you have no self-confidence, if you are suffering with an addiction, if you are fighting a mental illness, if the pain of losing a loved one is too much to bear, if the wounds from your childhood won’t heal, if the bully’s insults still ring in your ears, if your lack of faith makes you feel unworthy, then this medicine is for you. It was meant for you and for any of us who have the humility to admit we are weak. And this medicine lasts.

So are you going up for communion? When our churches open for Mass again, I think you should.

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