Sunday, August 17, 2003

A Teenager’s Lesson On Receiving The Holy Eucharist

(Twentieth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 17, 2003 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 6: 51-58.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twentieth Sunday 2003]

If we believe the words of Jesus in this Gospel text we just heard from John 6—words that indicate his Real Presence in the Eucharist—then we won’t be surprised by the content of the following letter, which was written by a teenager who attended one of the Steubenville Youth Conferences a few years ago:

“Something awesome happened to me at my Steubenville weekend. Like many other people, it happened during Eucharistic adoration because that’s when I was thinking the hardest about Jesus. When the priest came with the monstrance to where I was sitting, I was taken by God. I started praying while a million thoughts raced through my mind. The best thing was that I had gone to reconciliation just before adoration, so I felt truly pure.

I waited for God to take all that I was, and he did. I felt so different after I surrendered to him. It was the best feeling in the world. I opened my heart, and he came right in. I never want him to leave. I also have been telling people that I made a new best friend. It was Jesus. He took over everything, and I really talk to him. He is my best friend forever.”

This was the experience of a young person who was simply in the presence of Jesus during a period of Eucharistic adoration. Just think how many more graces are available to him—and to the rest of us—whenever we actually receive the Lord’s Body and Blood at Mass!

And yet, we don’t always have such a conscious, direct awareness of the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist, do we?—even when we receive him in the Blessed Sacrament.

And that’s a real concern for some people. As one teenager said to me after Saturday night adoration at Steubenville East this year: “This is so great!—but why don’t I have these feelings back home when I pray or go to church?”

Well, the first answer to that question is that God doesn’t give us “special feelings” all the time because he wants us to walk by faith and not by our emotions. Following your emotions is a dangerous way to go through life.

Secondly, the graces we receive from the Eucharist are not usually evident to our senses—thus we shouldn’t expect to have marvelous feelings every time we receive. Remember when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments? The Bible says that his face was radiant after having communed with God on that mountain. But the amazing thing is: he had no awareness of it! He was a “human light bulb,” but he didn’t realize it.

Just as Moses wasn’t aware of all the graces he had received from communing with the Lord, so we aren’t fully aware of all the graces which come to us when we receive the Lord in the Holy Eucharist.

What matters most is that we are open to these graces, and allow them to bear good fruit in our lives. That’s much more important than how we “feel.” And here we can learn an important lesson from this transformed teenager. His life was different after simply being in the Lord’s presence during adoration, but this transformation he experienced wasn’t a coincidence. It happened, I would say, for 3 reasons which are clearly evident in his letter:

  1. His mind was focused on Jesus. He said that he’s convinced he had this experience of the Lord’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament because “that’s when I was thinking the hardest about Jesus.”
  2. His heart was filled with expectant faith. He believed Jesus was there, and he was convinced Jesus was going to touch his life in some way that night.
  3. His soul was in the state of grace (at least from all external indications). As he put it, “The best thing was that I had gone to reconciliation just before adoration, so I felt truly pure.”

If our reception of the Holy Eucharist at Mass is not bearing much good fruit in our life at the present time, perhaps we can find the reason right here. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because our mind isn’t focused on Jesus, as this teenager’s was. He was thinking hard about the Lord at adoration. What are we thinking about when we come to Mass? There are lots of possibilities, aren’t there?

Or maybe it’s because we aren’t coming to the Liturgy with expectant faith. This teen expected to meet Jesus on Saturday night at Steubenville. Do we expect to meet Jesus in word—and especially in sacrament—whenever we attend Mass? Or do we simply come out of habit or obligation?

Or perhaps it’s because we’re not in the state of grace when we come to worship—which means we need to get to Confession. This young man believed that his openness was directly related to his repentance—and he was absolutely correct! If he had had serious, unrepented sin on his soul, I’m convinced that his experience at adoration that night would have been a lot different—and a lot less powerful!

This means that before every Mass it would be good for us to go through a little mind, heart, and soul “check.” Is my mind focused on Jesus? Is my heart filled with expectant faith, and is my soul in the state of grace?

If the answer is “yes” in each case, then we still may not have a big, emotional experience when we come to Communion that day, but, in all likelihood, the graces we receive from the Eucharist on that occasion will bear good fruit in our life—and that is far more important.