Sunday, June 22, 2014

Eucharistic Miracles And Their Purpose

The Eucharistic Miracles of Lanciano (top) and Santarem.

(Corpus Christi 2014 (A): This homily was given on June 22, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 1 Corinthians 11: 17-34; John 6: 51-58.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Corpus Christi 2014]

I have been blessed to see two Eucharistic miracles in my life.  I saw the first one eleven years ago in the Church of St. Stephen, in Santarem, Portugal.
The story of that particular miracle, which some of you have probably heard before, involves events that go back to the mid-13th century. A woman who lived in Santarem at the time was greatly troubled by her husband’s adulterous behavior—as she should have been!  Unfortunately, however, she made the mistake of going to the local sorceress—the local witch—to find a solution to her problem.  The witch promised the woman that her husband would change his ways and become faithful to her again—if the woman obtained for the witch a consecrated host from the local church.  (In case you’re not aware of it, certain people involved in the occult—especially those in satanic cults—love to get hold of consecrated hosts in order to desecrate them.) 

So the woman pretended to be ill and went to see the local priest at St. Stephen’s, asking him for prayers and for Holy Communion.  The priest innocently gave her the Eucharist, which the woman took out of her mouth (obviously when the priest wasn’t looking) and put into the veil she was wearing on her head.  But she never made it to the witch’s house.  As the woman left the church, the host began to bleed!  She panicked (which is quite understandable!), ran home with the bleeding host, and put it into the cedar trunk where she kept her clean linens.  During the night, however, the woman and her husband were awakened by bright rays of light coming from the trunk.  At that point, she confessed to her husband what she had done.  Not surprisingly, both were converted on the spot!  The two spent the entire night in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Some neighbors also saw the light that evening, and they began coming to the house the next day.  Finally the parish priest was told.  He took the Eucharistic miracle back to the Church of St. Stephen, where it’s been ever since—and where I saw it in 2003.

The other miracle, which I have preached about on several occasions in the past—and which is one of the most extraordinary Eucharistic miracles of all—I finally got to see in person on our recent pilgrimage to Italy.
I’m talking about the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano.  It happened back in the 8th century, when a priest of Lanciano was having doubts about the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  Not surprisingly, he prayed to have those doubts removed.  Well one day, as he was celebrating Mass, God answered his request in miraculous fashion by literally changing the bread and wine into flesh and blood at the consecration.  The elements were never consumed; they’ve been preserved for 13 centuries at a shrine in Lanciano.  In 1971, the Church decided to have the elements analyzed by a team of scientists.  Their testing led them to the following conclusions:

  1. The blood of the Eucharistic Miracle is real blood and the flesh is real flesh.  Both belong to the human species.
  2. The flesh consists of the muscular tissue of the heart.
  3. The flesh and blood have the same blood type (AB positive).
  4. The proteins in the blood are in the same proportions as those found in normal, fresh human blood.
  5. There is no trace whatsoever of any materials or agents having been used to preserve the elements.
This is probably the most famous of all the miracles that have occurred since Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.

Now you may be surprised to learn that one of the lesser known Eucharistic miracles took place just a couple of decades ago—in the 1990s—and it involved our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, when he was a bishop in Buenos Aires.

I read about this one just the other day.

Here’s how writer Alicia Colon described the miracle in an article she wrote last year for The American Thinker web site:

On August 18, 1996 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at Holy mass, a woman discovered a discarded host on a candleholder and brought it to Fr. Alejandro Pezet who placed it in a container of water inside the tabernacle of the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. The following Monday, August 26, upon opening the tabernacle, the priest was astonished to find that the Host had become a bloody substance and he notified his Bishop Jorge Bergoglio [now Pope Francis], who gave instructions that the bloodied flesh be photographed. When the photographs were taken on September 6, the bloodied flesh had grown significantly in size. After it had been kept in the tabernacle for a few years the Bishop decided to have it scientifically analyzed since it had not suffered any visible decomposition. …

In 1999, in the presence of then Cardinal Bergoglio, Dr. Ricardo Castanon, an atheist at the time, sent the fragment to New York for analysis, but did not inform the team of scientists its origin so as not to prejudice the study.  One scientist, Dr. Frederic Zugiba, a cardiologist and forensic pathologist, determined that the substance was real flesh and contained human DNA, and furthermore he concluded was a piece of heart muscle. …

Here is some of his testimony:

“The analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves. This muscle is responsible for the contraction of the heart. It should be borne in mind that the left cardiac ventricle pumps blood to all parts of the body. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. They require a living organism to sustain them. . . . What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.”

Oh yes, one more interesting fact about the flesh in Buenos Aires: DNA tests revealed an exact match with the flesh at Lanciano, along with the same blood type (AB positive)—which indicates that the two pieces of flesh came from the very same person, even though the miracles that produced them were separated by more than a thousand years!

Why am I not surprised?

I tell you these three stories today because it’s very easy for all of us (including us priests!) to lose our awareness of the miracle that happens at every Mass!  Because the Mass is such an ordinary part of our lives as Catholics, the constant temptation is for us to begin to look at the Eucharist as something “ordinary.”

And it’s not!

In fact, I believe that’s why the Lord has given us these special Eucharistic miracles over the years: to make clear to us that the Eucharist is anything but “ordinary.”  In paragraph 1376, the Catechism says this: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God . . . that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”  As St. Paul puts it in today’s second reading, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

And yet, as we all know, 99.99999% of the time the accidents (i.e., the physical properties) of the bread and wine don’t change along with the substance.  Even after the consecration, the host still looks like bread and feels like bread and tastes like bread; and the consecrated wine still has the physical properties it had before the Eucharistic prayer was said over it.

So Jesus has given us these miracles to help us to trust in his word and to look beyond what our human senses tell us.  Notice that in today’s gospel from John 6, when the people object after Jesus tells them he’s going to give them his flesh to eat and his blood to drink, our Lord doesn’t back off!  He doesn’t say, “Well, I didn’t mean it literally!  I meant it symbolically.”

No!  He gets even more emphatic about it!  He says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”

Lord Jesus, today we thank you for loving us by giving your life for us on the cross—and by humbling yourself in this way and becoming our spiritual food.  Help us to be more aware of your presence in the Holy Eucharist in the future—so that we will always be concerned to be reverent and properly disposed when we receive, and so that we will be open to all the graces you want to give us in and through your holy Body and Blood.  Amen.