I had the Word of God in the Scriptures, speaking to my soul.
I had the tradition of the Church Fathers guiding my mind.
I had the practices of daily prayer, sacrifice, and worship building my strength.
All that was left was my heart.
My heart was still beating to the rhythm of Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, but my ego was firmly blocking the path.
My ego’s accusation was that studying the early Church and interpreting Scripture without going through intense schooling was not realistic. I was tackling questions and issues that scholars have spent thousands of years dissecting. While I realized comprehensive research was necessary groundwork, my ego required proof from life itself.
As I am growing closer to God, I have noticed how we are hard-wired for truth, so much so that we practice it in our everyday lives almost without noticing. It makes sense – He created us to know Him and we are made in His image. We are to follow Christ and live by His example. We are to love Him with all our heart, all our strength, all our soul, and all our mind. There can be no separation between our everyday life and our Christian life. There should be no contradiction.
I had been working through this concept when trying to understand God as my Father (see Hebrews 12:4-11). I participate in this truth when parenting my own children. I expect them to follow my rules just as God expects me to follow His rules. Realizing I already practice God’s ways helped me to stop rejecting the concept of punishment for my bad choices, because when I have to send my children to their rooms, His truth echoes off the stomping feet and slamming doors of my life.
I wondered if I could apply this logic to the Eucharist. Was it really so hard to believe? Or was I already practicing it somehow in my everyday life?
I considered the miraculous science that bread and wine and all types of food are changed into human flesh and blood every day. Nature metabolizes what we eat and drink, the molecules all reconfiguring into something else, to become a part of our bodies. I barely even notice this fact because it physically happens to me all the time. The truth of bread and wine becoming flesh and blood already occurs physically in our everyday lives.
But how does this mingle with the spiritual life? I started by asking myself what other “strange” things I believe in. Baptism comes to mind. Jesus was baptized, a simple touch of His Divinity forever changing the water. He told the Samaritan woman His water is more than common, it is life eternal. I believe baptism is more than a symbol – His Words mixed with our desire change the water into something supernatural. If I pour some water over you, even if it is from a baptismal font, nothing happens. It’s just water. But if you truly want to become a follower of Jesus, and I say the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” while pouring that same water over you, something amazing happens. Your soul is cleansed by His grace. Why? Because a sacrament, when done intentionally in the proper form, merges the physical with the spiritual, hence, the word “supernatural.” Seems strange when you really think about it, yet my Christian friends and family are baptized as if they believe this to be true. We have practiced it in our everyday lives.
Just as the body is washed with water so that the soul may be cleansed, so in the Eucharist the body feeds upon Christ’s Body and Blood so that the soul may be nourished. My dear ego, why is water believable when it comes to invisible supernatural powers, but you resist bread and wine being used in an invisible supernatural way? Water washes, food nourishes – visibly in the physical sense, invisibly in the spiritual sense. But in both the physical and the spiritual, the change is really, truly occurring.
My soul had another “strange” belief for my ego to consider. Why are you so hung up on the concept of bread and wine changing to body and blood, yet you readily believe the Word became Flesh in the womb of a virgin? My ego was stunned into silence on that one. Indeed, the Eucharist can be seen as an extension of the Incarnation. He became flesh and dwelt among us. Why would God bother physically coming to us if all we need is the spiritual connection? Perhaps our Creator knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows how much we need Him spiritually AND physically. Then AND now.
So is it really that far of a stretch, for a Christian who believes in baptism and the Incarnation, to believe bread and wine can also be changed supernaturally? We believe He created the world from nothing and man from dust. Fed His people in the desert with manna. Turned water into wine. Healed lepers and drove out demons. Made the blind see and the lame walk. Multiplied fish and loaves. Raised people from the dead and then defeated His own death. And on and on and on.
My ego was incredibly agitated at this point, practically screaming, but it’s invisible!!!
Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” ~John 20:29 (NASB)
Yes. It is invisible. The Trinity is also invisible to us at this point on earth. Yet, even without the word “Trinity” being used in Scripture, relying solely on interpretation and doctrine handed down from the Church Fathers through generations, we believe it is true. This is not as hard as I was making it; I must surrender to faith as I do in so many other areas. Heavenly things can be accepted because we trust Jesus, not because we completely understand.
“If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” ~John 3:12 (NASB)
But eating flesh and drinking blood? Would God really ask us to do this? This is a question of how well we know God and how well we understand our own strange customs. The practice of circumcision is one example. When newborn sons are only hours old, we are faced with the decision of whether or not to circumcise them. Do we hesitate? Why or why not? Because everyone does it? Because there are health reasons? Because we vaguely know it to be part of our religion? Circumcision started as a covenant that God made with Abraham that has been passed down through the ages. The same God that we worship today, that we say never changes, is the God who told a 99 year old man to cut himself and every male child as a sign of devotion. Many openly accept this and practice it today, often without question or even full knowledge of why we are doing it, but we get concerned when Jesus says bread and wine are His Flesh and Blood?
My ego didn’t know what to say to that contradiction, so my soul persisted. Dear ego, if you still don’t believe God is dramatic, passionate, and extremely serious about devotion, look to the most obvious example – the sacrifice of Christ. He prepared us through the example of Abraham and Isaac, God stopping Abraham from sacrificing his only son at the last second. But He didn’t stop with Jesus. He carried it all the way out and saved us through the brutal killing of His own Son. Why do you accept this bloody reality of human sacrifice as something God would do, but reject the unbloody reality that He would continue to be present in the Eucharist? Do you need to go back to the days when the altar was covered in blood so there will be visible proof? When I stepped back and analyzed it this way, I felt like the strange one.
God responded to my one prayer with one answer – Jesus. I read Jesus’ own words in John 6. I saw the example in the way the first Christians worshiped. I listened to all of my ego’s arguments and was able to refute every single one of them. But the heartbeat – Jesus, Jesus, Jesus – was vibrating through my being so powerfully at this point, I’m not sure any of the proof mattered.
I admittedly used to avoid Catholic churches because I thought the way they did communion was…well, crazy. But now I felt pulled toward the Church as if there was a magnet in my heart. I had to see it for myself, from the perception of how they see it. I had to assume Jesus was really and truly there, spiritually as I had always believed, but also physically in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
I had to go to Mass.
To be continued…