Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary- Homilies

"A Personal Encounter with Jesus, Truly Present in the Eucharist"
Homily for the
2nd Sunday of Lent
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon

20 March 2011
Year A 

I’m sure we have all had the experience of meeting someone who has left a lasting impression on us. I had this very experience my first year in the seminary when I had the opportunity to meet Pope John Paul II. He did not speak to me, I only got to kiss his ring and shake his hand but his mere presence was awe-inspiring – here I was shaking hands with the pope! Never in my life had I ever dreamed that such a moment would happen for me. I shook hands with a man that on May 1st of this year Pope Benedict XVI will proclaim “blessed” – one step closer to sainthood. The experience left me overcome with joy! This is precisely the experience we have in the presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist – yet on a much larger scale – for this encounter is divine.

Last week, at the other Masses, I mentioned the fact that the Mass as we know has gone through some changes. The structure, gestures, and rites have not changed but the language has been heightened to a more profound and dignified way of speaking. These changes will be spoken about and implemented over the course of the next 8-9 months. In order to understand the changes we have to first understand the Mass itself. The Sacrifice of the Mass – also called the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist – is the true act of worship of God. It is the way in which God breathes His life into us. The sacraments themselves are a continuation of Christ’s mission of salvation, each one culminating in the Eucharist. As a sacrament, the Eucharist has a double aspect. It is a remembering of an event and the making present of that same event, though veiled in the form of bread and wine. The Eucharist is a sacrifice, a presence, and a food. As food the Eucharist is food for the soul, food that nourishes and strengthens our spiritual lives. Indeed, our lives as Christians are fueled by this food. Thus, when we receive Him we receive the power of the Resurrection, the forgiveness of our venial sins and union with Christ – in no greater unity than can be experienced this side of heaven. St. Cyril of Jerusalem points out plainly and simply: “Since Christ Himself has said, 'This is My Body' who shall dare to doubt that It is His Body?”

Thus, the Holy Eucharist can also be spoken of as a presence – Christ’s real and true presence among us. Last fall an organization called Pew Forum did a study on religiosity in America. The poll results showed that those who identified themselves as Catholics - nearly 40% - had said that they believed the Eucharist to be a mere symbol of Christ’s body. My friends, Christ IS present here – really and truly. The Church teaches that Christ is present in four specific ways – in the Church – the assembly, in His Word, in the person of His minister – the priest, and above all, really and truly in the Eucharist – in the form of bread and wine. Here the term ‘present,’ means exactly that, Christ is present, not absent. When the priest speaks those beautiful words of the consecration the substance of bread and wine is changed into the substance of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Though we still taste bread and wine they are really changed – as He says Himself: “this is my body, this is my blood.” At this point of the Mass heaven and earth come together, time and eternity unite in a singular, miraculous, divine meeting!

The encounter that the disciples experience in today’s Gospel – the Transfiguration of Jesus – is similar to the one we have here at Mass. Here, Jesus is transfigured before His disciples – He takes on the form of His glorified, risen body. After a grueling hike up Mt. Tabor, the disciples find Jesus radiant with glory – an experience so amazing they hardly know what to say, it is an experience beyond words. They have forgotten about the hike, they have forgotten that they were fatigued because they are just so completely wrapped up in this moment and are filled with great joy. The walk back down the mountain does not seem so bad – in fact all they can talk about is this encounter.

This is the experience of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist that we have each and every Sunday – and every time we come to Mass. The drive to Mass may seem arduous – sometimes it takes a miracle to get us moving because we carry with us so much baggage, so much stress, so much hardship, confusion, and doubt. Yet, as soon as we have that personal encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist, all that seems to fade away. Jesus takes all the stuff we bring to Him and gives us His very self in return. This experience of His presence in the Eucharist is what gives us the necessary grace to continue the battle of another week of work, family, sports, and all kinds of other activities that occupy our time and energy. The trick is to carry this presence into every moment of everyday, to remind ourselves that He never leaves our side and remains with us – even during the times when He seems to be the farthest away. We remember this experience; we recall it in our minds and in our hearts through our prayer.

It is the teaching of the Church that during the Season of Lent we observe the practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. May this season be for us a time when we pray a little bit more each day, may it be a time when we are able to carry Christ’s presence from this church into our everyday lives and above all, may it be the time when we have an experience of Christ’s presence in the Holy Eucharist – touching our hearts in a very personal and real encounter with the living God. May the Heart of Jesus speak boldly to our hearts so that the divine meeting that takes place here propels us to greater love of Him to the deepest core of our being.


Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Springfield, MA


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