Praying to and with the Lord in the Eucharist, Encountering Jesus Retreat, Part IV, November 15-17, 2002

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Retreat given at Sacred Heart Retreat House
Alhambra, California
“Encountering Jesus”
November 15-17, 2002

Matt. 26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

• We come to the heart of this retreat, to the point on which this retreat stands or falls.
• In front of Our Lord, right here in the Blessed Sacrament, I’m going to propose a resolution that you to make from this retreat and keep, just as I promised I would in the first conference.
• And here it is: I’m asking you to come visit him every day, to make him really the priority of your life, to spend time with him every day. To make a holy hour every single day for the rest of your life preferably, in possible, in His presence.
• JP II makes the same request in his WYD 2002 message: “Visit the Lord in that “heart to heart” contact that is Eucharistic Adoration. Day after day, you will receive new energy to help you to bring comfort to the suffering and peace to the world.” He clearly implies we’re going to visit the Lord “day after day” and have this “heart to heart contact.”
• Bishop Fulton J. Sheen used to ask those who made his retreat to make a resolution to do a holy hour every day. He said nothing would be more important than that in keeping someone faithful. Nothing would be more important to keeping you attached to Christ. Nothing would be more important to helping you fight sin and learning how to love.
• If you were to have the chance to meet the Pope for an hour each day, to talk about your life, to receive inspiration and guidance, would you do it? I think everyone of us here would. If we could meet with St. Thomas every day. Or St. Thérèse. Or Mother Teresa. Or St. Catherine. Or St. Francis. Or St. Teresa of Avila. Or the Blessed Mother. Imagine if we had the chance every day to have a one-hour conversation with one of the great saints. Would we do it? Would we consider it worth it? Of course we would!
• Well, every day we have a chance to meet with God incarnate. What reason could possibly justify our not taking advantage of this opportunity?
• JME: “You seek the friendship of those who, with their conversation and affection, with their company, help you to bear more easily the exile of this world — although sometimes those friends fail you. I don’t see anything wrong with that. But how is it that you do not seek everyday, more eagerly, the company, the conversation of that great friend who will never fail you.”
• JME: “‘Mary has chosen the better part,’ we read in the holy Gospel. There she is, drinking in the words of the Master. Apparently idle, she is praying and loving. Afterwards she accompanies Jesus in his preaching through towns and villages. Without prayer, how difficult it is to accompany him!”
• This needs to be the most important appointment of our day. Back in Fall River, I put my appointment with Jesus right in my Palm Pilot. The secretaries know that it’s my most important appointment of the day. Normally it is done very early in the morning, but if there are sick calls during the night, occasionally I have to do it later on in the day. They know that they are not to interrupt me unless it were important enough to interrupt an appointment I had with the Pope — for example, somebody’s imminent death, etc. Everything else can wait. This daily meeting with Jesus is too important.
• It recharges my batteries. It brings me back to the fundamental reality of all human life, that God is God and that I’m not.
• It brings me to my knees to praise him for who He is and for His tremendous love, not just dying for us but feeding us with his perpetual real presence.
• It helps me to thank him and realize that countless blessings he gives me every single day.
• It allows me to beg his forgiveness for my sins and failings and to give me counsel and strength to grow in loving him.
• And it gives me the chance to bring to him all of my needs and petitions as well as all of those confided to me by others, those for whom I’ve promised to pray, those for whom I should pray.
• JME: “Here is an effective custom for achieving presence of God: your first appointment every day should be with Jesus Christ.”

• To make and keep a commitment like this is not easy.
• There are so many competing things. In our lives, we often fail to do what’s most important because it doesn’t seem so urgent, whereas other things seem so urgent. We tell ourselves that God can wait. We’ll pray later. Then we’re too tired.
• Stephen J. Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, broke down all possible things that we need to do into four categories.
• Important-Urgent — these are rare, and would be emergencies over important things, like for priests, anointing of the sick, or for normal people, going to the hospital or taking care of loved ones. These should be rare.
• Important, not Urgent — these are generally the most important things. Time with family and friends. Prayer. Getting exercise and staying healthy. Etc. These are things that don’t have to be done right now, but they’re truly important. For a person to have a truly healthy, peaceful and balanced life, these activities need be to prioritized in our schedule as much as possible.
• Non-Important, but Urgent — This concerns some phone calls or door ringing. For students, it means finishing up term papers or other items with clear deadlines. For most of this stuff, it’s not really important, even though it seems so at the time, because very likely we’re not going to remember it in 2-3 years. At work, things that absolutely have to be done fast.We have several deadlines we have to make for small stuff that really isn’t important but we just have to get to it today. The more these types of activities grow, the less meaningful a life we’ll have, the more we’ll be dissatisfied with life.
• Non-Important, non-urgent — These are things like blowing off time playing video games, or surfing the web, or watching uninspiring television programs, etc. Oftentimes when people are spending too much time in the non-important but urgent category, they turn to this fourth category to blow off steam.
• Prayer in normal circumstances is important, but not urgent. So we’re tempted to put it off, but it’s the most important thing we could be doing, so we need to work it in. We need to plan it in.
• In my own life, I’ve had to remind myself several times that everything else can be scheduled around my daily appointment with God. But there are still times when I don’t get to it until late in the day and I can always tell.
• God needs to be our priority, especially if we say we love him.
• In marriage preparation, I often deal with couples who haven’t practiced the faith in a long time. They don’t hate God, they still have some faith in him, but they just haven’t practiced. Very often they still claim to love God, but just don’t “have the time” to get to Mass on Sundays. I ask them if they have the time to eat. They say yes. I ask them if they have the time to sleep. They say yes. I ask them if they have the time to watch television. They say most of the time. Well, then, why don’t they have the time to go to Mass?, I ask them.
• It’s a question of love. I ask them if they never made any time for their fiancé(e), would they really be loving that person? If they constantly said they were too busy to spend time with them, even one hour a week. They all recognize that that would not be consistent with loving.
• Well, how could any of us claim to love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength — which is what God calls us to — if we’re not willing to make time for him, not just an hour a week, but an hour a day? We’d never take a child for granted in that way. We’d never take a spouse for granted in that way. How come so many of us take God for granted in that way?
• There’s an objection that is commonly raised to making a daily holy hour. “Father, I’m just too busy.” Bishop Sheen used to hear that and he used to reply, then make two holy hours. The busier we are, the more we need God, not the less, and we have to make it a priority. The Pope is as busy as anyone on the planet. But he gets it in. Mother Teresa used to make a three-hour visit to the Blessed Sacrament every day. What are you willing to give?

• Now, in order for someone to be able to make this a crucial priority, the person first has to believe in the real presence of Christ, that Christ is ALIVE, and that he’s really present in the Eucharist. If we don’t believe this is God here in our midst, the importance of a holy hour every day does not really seem all that important, except perhaps for selfish motives — “I’m more at peace, I find time to center myself, etc.” But if we do believe it’s God, what else could be more important?

• So we have to tackle that problem. How do we know it’s really God? We don’t know it’s He, strictly speaking, but we believe that it’s God, on the basis of what Christ himself told us.
• John 6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
• Matt. 26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
• St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his beautiful Adoro Te Devote, Visus, tactus, gustus in te fállitur, Sed auditu solo tuto créditur. Credo quidquid dixit Dei Fílius; Nil hoc verbo Veritátis vérius. We believe whatever the Son of God has said; Nothing is truer than the Word of Truth.
• We ultimately believe the truth of Christ’s real presence because we believe in Christ, who affirmed it.

• But there have also been Eucharistic miracles over the course of the centuries that can help us to appreciate this mystery. Now Eucharistic miracles do not have to be believed with Catholic faith, but we’re called to evaluate them with natural faith, what might be called common sense. And some just exceed rational explanation and can help buttress our faith. We’ll tackle two of them.

• Orvieto-Bolsena
• In 1263, Peter of Prague had lost faith in the Eucharist.
• It’s not all that strange for a priest to lose faith in the Eucharist. It’s happened many times throughout the centuries. A priest, knowing how sinful he is, can begin to question whether what feels like bread, tastes like bread, smells like bread, etc., is really completely different after a few words, and no longer even bread at all but GOD.
• Sometimes the magnitude of the reality of the Eucharist can overwhelm him and he can think it’s too good, too extravagant, to be true.
• Peter went on pilgrimage to his namesake in Rome. There was a great fittingness in going to Peter based on John 6 — “Lord to whom shall we go; you alone have the words of everlasting life.”
• He spent time at the basilica of St. Peter, but didn’t seem to have his prayer answered, so began to return, now questioning his whole faith and not just the belief in the Eucharist.
• He was asked to celebrate Mass at St. Christina’s in Bolsena
• At fraction, host began to bleed profusely. It poured over his hands, onto the corporal, altar and down the steps of the altar.
• He brought the miracle to Pope Urban IV (Pantaleon), who was in the fortified nearby town of Orvieto.
• Peter of Prague described the background of his doubts about the real presence to the Pope and then what happened at the fraction rite. He simply said to the Pope, “Bread doesn’t bleed.” What seems like Bread and wine isn’t bread and wine at all.
• The Pope used it as an opportunity to launch the Feast of Corpus Christi, inviting St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure to write the office for the new feast. St. Thomas won the competion and from that work we have the Adoro Te Devote, the Pange Lingua (Tantum Ergo), the Verbum Supernum Prodiens (O Salutaris) and the Lauda Sion Salvatorem.

• Lanciano
• Around the year 700, a Basilian priest who had begun to doubt the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist was celebrating Mass in Lanciano, Italy, at the Monastery of St. Longinus.
• Right after having pronounced the solemn words of consecration, the priest’s host was suddenly changed into a circle of flesh and the former wine transformed into visible blood.
• He announced the miracle to the congregation who rushed the altar, marvelled at the sight and spread word to other townspeople and those in neighboring towns who came to witness the miracle themselves.
• The flesh remained intact, but the blood in the chalice soon coagulated into five pellets of unequal sizes and irregular shapes.
• The Host and the five pellets of precious blood were put into ivory reliquaries until 1713 when they were put in a silver and crystal reliquary. The host is in a typical lunette in a monstrance, just like the one we’re looking at, and the nuggets of blood in a crystal chalice.
• In 1970, Pope Paul VI allowed the miracle to be examined — over 1200 years after it had taken place. Professors of anatomy and pathological histology, chemistry and clinical microscopy were called in. The conclusions were presented on March 4, 1971.
• The flesh was identified as striated muscular tissue of the myocardium (heart wall), having no trace whatsoever of any materials or agents used for the preservation of flesh.
• Both the flesh and the blood were found to be of human origin, emphatically excluding the possibility that it was from animal species.
• The blood and the flesh were found to belong to the same blood type, AB, the universal recipient. This is the same blood type as on the shroud. Proteins and minerals in the blood were in the same percentage as those found in normal, fresh human blood.
• The doctor said such a cut of flesh from a human heart wall would have basically been impossible without the finest tools, that there was no room for fraud; moreover, there was no way that any potential fradulent pseudo-host would not have decomposed over the course of 1200 years, because there were no preservatives on it and the lunette was not hermetically sealed. It was truly a phenomenon that science could not explain.
• What do we learn from this? Jesus essentially gives us His Heart in Holy Communion, fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel:
Ezek. 11:19 I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
Ezek. 36:25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.
Ps. 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
• This can also give new meaning to what the Pope says in his WYD 2002 address, about the Eucharist: “Visit the Lord in that “heart to heart” contact that is Eucharistic Adoration. Day after day, you will receive new energy to help you to bring comfort to the suffering and peace to the world.” The Lord gives us his heart to have this loving heart to heart contact in Eucharistic adoration.

• So what should our response be to this tremendous sacrament of the real presence of God in our midst?
• We should burst out in song and praise, as St. Thomas does. Tantum Ergo Sacramentum. O What a great sacrament! We should burst out in adoring love. All our life should change as a result. All our behavior around the Eucharist should change.
• There’s a story that Professor Peter Kreeft from Boston College tells. He’s the best philosophical writer in America in my opinion and I’d highly recommend his books to all of you. He tells the story of a devout Muslim student in one of his classes who knew of his reputation for being a great apologist of the Catholic faith. So he came up to him with a question:
• “Someone told me that Catholics believe that what you call the Eucharist is not bread but is actually Jesus whom you believe to be God. Is that what Catholics actually believe?”
• Kreeft responded that it was, and was preparing to give a simple apologetic that the God of heaven and earth, the God who created everything, is certainly capable of completely changing bread into body and blood. Nothing is impossible for him. But he didn’t get the chance, because the Muslim retorted:
• “Really? — that’s just impossible to believe.” Kreeft was ready for his explanation and started, but the Muslim interrupted him and said to him that he has no problem believing that it is within God’s power to do literally anything. That wasn’t his issue he said.
• “Then what is your issue,” Kreeft replied.
• He said that he went to a Catholic Mass on campus and watched the way Catholics went up to receive Holy Communion, he watched as they sauntered past the tabernacle, and he just couldn’t believe that they believed that by their actions.
• “If I really believed that that was God in that little host,” he finished, “I don’t think I could ever get up off my knees.” I don’t think I could ever get up off my knees.
• Well, we do believe, on the very testimony of the Son of God, that he is as present here as he was in Palestine, as he was in the Upper Room, as he was on the Cross, as he is in Heaven. And what’s our attitude!
• He’s in tabernacles all over the world and very close to where you live. You have the unbelievable privilege to receive him every single day. You have the chance to spend time with Him here, to strengthen you in your pilgrimage in the hope that you might be able to spend eternity with him.
• Prayer is meant to take us into contact with the Lord. The Lord is here in the Eucharist. If we come to him here, at Mass and in adoration, not just in body, but with our hearts lovingly attuned to his presence, we will already be praying and be able to enter much more deeply into the mystery which is the greatest miracle among us.
• I return to the resolution I’ve been praying and hoping everything single one of you will make and respond to God’s grace to keep for the rest of your lives starting tonight, to make a Holy Hour with Him every single day, no matter what your state of life now, no matter what your state of life turns out to be. To make a resolution to make the sacrifices necessary to keep a resolution like this — because they’ll all be worth it.
• We finish with the prayer at the end of one of the Catholic Tradition’s most famous Eucharistic hymns, Sacris solemnis, from which we get the Panis Angelicus.
• Panis angélicus fit panis hóminum; dat panis cáelicus figúris términum. O res mirábilis: mandúcat Dóminum servans pauper et húmilis — The Bread of Angels is made the bread of men. This heavenly bread buts an end to shadows. What an incredible reality — a poor and humble servant eats His Lord!
• Te, trina Déitas únaque, poscimus; sic nos tu vísitas sicut te cólimus: per tuas sémitas duc nos quo téndimus ad lucem quam inhábitas. Amen — To you, God one and three, we pray, that you visit us now as we worship you; and lead us through your footsteps which we’re following to the eternal light where you dwell. Amen!