The Challenge of the Real Presence

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Editor’s note: Today Dr. Anthony Lilles continues a series of posts on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  We invite you to read more about the most powerful way Christ remains with us, and why so few believe in the Real Presence.

 

It may well be the case that many of those who say they do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament make this claim out of a kind of fear. This fear should not be overlooked, not only as a pastoral reality at large but also as a personal reality that gnaws at one’s own conscience and goads us out of lethargy.  Before the mystery of the Risen Lord’s living and sacramental presence, we who profess the Christian Faith confront a Great Mystery that should challenge each of us to the very core.

If He is truly present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, how can we live as if His presence were only an emotional trip, an idea, a ‘spiritual’ experience? Beyond all religious feelings,  pious thoughts and religious experiences, there is the objective reality of a Personal Presence quite apart from my own personal being.  Not the projection of my ego or of a collective consciousness, but a real sovereign Person — over me and holding me. If even in the most private moment of prayer, He can disclose Himself as totally above and beyond the limits of my own mind, in the public worship of the Church, we can speak of a fullness of this Presence — a Real Presence from which all other moments of His Presence flow and to which they lead. Such has the Almighty God freely chosen to surrender Himself to humanity – unimaginable, inexhaustible pure gift. At the heart of liturgical prayer, source and summit of all authentic Christian prayer, there is the abiding presence of the Risen Lord we call Real.

This Real Presence grounds all talk of God in objective reality and can lift spiritual considerations out of the muck of pious twaddle. The presence of the Immortal One is more real than any psychological state, any enlightenment of consciousness, any intuition, or any feeling. This is especially the case when He is encountered in the presence that the Church calls “Real.” Drawing close to the Blessed Sacrament, the soul is baptized into a Great Silence in which the Word of the Father resounds. It is to its own detriment not to be prepared for or recognize so great a gift. The Divine Harmonies that it confronts in this sacramental mystery ought to cause an existential crisis. There is a reason why we genuflect, kneel and bow our heads – these acts of reverence speak to a whole surrender of one’s life, the offering of a living sacrifice with one’s own body, true spiritual worship.

When adoration of the Blessed Sacrament reaches the point of crisis, a moment of a profound life decision, questions of whether we really want to believe what we know we ought to believe are not surprising and must be faced. A remote god will only demand only external allegiance, an abstract deity merely conceptual adherence. But the God who is personally present to me, who gives Himself for me – not in the distant past or as an abstract idea — but instead dynamically evoking my total adoration: this God deserves and yearns for a more complete and un-compromised gift. If His presence is really real, the stakes are high. We risk losing all that is familiar and comfortable. Such a challenge is not convenient. It means that I cannot go on living as I like anymore. Instead, I must reckon with who I am in relation to this God who is so very present, even more present to me than I am to myself. Beyond all security and convention, and into that unfamiliar territory of nobility and courage as well as inadequacy and weakness, His Presence beckons.

When I present myself in front of the Blessed Sacrament with faith in His Presence, the Truth Himself gazes on me with love. There is something healing about this gaze. Alienated though I am, His Presence is so complete that He suffers my alienation with me until I no longer suffer alone. He is also present to all the anxieties of my heart, to all those for whom I am anxious, to those situations that have pierced me to the heart and before which I feel powerless. Before this Presence who implicates Himself so profoundly in my plight, how can I abide my own self-contradiction any longer and how can I not find the reason for my hope?

This God of Real Presence demands a total response from the depths of my being – one in which I choose to be present to Him because He has chosen to be present to me. If Christ’s presence is “Real”, then belief in Him must also be real – a lived reality. The Real Presence constitutes a real relation between the Almighty God and the human soul.  Life happens in the tension between the truth He knows about me and my willingness to trust Him.

The Blessed Sacrament is where one confronts the other.  Faith makes this become the standard to measure all my other relations – with both friend and foe, with both my neighbor and myself. It is simply a matter of integrity that the reality of His Body and Blood poured out for us must be made real in our own flesh and blood, in space and time, in every act and decision, in those vertical and horizontal Cross beams.  It is not enough to assent to the Eucharist with our minds, we must live in response and total relation to this abiding Presence by dwelling in Him ourselves.

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