Human reason and logic are wonderful gifts from God. Without them, we wouldn't be able to survive. And like all the other gifts he has given, God wants to see us develop these as well. He loves watching us apply clear thinking to all aspects of our lives: our families, our work, even our faith. He wants us to learn how to "reason in faith" by taking the truths he has revealed to us and applying them to our own philosophy of life and to the decisions we face every day.
Yet even as God wants us to use our reasoning skills, he also knows that logic alone can be quite limiting. He knows that it defies human logic to believe that simple bread and wine can be transformed into the body and blood of Christ. He knows that it is illogical to hold that the consecrated host remains forever transformed into Christ, even if it is sitting unattended in a tabernacle or is placed in a monstrance for adoration.
It is in situations like these that God asks us to submit our logic, as good as it is, to the revealed truths of faith. And that's just what we want to do this month. In this special issue of The Word Among Us, we want to ask the Holy Spirit to help us believe more strongly in Jesus' presence in the Blessed Sacrament. We want to ask him to fill us with the blessings, the joy, and the grace that are waiting for us as we spend time with Jesus in Eucharistic adoration.
Miracles Can Help. Around the year 700, there was a priest in Lanciano, Italy, who was struggling with his faith in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. One morning, while celebrating Mass, he was astonished to see the host change into real flesh and the wine into real blood. His initial shock gave way to joy as he proclaimed to those near him: "Behold the flesh and the blood of our most beloved Christ!"
After repeated and thorough investigations, scientists have concluded that the flesh and blood actually do belong to the human species. More specifically, the flesh consists of myocardial tissue (the muscular tissue of the heart wall), and the blood contains just the right proteins in the same proportions as normal human blood. Even though this miracle occurred thirteen centuries ago, both the flesh and blood remain intact and are on display in the Church of St. Francis in Lanciano.
More than five hundred years later, in 1263, a German priest, Peter of Prague, decided to take a pilgrimage to Rome—again, to ask God to deepen his faith. On the way, he stopped in the town of Boslena, Italy, where he celebrated Mass. What began as a normal liturgy, however, took a miraculous turn when Fr. Peter raised the host he had just consecrated. Real blood began to trickle from the host, over his hands, and onto the altar cloth.
After nearly a year of investigation and authentication, the miracle was confirmed, and the bloodstained corporal was brought to the church at Orvieto, where Pope Urban IV was living at the time. The corporal is still on display there and attracts thousands of worshippers each year. It has been said that this miracle is what prompted Urban to institute the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus, or Corpus Christi, a year after the miracle occurred.
Sometimes God gives us miracles like these to help strengthen our faith in his promises. When he walked among us, Jesus said that he would give us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink. What's more, he promised that those who ate his flesh and drank his blood would have eternal life. So these miracles, and others like them, exist to spur us on and to help convince us that the Eucharist really is Jesus feeding us and helping us to live holy and pleasing lives. It really is Jesus strengthening us and renewing us in his love, his joy, and his peace. It really is Jesus empowering us to bear fruit for him.
Why Eucharistic Adoration. The basilica at Orvieto and the church in Lanciano are popular places of pilgrimage. At both spots, the miraculous elements are on display, and believers come from all over the world to pray before them. They come because they want to be close to Jesus and taste his unconditional love. They want to be reminded of what he did for us on the cross. They want to be healed and to have their prayers answered. They want to hear what the Holy Spirit might have to say to them.
But we don't have to go to Italy or other places where similar miracles have occurred—at least not if we just want to be in Jesus' presence. He is present in our own churches. And what's even better, he who is present wants to make himself known to us!
These miracles—and the devotions that have sprung up around them—show us that we don't have to limit ourselves to the Mass if we want to experience Jesus in this most intimate way. Pope John Paul II urged that the "worship given to the Trinity . . . must fill our churches outside of the timetable of Masses." He went on to say that "adoration of Christ in this sacrament of love must find expression in the various forms of Eucharistic devotion. . . . Let us be generous with our time in going to meet him in adoration and in contemplation that is full of faith" (Dominicae Cenae, 3).
Likewise, St. Alphonsus Liguori conveyed his own experience of eucharistic adoration when he wrote: "It is sweet to everyone to be in the company of a dear friend. Shall we not find it sweet, in this valley of tears, to remain in the company of the best friend we have, who can do us every kind of good, who loves us with the most tender affection and therefore dwells always with us? Behold, in the Blessed Sacrament we can converse at pleasure with Jesus, we can open our hearts to him, we can lay our wants before him, and we can ask him for his graces. In a word, in this sacrament we can treat with the king of heaven, in all confidence and without restraint" (Visits to the Blessed Sacrament, 19).
"Come and See." When Philip invited Nathanael to come meet Jesus with him, he told his friend: "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." When Nathanael scoffed and asked, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip replied simply, "Come and see." Nathanael did just that, and within the first few moments of his conversation with Jesus, he declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (John 1:45-46,49).
Brothers and sisters, what happened to Nathanael can happen to us. When we "come and see" Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, he will convince us that he is the Son of God, that he is our Savior, and that he is our Lord. The same Jesus who changed Nathanael can change our lives as we spend time in his presence.
But it won't happen as if by magic. Of course, God will bless us if we just show up and sit passively before him, but there is so much more available to us than a general blessing from God. As we said at the beginning of this article, God loves it when we use our intellect and logic. He loves it even more when we use our intellect in prayer, holding fast to the truths of Christ's presence and telling ourselves to expect Jesus to touch us and teach us. Jesus promised that "all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life" (John 6:40, emphasis ours). That active belief is what will bring us into contact with Jesus. It will open the floodgates of his blessing and his love for us.
So when you go to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, ask him to raise up your human logic and fill it with the logic of divine love. Ask him to reveal himself to you and listen for his still, small voice in your heart. After all, prayer is conversation with God—conversation with a God who loves to talk with us and to embrace us with his love.