At my first holy Communion in second grade and as a kid, I had belief in the real presence of Jesus in the holy Eucharist. I had what might be called “experiential knowledge” that the real presence of Jesus was objectively true.
Belief is easy for those whose minds, hearts and wills are disposed to God’s spiritual gifts of faith, hope, charity and all the other spiritual helps God provides through grace. As I grew older and my human mind began to learn, doubts in the Real Presence began to creep in because before and after the eucharistic bread becomes the real presence of Jesus, it still looked, tasted and felt the same.
The dilemma became one of questioning, “How can that be the real presence of Jesus after the ordinary bread and wine are transformed by the grace of God into the actual eucharistic body of Jesus?”
Through high school and college, I wavered and at times fell prey to the temptations of doubting the real presence of Jesus in the holy Eucharist. I earnestly tried to understand by studying philosophy and theology, which could take me only so far because some things are only experientially known to be objectively true through faith, which is a pure spiritual gift from God. In other words, only God can give us the supernatural virtue of faith.
I recall very clearly moments related back to the time when I was a kid and through young adult years when there were serious temptations of doubting. Only in time was I able to recognize this was not mere human questioning, which is normal, but literally temptations from the devil.
Looking back, I can see how I was targeted, and I have wondered why the temptations were so strong against me. As I learned more about how the devil works on every one of us and what he is aware of, I realized that from about third or fourth grade I had a sense I was called to be a priest. I was called to be an instrument of God’s love, of being “in the person of Christ the head” (that is, Christ working in and through me) to change the bread and wine into the real presence of Jesus in the holy Eucharist through the power of the Holy Spirit.
One day as a young adult when I was plagued by the devil’s temptations, I was awakened to the sense that he was duping me to doubt that it objectively is the real presence of Jesus, even though I have had experiential knowledge since my first holy Communion. Once I identified it was the evil spirit working on me, I firmly renounced the temptation, and the plaguing and naging temptations lifted and faith resettled into my heart, soul, mind and will.
As we celebrate this Easter season and begin the national Eucharist Revival this summer, may the flame of God’s love stir deeply in our minds, hearts, souls and wills to humbly ask God to provide or renew the gift of faith in the Real Presence. May that flame of love and gift of faith help people throughout the diocese and beyond be able to see the deceptions of the devil that keep people from believing what God has revealed through Jesus: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:53-54).
May this Easter season inspire all Catholics to draw close to the Lord through participation in weekly Sunday Mass so we all can be protected from the temptations of the evil one, strengthened in faith, and transformed ever more fully to be Lifelong Catholic Missionary Disciples Through God’s Love.