Seminarian, Diocese of Superior
I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you… (Luke 22:15).
These words of our Lord at the Last Supper have made a deep impression on me, and I will never be able to get over them.
I remember that, when I was 5 years old, I had a growing curiosity about Holy Communion. Why was my family leaving our pew and moving around the church, and what was it that they were all eating now when they couldn’t eat earlier? Of course, it had been explained to me before, but sacraments and ancient Greek words tend to rouse rather than quench the imaginations of children. I desired to share that mysterious meal with my family, to be like them.
How beautiful is it that Jesus desired to eat the Passover meal with the Apostles? He longed to spend the last evening before his Passion with them; “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” This verse has made such an impression on me because it is still true. Jesus still desires to be with us. Not simply near us, but intimately united with us. How wonderful that he doesn’t give us a symbol of himself, but his Real Presence, his whole self! For years, I would approach the Eucharist focused only on my own desires. Often, part of my desire was to simply blend in with those around me. I desired to remain invisible by receiving the invisible God who was desiring to receive me.
That is why I will never be able to get over those words: Because they show Jesus doesn’t pull back from our imperfections and shortcomings. They show God’s love for us is so great that he holds nothing back. He gives himself completely for us. He mentions his Passion, not because it is something separate, or because he wants to make us feel guilty, but because the two are united. He desires to eat the Passover with them before he suffers, so that they will know after that his words apply to both: “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”
As a seminarian for our diocese, I have been gifted with many opportunities to participate in events at many parishes, youth camps, and the plain-old day-to-day of several Catholic communities in northern Wisconsin. I am repeatedly struck by two things that remain constant in all of these.
First, the same Jesus has been present at them all, and he wants to be there. Each year of seminary seems to involve progressively more driving around the state. Yet, regardless of my destination as I putter along the seemingly endless, crumbling county highways, I can be assured that Jesus will be there when I arrive. No matter how many tractors, logging trucks, or horse-and-buggies I end up behind.
The second constant is that there will be someone else there who has been following our Lord longer than I have. What an example of faithfulness! Yes, while it is a great joy to see young people encounter God, to become disciples of Jesus as he renews his promise that he will always be with us, the witness of those older disciples encourages me that it is possible to remain close to our Lord in this world. To persevere in faithfulness to the end. Not the white-knuckled perseverance of a rollercoaster ride, but the seemingly mundane perseverance of being present that we learn from our God in the gift of the Eucharist.
It is through the sacraments that God teaches us the importance of presence. By Baptism, God adopts us as his sons and daughters by sending the Holy Spirit to dwell in us; in Confirmation, he strengthens us with his gifts; in Holy Marriage, we see the presence of fathers and mothers; in Confession, he assures us of his forgiveness and his desire to reconcile; those Anointed are assured that Christ is with them in their suffering; and all of these given through the gift of Holy Orders that makes deacons, priests, and bishops for the people of God.
Even more than the other sacraments, God teaches this to us in the Eucharist. All of the sacraments are aimed at bringing us closer to God, but in the Eucharist, we receive him fully, and he receives us. Through the other sacraments, God supplies us with the help we need to be able to make a gift of ourselves. In the Eucharist, he brings that to fulfilment, and then he gives us the greatest gift we can ever receive: Himself.
It is a mutual, total self-gift that unites.
“For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.
‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’
This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:29-32)
In seminary, I am blessed with the opportunity to go to Mass every day. Although there are some days when I fail to be grateful for that gift, it’s those words, “this is my body,” that always cut past my indifference and into my hard heart to remind me that God’s desire to be with me is not fickle or indifferent. He has desired us to the point of relentlessly pursuing us to the depths of our humanity, into the depths of our sin, even to death, and then beyond. And he returns triumphant to go ahead of us and prepare the way to our final home with him.
What a great comfort to know that we are so loved by the One who did all of this! When I remember all of this, I feel nearly overwhelmed. I don’t know what to do! It makes me wonder, “how can I possibly respond? What can I give back? He’s already given me everything!”
He has already shown us what it is he desires: To be with us. In the end, the only thing I can give that he does not already have is my attention. My presence. My own heart given up for him.
“Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally!”
— Saint Francis of Assisi
A Letter to the Entire Order II, 29