Believing is Seeing
Saint Tarcisius is a saint that lived in the third century in Rome about 200 years after the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
During the persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Valerian, it was difficult for priests to bring the Blessed Sacrament to imprisoned Christians. The young boy Tarcisius was an acolyte and was known for his reverent devotion to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Therefore, he was entrusted with bringing the Holy Bread of Eternal Life to the faithful Christians in prison.
One day while carrying out this sacred task, he was met by pagan Romans. Refusing to betray Our Lord and give up the Blessed Sacrament, he was beaten to death with clubs and stones. When they searched his body, they could not find the Sacred Host, which had miraculously disappeared.
The devotion of St. Tarcisius to the Eucharist was so total, he preferred to give up his own life rather than desecrate the Eucharist by giving it up to pagans.
His witness should prompt us all to re-examine what we believe about the Sacrament of the Eucharist. If we were to examine our belief similar to how we would read the stats on the back of a baseball card, we see that the Church Teaches that the Sacrament of the Eucharist:
- Completes one’s Christian Initiation (CCC 1322)
- Is the Source and Summit of the Christian Life that contains the whole spiritual good of the Church, Christ himself (CCC 1324)
- Intimately unites one with Jesus Christ (CCC 1391)
- Preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism (CCC 1392)
- Separates one from sin by wiping away venial sins and preserving one from future mortal sins by increasing charity in the soul (CCC 1393-1395)
- Unites the Body of Christ, the Church (CCC 1396)
- Commits the Church to service of the poor (1397)
This is a good place to start when considering our devotion to the Eucharist, but we shouldn’t stop here, as if knowing facts about the Eucharist is sufficient.
At the heart of everything the Eucharist is and does within our souls is the belief that Jesus Christ is truly present – body, blood, soul, and divinity – under the species of bread and wine. Do we truly believe this? If you believe this in principle or idea, do you believe this as St. Tarcisius believed, willing to give your very life out of reverence for Jesus Christ in the Eucharist?
If we are honest, most of us do not. I must humbly admit I am not there yet. So how do we become like St. Tarcisius, loving the Eucharist more than life itself?
To explore how we get to this depth of belief, we will examine three stories in Sacred Scripture which can guide us to a deeper devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist:
- The Disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)
- St. Thomas the Apostle’s Doubt and Belief (John 20:19-29)
- The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation and Visitation (Luke 1:26-56
On the Road to Emmaus
On the day of the Resurrection, two disciples of Jesus were traveling from Jerusalem to a small town called Emmaus and discussing the events of Good Friday and Easter Morning. “While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:15-16).
How often do we encounter Jesus and do not recognize him because we see with our eyes what is physically before us rather than seeing with faith what Jesus has promised us?
Not realizing it was Jesus in their midst, the disciples continued to recount all the events of the past three days. Eventually, they arrived at Emmaus and invited Jesus in to dine with them.
“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight” (Luke 24:30-31).
Even though Jesus vanished from their sight, the sense of his presence remained. “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures” (Luke 24:32). It was in the breaking of the bread – a phrase which alludes to the Mass – that they finally knew it was Jesus and not some other person!
Now neither of these disciples were at the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist and the Mass. The apostle Thomas was, however, and would have had an advantage over these other disciples in having heard the words Jesus himself spoke concerning his body and blood being truly present in the bread and wine. Yet, as we will see, Thomas’ presence at the Last Supper did not guarantee that he comprehended the words of Jesus about his body and blood.
Saint Thomas the Apostle’s Doubt and Belief
Turning to John’s Gospel, we see that also on the day of Resurrection Jesus appeared to the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room behind locked doors. However, Thomas was not with them. When the other apostles recounted to Thomas that the Lord had appeared to them, Thomas would not believe.
“Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).
If we are humble and honest with ourselves, we have all been like Thomas regarding our faith in Jesus at one point or another. Perhaps you have significant doubts at this present moment. If so, there is much to encourage us in the story of St. Thomas!
“Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put you finger here and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.'” (John 20:26-29).
Jesus met Thomas in his doubt, but loved him too much to leave him there! He proved himself to Thomas in the way that Thomas needed in order to believe that Jesus indeed had risen from the dead. This resulted in Thomas uttering one of the most profound acts of faith recorded in Sacred Scripture, “My Lord and my God!”
This profound statement from St. Thomas is not only relevant as a theological reflection on the Resurrection, but is also pertinent to devotion to the Eucharist. In 1907 Pope St. Pius X granted an indulgence to any lay faithful who prays, “My Lord and my God,” as the priest elevates the consecrated host or the chalice containing the Precious Blood of Jesus.
So we see in the disciples on the road to Emmaus that Jesus makes himself present and recognizable in the Eucharist, and in Thomas that Jesus is ready to answer our doubts and questions about him. Yet, Jesus pointed to a more blessed way of belief – to believe without needing to physically see. To know how to follow on this path, we turn to Our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary and Mother of Jesus.
The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation and Visitation
One often overlooked detail concerning the Eucharist is the simple fact that in order for God to transsubstantiate – that is to transform the very substance of – the bread and wine into his Body and Blood, he had to first actually have a human body with human blood.
In the incarnation, God assumed our human nature into the second Divine Person of the Trinity – a human nature which included a human body. And where did he receive this body? From the Blessed Virgin Mary!
Therefore, when considering how one’s faith in Jesus through the Eucharist should look, it is quite fitting that one turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In the most crucial moment of human history, in the fulness of time, the Angel Gabriel came to a young Virgin betrothed to a Man named Joseph, and that Virgin’s name was Mary. The angel greeted her, “Hail, full of Grace!” and declared she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit and the child would be the Son of God. When Mary questioned how this will be, the Angel answered that nothing will be impossible with God.
It is important to note that the Angel didn’t appeal to material causes which Mary could have reasoned through. Rather, he appealed to a matter of belief that could not be seen. He appealed to Mary’s faith. The Holy Spirit was not something that Mary could see with her eyes, but only with faith.
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Mary’s ascent to belief was based on what the angel said to her and not on what she could see with her senses or comprehend with her mind, for there has never been a precedent in history like the Incarnation.
Immediately, Mary went in haste to the hill country, for the angel also told her that her cousin Elizabeth had conceived in her old age and was to bear a son.
When Mary was approaching, Elizabeth greeted her by saying, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! …. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:42,45).
Remember the words of Jesus to St. Thomas. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
Mary did not see, and yet believed. Her belief resulted in nothing less than conceiving Christ within her and bearing forth the Savior of the World!
Our relationship with Jesus in all aspects should be Marian in shape and form, but most particular in our devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist. For it is in the Eucharist that we are devoted to the very Body and Blood of Our Blessed Lord, and it is in the Eucharist that our bodies receive his Body so that we might be assumed into a more perfect union with His Mystical Body.
This is a great mystery! One which we must contemplate and explore in faith. In the prayer Adoro te Devote (I Devoutly Adore You), there are two stanzas referring to the Eucharist that read:
“On the Cross only the Divinity was hidden,
But here the Humanity is also hidden.
I believe and confess both
and I ask for what the repentant thief asked.
I do not see the wounds as Thomas did,
But I confess that you are my God.
Make me believe more and more in you,
Hope in you, and love you.”
If it is difficult to believe this, ask for God the grace to believe! For it is in believing as Mary believed that we begin to see. And just like Thomas when we see Our Blessed Lord, we might utter with him, “My Lord and My God!” And as we confess Jesus as Lord and God, our hearts will burn within us as the hearts burned within the disciples on the Road to Emmaus!
It will be this fire of devotion that will set a fallen world ablaze with the Love of Christ. For our world is desperate to be sanctified by the Holy Fire of Jesus’ grace, mercy, and peace!
So the next time you approach the Eucharist in Adoration or as you approach to receive him the next time in holy communion, pray to receive him as Mary received him and to love him even above your own life as St. Tarcisius loved him. It is that level of belief that is required of us. It is that caliber of saints the world desperately needs in this moment.