June 7, 2015
The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
There is a story that I would like to share with you that comes from the 13th century…a story about a saint, a non-believer, and the Eucharist. Saint Anthony of Padua, while on his travels, happened upon the small coastal town of Rimini, not far from San Marino. Saint Anthony had already gained for himself the reputation throughout Italy of being a fearless and effective defender of the faith – both his friends and his enemies referred to him as the “Hammer of the Heretics” – and so upon arriving in Rimini it was not long before he met the acquaintance of a man named Bononillo. Despite the prayers of the townspeople and the efforts of the local priests, Bononillo had fallen into obstinate heresy: he denied the miracle of the Eucharist, refusing to believe that Jesus Christ was truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The townspeople urged Saint Anthony to speak to Bononillo, which he graciously did. For hours the saint and the heretic argued back and forth, but to no avail…Saint Anthony knew he was not getting through to Bononillo and so he decided to change his tactic. He made a wager with him: if he could get Bononillo’s mule, who had the reputation of being as stubborn as his master, to kneel down before the Blessed Sacrament, then he would give up his heresy and believe in the Eucharist. Bononillo agreed, but only on one condition: for two days the mule would not be fed and then, on the third day, it would be led to the public square. On one side of the square, there would be a heaping pile of fresh feed, and on the other side of the square there would stand Saint Anthony with the Blessed Sacrament. Both agreed to the terms. For the next two days, Bononillo starved his mule, whereas Saint Anthony himself feasted upon the Eucharist and immersed himself in prayer. When the day arrived for the strange contest, Bononillo proudly and haughtily brought his mule into the public square. He unleashed the harness and let the mule free. To Bononillo’s absolute astonishment, the hungry mule paid no attention to the pile of feed and immediately went towards Saint Anthony, knelt before the Blessed Sacrament, and bowed its head. Bononillo was so overcome with emotion and contrition that he joined his mule, fell on his knees, and professed true belief in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist. The Most Blessed Sacrament. The living and substantial presence of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. The true Body and Blood of the Lord. This Mystery is at the heart of the Christian life, and yet the significance of this Mystery is so often lost, forgotten about, or even denied. Despite our Lord’s own command to eat His Body and to drink His Blood…despite His assurance that He would remain with us in this Sacrament until the end of time…despite the unchanging and robust preaching of the Church Fathers, the martyrs, and the Saints…the Eucharist is a difficult mystery to accept. To believe, by faith, in things that we cannot see is hard enough…but to believe that what we see is not as it seems is even more difficult. What tastes like bread, and looks like bread, and smells like bread, and feels like bread, we are taught, is not bread at all…it is the true, real, and substantial presence of the Divine Son of God. We are asked to believe in a miracle that doesn’t just evade our senses, but contradicts them. If only all of us were as lucky as Bononillo to receive such amazing proof, we might have an easier time believing. But the words of our Lord to St. Thomas, who refused to believe in the resurrection until He could see and touch the risen Lord, should resound in our hearts today: “Have you come to believe because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, a feast established in the 13th century to celebrate the great miracle of the Eucharist, to strengthen our belief in It, and to promote a greater sense of reverence and awe for It in our lives. Throughout the world, beautiful processions with the Blessed Sacrament are winding through the streets, proclaiming to all that our God, hidden though He be, is truly present in this Sacrament of Sacraments. These outward signs of devotion are important not only because they offer true worship to God Himself, but because they help us to inculcate true faith in what we cannot see. Today we are invited to bask in this Mystery and to ask the Lord to increase with us a greater belief in His beautiful and enduring presence in the Holy Eucharist. But if we are going to ask the Lord to do this for us, we must be willing to do our part. I would like to suggest some practical ways in which we can promote greater belief in and devotion to the Eucharist in our lives.
1.) Before entering or leaving the Church, or when passing by the tabernacle, genuflect on your right knee. If you cannot genuflect, bow profoundly. Don’t make it a quick or thoughtless gesture…like Bononillo’s mule, and eventually even Bononillo himself, incline yourself before the Lord, hidden in the tabernacle, and make this an intentional act of worship.
2.) Before receiving Holy Communion, make certain that you are in a state of grace. If you are aware of having committed even a single mortal sin, go to confession before receiving Communion. To receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin is to commit a sacrilege, akin, as the saint have said, to throwing the Eucharist into a pile of dung.
3.) When you come forward to receive the Eucharist, remember that this is not your right…it is a complete gift from the Lord made out of love for you. Receive His gift with humility and gratitude, giving to Him all your love in return.
4.) Consider your demeanor and posture when receiving Holy Communion. Make an act of reverence before receiving, or even kneel while receiving, to show your love and belief. Receiving Holy Communion on the tongue helps to preserve the reverential nature of the act. If you receive Communion in the hand, be ever mindful that you consume the Host reverently and that no particles are lost.
5.) Prepare yourself spiritually before receiving Communion. Fast and pray. When you come to church, don’t sit and talk to your friends…enter deeply into prayer and ask the Lord fill you with a great sense of anticipation. And after you have received, spend a few moments thanking God for His great gift.
6.) Learn about the Eucharist. Read the Scriptures, read the Church Fathers, read the Catechism, read the Saints. Let your heart be informed by your mind and your mind by your heart.
7.) And, most importantly, treat every reception of Holy Communion as if it were your first, as if it were your last, and as if it were your only.
There is no greater gift that we have on the face of this earth than the gift of the Most Holy Eucharist. Today, let us renew our love for this precious gift and ask the Lord to deepen our belief in It every day. May the heart of Jesus, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored, and loved, with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the tabernacles of the world, even unto the end of time. Amen.