The world we live in makes it very easy to become cynical. There are explanations for so many things, and people are quick to dismiss what cannot be proved. Well today I would like to tell you about two events which you could be very cynical about, but personally I believe in them.
The first is a Eucharistic miracle which occurred in Siena, Italy, on 14th August 1730. As people were preparing to celebrate the feast of the Assumption a thief broke into the church, picked the lock of the tabernacle and stole the gold ciborium, which contained the Holy Communion breads. This was only discovered the following day and of course there was great distress when people realised that the sacred hosts were still in the container when it was stolen. Two days later a priest in another church noticed something white sticking out of the offering box in the wall. He then discovered all the stolen hosts. Since the hosts were now quite dirty, it was decided to put these stolen hosts into another ciborium and allow them to naturally decay which you are allowed to do in such cases. However, a few years later when they examined the hosts they discovered they were still perfect, so they continued to preserve them. Fifty years later they were examined again and still found to be perfect and even smelt fresh. To make a long story short, various investigations were done over the years, including putting aside other unconsecrated hosts and leaving them for a similar length of time, but after a few years they had completely decayed. Today, 282 years later, the hosts are still as fresh as the day they were found and they are now on display in a special glass ciborium in the Franciscan church in Siena. I was there a few years ago and saw them myself. It is a wonderful thing to see.
The second event is also a Eucharistic miracle which happened in the 8th century around 1200 years ago. A priest was celebrating mass in a place called Lanciano, which is also in Italy. Now this priest admitted to having doubts about the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. But one day while he was celebrating the mass the bread and wine actually turned into flesh and blood in his hands. As he got an awful shock when this happened, he first tried to hide what had happened, but then he confessed his doubts to the people and showed them what had happened. The flesh and blood were preserved and centuries later when science had developed enough, investigation showed that the flesh was real human flesh and was actually heart tissue. The blood was also real human blood. Both are still preserved today. This is only a very brief account of these two miracles, however, they have both been officially recognised as miracles by the Church.
Why am I talking about Eucharistic miracles? We are not obliged to believe in them, but sometimes I think it is good to be reminded that these things have happened in different parts of the world, and there have been several other ones too. Perhaps it is one of the ways that Jesus reminds us of the gift that He has given us in the Blessed Sacrament. In each mass we believe that the bread and the wine really and truly become the body and blood of Jesus in when the priest says the prayers of consecration.
Why does this happen? What is the most important thing for most of us throughout our lives? To have the people we love around us. Well this is one way that Jesus gives himself to us in a really extraordinary and beautiful way, showing us that He is with us all the time and that we can even receive him into our own bodies each day if we wish. He loves us and wants us to know and experience that. There is no greater way to give yourself to another person than this.
The readings of today’s mass are also all about this. The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish is a sign of how Jesus would continue to feed us with his own body and blood, which He continues to do today two thousand years after He walked the earth. It is probably one of the most controversial teachings of our Church, and the one which often causes people to laugh and say ‘What a ridiculous thing to believe’. And yet when Jesus himself gave this teaching it says that many of his disciples stopped following him. They said, ‘It is too much, who can believe that?!’ So it has been something which people have struggled with from the beginning. But remember, we are not asked to understand it, only to believe it.
The Eucharist is the greatest gift that God has given us, because it is the gift of Jesus himself to nourish us; not just holy bread, or a reminder, but really and truly the body and blood of Jesus.
This is my body which will be given up for you.