Every time I have to change from one place to another like here, it always makes me think about the priesthood and what my work is about. To me the greatest privilege of being a priest is that I can bring Jesus to people in the Eucharist. This is the most important part of any priest’s work. Everything else is secondary, because the greatest gift the Lord has given us is the gift of himself, of his own body and blood. The reason why he gives it to us is first of all because he wants to be intimately part of our lives and everything we do. Second of all, because he knows how much we need his strength to make it through this life, which is difficult at the best of times, and so he gives us his very self which we can receive into our own bodies, every day if we wish.
For the most part God’s presence among us is very subtle. It is easy to miss it and many people do miss it, thinking that God is not there at all. Think of how many people pass by a church each day and really believe that the body and blood of Jesus Christ is present there? Probably very few. The Lord seems to keep himself hidden from us.
The first reading about the prophet Elijah refers to this. Elijah was one of the most extraordinary of the prophets and a man very close to God. God wanted to let him have an experience of his presence and so he sent him up to this cave on the mountain side. Then there was this huge storm force wind, but God was not in this. Then there was an earthquake and then a fire, all great signs of the power of nature which can be so frightening, but God wasn’t here either. And then when all the excitement was over a very gentle breeze and God’s presence was there. In some translations it says ‘A still small, voice.’ Why did God bother to send the storm, the earthquake and the fire at all? I think that God is reminding us that his presence is very subtle and easy to miss, but just because God doesn’t come to us in the form of thunder and lightning, or something very dramatic, doesn’t mean that He is not there. Sometimes I think that it might even be easier if his presence was more dramatic. Then we would be under no doubt about God being there. It would probably be terrifying, but for whatever reason, the Lord prefers to stay quite hidden from us. His coming to us in the Holy Communion is a great example of this. How much more hidden can you get? Who would believe that God comes to us in a tiny piece of bread? It sounds completely crazy and to many people it is crazy, indeed too crazy to be true but this is what Jesus himself has taught us and that is why we believe that it is true. It is the Lord himself who has taught us this.
Perhaps when you come up to receive Holy Communion today, think of the gentle breeze that passed in front of the prophet Elijah. God was in that gentle breeze. Jesus is also present to us here in the tiny piece of bread that we receive, which has become his Body and Blood.
I want to finish with a story of a Eucharistic miracle that happened in Argentina while Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) was cardinal there.
At seven o’clock in the evening on August 18, 1996, Fr. Alejandro Pezet was saying Holy Mass at a Catholic church in the commercial center of Buenos Aires. As he was finishing distributing Holy Communion, a woman came up to tell him that she had found a discarded host on a candleholder at the back of the church. When Fr. Alejandro saw the defiled Host, he placed it in a container of water and put it away in the tabernacle. That is what we do with a defiled host if we find one and it’s not possible to consume it.
Eight days later, upon opening the tabernacle, he saw to his amazement that the Host had turned into a bloody substance. He informed Cardinal Bergoglio, who gave instructions that the Host be professionally photographed. The photos were taken on September 6. They clearly show that the Host, which had become a fragment of bloodied flesh, had grown significantly in size. For several years the Host remained in the tabernacle, the whole affair being kept a strict secret. Since the Host suffered no visible decomposition, Cardinal Bergoglio decided to have it scientifically analyzed.
On October 5, 1999, in the presence of the Cardinal’s representatives, Dr. Castanon took a sample of the bloody fragment and sent it to New York for analysis. Since he did not wish to prejudice the study, he deliberatley did not tell them where the host came from. One of these scientists was Dr. Frederic Zugiba, a well-known cardiologist and forensic pathologist. He determined that the analyzed substance was real flesh and blood containing human DNA. Zugiba testified that, “the analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves. This muscle is responsible for the contraction of the heart. It should be borne in mind that the left cardiac ventricle pumps blood to all parts of the body. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. They require a living organism to sustain them. Thus, their presence indicates that the heart was alive when the sample was taken. What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.”
Two Australians, journalist Mike Willesee and lawyer Ron Tesoriero, witnessed these tests. Knowing where sample had come from, they were dumbfounded by Dr. Zugiba’s testimony. Mike Willesee asked the scientist how long the white blood cells would have remained alive if they had come from a piece of human tissue, which had been kept in water. They would have ceased to exist in a matter of minutes, Dr. Zugiba replied. The journalist then told the doctor that the source of the sample had first been kept in ordinary water for a month and then for another three years in a container of distilled water; only then had the sample been taken for analysis. Dr. Zugiba’s was at a loss to account for this fact. There was no way of explaining it scientifically, he stated. Only then did Mike Willesee inform Dr. Zugiba that the analyzed sample came from a consecrated Host (white, unleavened bread) that had mysteriously turned into bloody human flesh. Amazed by this information, Dr. Zugiba replied, “How and why a consecrated Host would change its character and become living human flesh and blood will remain an inexplicable mystery to science—a mystery totally beyond her competence.”
I have no doubt that God gives us Eucharistic miracles every so often, to help us believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Jesus is present here in each mass and in the tabernacle where the extra hosts are always kept. Only faith in the extraordinary action of a God provides the reasonable answer—faith in a God, who wants to make us aware that He is truly present in the mystery of the Eucharist.