The president-elect of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, condemned the Catholic Church last week, saying that it is the “most corrupt and hypocritical institution of the world,” that the bishops and priests are “sons of whores,” and that he was going to expose the Church and show that the “Church is irrelevant today.”
My initial response was to formulate a response to the disturbing and disappointing rant of the president-elect and to defend the Catholic Church. He obviously does not realize that the Catholic Church remains the most charitable organization in the world and a major force for good in the world and that no person, family, community, church or social group is immune from sins. I however changed my mind about focusing on defending the Catholic Church because there are too many people with such negative views about the Church and it is a waste of time to try to convince them otherwise. Besides, I recalled Jesus words, “All will hate you because of me.”(Mt 10:22)
I was moved to focus on a more relevant question, “Why are we Roman Catholics today?” We are definitely not Roman Catholics because the Church is perfect and free of sin and grave scandal from all her members. We are not Catholics because we are all faithful to what we preach and teach. Neither are we Roman Catholics because the Church is loved, esteemed, and appreciated by all for the good that she has done through all the ages. And we are definitely not Roman Catholics because people like or adhere to Church teachings. The truth is that the Church is plagued with all forms of scandals from within her fold, her teachings are ignored by many within and outside her fold, and the Church is despised and hated by her enemies no matter the good that she does or have.
Why then are we Catholics today? We are Roman Catholics because of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. It is the Eucharist, Christ’s substantial presence – body, blood, soul and divinity – that makes the Church and gathers us as one people united by the Holy Spirit. The Eucharist remains the source of the Church’s power, life, holiness, universality, perpetuity, unity, mission and identity. Jesus died to bring us into one body. (Cf. Jn 11:52) In our sinful world, the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is God’s guarantee that His mercy and grace will surely prevail over evil and sin in the Church and in the world.
The Eucharist bears this divine guarantee because in and through the Eucharist, the priesthood of Jesus Christ is perpetuated in the Catholic Church in a unique way – the Father continuously blessing us in Jesus Christ and us joining Christ in His own self offering to the Father. The presence of Jesus is not an idle presence but one in which He continuously obtains graces and mercies for us and leads us to offer our lives back to God no matter the evils in the Church or in the world.
St. Paul teaches the Corinthians that Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist on the “night that He was handed over,” i.e. on the very night that the sins of humanity reached its climax. That was the very night on which Judas was going to betray Him, Peter was going to deny Him, the Apostles were going to abandon Him, His Jewish brethren would condemn Him to death and the Gentiles would scourge and crucify Him. On this night, with His heart filled with the weight of evil and betrayal before Him and with the vision of all the sins that will be committed in the future ages by each and every one of us His committed disciples, He gave us Himself under the form of bread and wine, “This is my body that is for you…This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” The Eucharist is indeed Jesus’ response to evil in the Church and in the world and His assurance that, in the Catholic Church, by virtue of His abiding presence with us, sin and evil will never have the final word but grace and mercy will surely triumph.
St. Paul’s words, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes,” shows that the Eucharist is much more than a sign or a communal meal; but it is a re-presentation of Calvary that gives us access to the forgiveness and mercy that Christ won for us in Calvary, the grace of Christ in the present moment to be faithful to Him, as well as the divine guarantee of life to come. That is how the Eucharist connects us with the reconciliation with God on Calvary and nourishes our hope for the future.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the history of the Church shows us that we lose our Catholic faith the very moment that we begin to lose our faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and what it implies for us. Once our faith in the Real Presence dwindles, then the focus is turned to our performance and how others regard or rate the Church. The Real Presence of Jesus Christ is not to make the Church popular but to guarantee that the Church faithfully shares in the one priesthood of Jesus and becomes a channel of divine blessing from God to mankind and a place of self offering back to God.
Today’s Gospel passage shows us three ways in which we can participate in the priesthood of Christ through the Eucharist. In the first place, we have to come to Our Eucharistic Lord in Mass or in Eucharistic adoration with faith. To come to Jesus with faith means that we come with the conviction that we are going to be encountered by our God, who is going to liberate us from sin and selfishness and lead us along the path of a new way of life. Coming to Him with faith will lead us to prepare for Mass with sacramental confession, approach the Mass not out of routine and come with an openness to learn from Him the way of life that He demands from us. This is faith that is open to conversion from sin, a life of loving obedience to God, and a continuous selfless service to others who may never appreciate us.
Secondly, we abide in His presence with trust that He alone can meet and supply all our needs and reward us for our life of service. This means that we lay before Him all our needs and worries in life. Like today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches, heals and then nourishes the crowd because they remain in His presence with hope. We must hope for all graces, virtues, truth and reward for service from Jesus alone and not from this world.
Lastly, we must be ready to offer the little that we have to Jesus out of love. The disciples are ready to offer the little that they have to Jesus with love, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have.” The Eucharist is Christ the priest in action in a world of sin, constantly offering Himself to the Father for our sake. We must have the attitude of complete surrender to Jesus of all that we have and are no matter how little it may be. We surrender to Him our heart, mind, body, soul, labors, trials, relationships, endeavors, joys, pains, struggles, successes, failures, and yes, even the annoying things that people say about us. We surrender all with the attitude of Mary, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.”
Our faith in Jesus’ Real presence with us till the very end of time is crucial. The devil is challenging our faith with all forms of warped reasoning today, making us feel unsure about what we believe anymore in today’s changing world. Many churches have abandoned the way of the Gospel in pursuit of latest fads and trends and then the world looks at us as bigots and hypocrites. Many people will attack our faith by citing and emphasizing the failures of some of our brothers and sisters.
What we need now is a renewal and a deepening of our practical faith in Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Jesus abides with us at Mass and at Eucharistic adoration as our oasis in our journey through the desert of this life. Like the crowd in today’s Gospel, we do not need to speak much but just be in His presence first and be ready to participate in His priesthood that never passes away, “You are a priest for ever in the line of Melchizedek.” We are healed, our minds are instructed with divine truth, and our wills are strengthened by abiding in His presence with an unquenchable faith that believes in His Real Presence, a firm hope that expects all from Him and an ardent charity that offers all to Him without reserves.
In this Eucharist, we enter into a living and transforming communion with Jesus Christ in a world of sin and a Church of scandals. Nothing, not even our sins or the world’s opinions of us, stops Jesus Christ from offering Himself to us. Having transformed us, His challenge to us is clear, “Give them something to eat.” We are to offer for this world our fervent prayers for it, loving service out of love for God, good example, hope in Christ, and saving truth without trying to win their approval or commendation. If our response to Him is, “Lord, this is a deserted place,” then our faith in His Real Presence with us has dwindled. Because of Christ’s Eucharistic presence with us, the Catholic Church is never and can never be a deserted place; maybe we have only deserted our divine and Catholic faith in Christ’s Real Presence with us.
Because of Christ’s abiding presence, the Catholic Church will always be a place where mercy and grace of God ultimately triumphs over human sin and all evils. Our faith in the Real Presence of Jesus is a divine guarantee of this victory. Let us hold on to this faith tenaciously and grow in it because this is the real reason why we are Roman Catholics today and forever.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!