Faith in the Digital Age: Rediscover Christ’s ‘Real Presence in the Eucharist’

HOMILY: Marking Corpus Christi, new shepherd reminds the faithful to bring the Real Presence to the world.

Bishop Michael Martin carries the Blessed Sacrament during the outdoor Eucharistic procession on June 2.
Bishop Michael Martin carries the Blessed Sacrament during the outdoor Eucharistic procession on June 2. (photo: Courtesy of Catholic News Herald, Diocese of Charlotte)

Editor’s Note: This text is adapted from a homily delivered by Charlotte Bishop Michael Martin, OFM Conv., during an outdoor Mass and Eucharistic procession for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi June 2, at The Amp Ballantyne, an outdoor amphitheater in Charlotte, North Carolina, before an estimated crowd of 4,000 people. Bishop Martin had been ordained the fifth bishop of Charlotte just a few days earlier, on May 29. Reprinted with permission.

I thought I was doing a favor last night. I said, “Lord, if you could give us a little cloud cover tomorrow, that would be a blessing, so that these poor people won’t be baking in the sun.” So, you’re welcome! The downside is, I didn’t know that in order to bring the cloud cover, He had to bring some gale-force winds to bring the clouds in — and here I am in my miter and my vestments. I’ve never been parasailing, but I’m starting to feel what it might be like, a little bit. So if I blow away, you’ll know why.

A lot of research tells us that belief in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is waning and has declined greatly in our Church. I know that to be true because I, like all of you, talk with my Catholic friends and family. And people have a hard time understanding or even giving time to really consider what the Real Presence of Jesus is and what it means.

As I’ve reflected on it more, I’ve come to appreciate that it’s not a Jesus problem, it’s an us problem. But it’s not that Jesus is any less really present. It’s we who are less really present. And to the extent that you and I fail to be really present to one another and to our God is the extent to which we find ourselves adrift.

We find ourselves longing for a real presence — that is, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that unites us with Christ really present in the Eucharist. And because we’re not fully present ourselves, that reality of Christ’s Real Presence becomes difficult.

I’m not a guy that bashes modern-day technology — I get it. But for many of us, we have been so pampered into quick-and-easy content, quick-and-easy communication, quick-and-easy “pseudo” presence.

We all think that we don’t have to take the time to learn when we can simply google it. We don’t have to take the time to reach out when all we’ve got to do is text someone. We don’t have to take the time to spend with someone, when really all we want to do is find out what they’re doing now and see what’s going on in their life — then be on to the next person, the next event, the next reality.

I’m not trying to change the culture, but I am acknowledging that the culture has changed us. We have to find ways within the culture to not allow that change to make us less present to Our Lord and to each other.

That is the crisis of our day. We have been driven inward. We have become more isolated, anxious. We’re untethered by any cord or technology; that, in some ways, has left us more and more adrift.

So what do we do as the People of God? What do you and I do as a community of faith that desires not only to be really present, but desires to come to know our God, who is really present?

Our Scriptures give us some excellent advice, as God’s Word always does, including our first reading today from Exodus (24:3-8). I love the fact that we’re told that the people said (not “some person said,” but “the people said”): “We will follow the Lord.” When I read and reflected over that reading, I got this sense of unison. Say it with me: “We will follow the Lord.” There’s power when two or three are gathered in His name, let alone 4,000! Say it together: “We will follow the Lord.” You and I are called each and every day to be present and willing to say, “Lord, I will follow you — and I will not just follow you by myself. I will follow you with my family. I will follow you with my friends.”

I don’t come here to worship in a silo, just me in my own little prayer space — No. We will follow the Lord together as a faith community: first and foremost as a family and then as a parish community. We will follow the Lord.

In order for us to be really present, we have to be together in communion. Present.

We will follow the Lord. May we begin to realize that. This journey of real presence isn’t and can’t be done alone. It has to be done with one another. So we come and worship as one — with one voice, but not alone. That’s how presence is experienced, because we’re social beings at the core.

We need to acknowledge that that presence cannot be replicated electronically. It can’t. There has to be touch and smell, right? — and feel.

I’m wearing the vestment I wore on my ordination day. I realized that sitting over here. Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer [of Atlanta] anointed my head with what seemed like a gallon of chrism. So I was just sitting over here and smelled the chrism, and I thought: “Man, some chrism was spilled on my vestments on ordination day.”

We smell and touch and hear and see, and that can’t be done electronically. There is no smell-o-vision. We need physical proximity to one another to be really present.

Our second reading today (Hebrews 9:11-15) takes us one step further, one step deeper. We talk about the sacrificial blood of Jesus. Think about that. Sacrificial blood wasn’t like the ancient sacrifices of bulls and the like. Jesus was a human sacrifice. His blood has redeemed us; it has redemptive quality. That’s real redemption.

That’s what our faith teaches us: that Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death has a redemptive quality for all of us. How many of us know the truth of that from our own suffering, to our own shedding of blood, through our own sacrifice?

We live in a world that is so comfortable that we learn in the other direction: from sacrifice. And that’s not real presence. In this broken world, we need to run towards sacrifice. We need to be willing to shed our own blood, to give up what’s most important, so that we can participate in the saving blood of Jesus Christ. That’s real presence. I’m really present to you when I’m willing to give my life for you. We’ve seen that in our parents; we’ve seen that in the saints. Don’t run away from sacrifice. The more you do, the more you’re not really present.

And in our Gospel today (Mark 14:12-16, 22-26), Jesus wants to celebrate the Passover with His friends. And all He keeps saying to them is: Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

If you want to be really present, someone’s got to prepare. Think of all the people who prepared for this event. Think of all the work that went into that. Too often, as believers, we just show up. We don’t prepare, and then we wonder why we don’t believe in the Real Presence.

Bishop Martin celebrates Corpus Christi Mass on June 2.
Bishop Martin celebrates Corpus Christi Mass on June 2.(Photo: Photo by Liz Chandler, courtesy of Catholic News Herald, Diocese of Charlotte)

The work of faith requires preparation. You don’t just show up, I’ve told my parishioners all the time. There are two ways you come to church: You come to church either as a guest or as a host. You’re either a guest or you’re a host.

Too many people walk into church as guests. What are guests looking for? A free meal. A nice place to sit. They’re going to evaluate the Mass later on — you know, some app that says whether or not it was a good experience.

The hosts realize that they’ve been given a gift and they want to share it. They’re looking to find ways to help people experience that gift, to help people to be really present.

Are you a guest or are you a host? In order to be a host, you have to prepare, my brothers and sisters. Faith is tough work! Believing in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist takes preparation — especially for our culture that says, “If I don’t get it immediately, I’m out.”

What I’m trying to say is that we have become consumers of faith. When we sit as guests and decide whether or not we’ll believe, that’s not being really present. That’s not Jesus’ approach in today’s Gospel. He engaged His brothers and sisters to prepare, to receive Him, and be really present.

Are you a guest? Or are you a host? Isn’t it interesting? That same word, “host,” is what we will say, “Amen” to today. The Real Presence of Jesus in the Host: The Eucharist is Jesus really present, His real Body and Blood, and He wants communion. He shares Himself with us so that we can be part of His Body and Blood, so that we become His Body and Blood.

Charlotte Corpus Christi
Outdoor adoration on Corpus Christi Sunday (Photo: Photo courtesy of St. Matthew parish)

May we give honor to the Real Presence of Jesus today by realizing that His Real Presence is not just to be received; it’s not just to be adored; it’s not just to be taken around in procession. All of these are beautiful things, wonderful things, but they have a purpose. That purpose is that, together, we will bring — not my real presence, not your real presence — but His Real Presence out into the world out there that needs it tremendously; that we, as a united Body of Christ, will bring the Good News to those most in need, especially the poor and the marginalized, especially our enemies, especially the people we have written off, especially that family member that you haven’t talked to in 15 years, especially that neighbor who irritates you.

If we’re not bringing real presence to those places, we have minimized the impact of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. And that’s not on Jesus, that’s on us. My brothers and sisters, may we today give God glory for His desire to be really present to us in the Eucharist. And may we do that by being really present to Him and to one another.