From Head to Heart: The Reality of the Eucharist

Catholics share heart-to-heart encounters with the Real Presence.

A Eucharistic procession is underway with Bishop John Folda and Deacon Ben Seitz during the Eucharistic conference Sept. 23 and 24 in Fargo, North Dakota.
A Eucharistic procession is underway with Bishop John Folda and Deacon Ben Seitz during the Eucharistic conference Sept. 23 and 24 in Fargo, North Dakota. (photo: Courtesy of Kristina Lahr of the Fargo Diocese )

FARGO, N.D. — Our connection with the Eucharist cannot stop at the head, say those leading the charge for Eucharistic revival, but must transcend to the heart. 

Before, during and after a recent Eucharistic conference here, speakers and laypeople shared their experiences of when their belief in the Eucharist became real in the heart sense.

 

A Tragic Accident 

In his keynote, Msgr. James Shea, president of the University of Mary, recalled a fatal tragedy involving his youngest brother, Matthew, resulting from a farm accident just shy of his fifth birthday.

“He was sliding down a hill on a day when the snow was melting in springtime,” he began, with their father in a tractor moving hay bales and snow nearby, when Matthew “went right under the wheel of the tractor and died.”

The following summer, just after his freshman year of college, Shea was at a religious-discernment camp, and, at adoration one night, found himself struggling to pray. “My heart was dry like sawdust. I just missed my brother so much,” he said. “I missed his laugh. .... I just wished I could be with him again.”

Suddenly, while gazing at the monstrance, he recalled, “A grace flooded my heart.” He felt strongly his brother was in heaven with Jesus and knew in that moment he was with Jesus, too, and that “the closest I could ever be to my little brother [for now] was there in the Eucharist — because that was Jesus, and he was with Jesus.”

He added, “That’s the kind of grace God offers us in the midst of our lives, if we’re paying attention and have hearts open to receiving it.”

 

‘To Know His Presence’

Like Msgr. Shea, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee leading the three-year Eucharistic Revival, can’t recall a time he didn’t believe Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist. 

But something happened early on that made it real to him. 

In first grade, his parish priest prepared him, a year early, for first reconciliation and Communion — in order to start serving as an altar boy.

“The experience of serving [at] Mass and kneeling near the altar, experiencing in my heart this presence of Jesus — my love for him and his for me, even at that age — put it in my head to be a priest,” he said. “That was always with me growing up … that desire to know his presence and be close to it.”

Years later, as he celebrated his first Mass as a priest and said the words of consecration, Bishop Cozzens recalled, he wasn’t sure how he would feel. But at the point at which the Host is raised and set on the corporeal, as he genuflected, “I knew I was genuflecting before the Lord of the Universe.”

Eucharistic conference North Dakota
Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, celebrates Mass at the September Eucharistic conference in Fargo, North Dakota. Bishop Cozzens is leading the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival. | Courtesy of Kristina Lahr of the Fargo Diocese


“That aspect of the Eucharist has affected me more profoundly as I’ve grown into my priesthood: the understanding of the call to make my life a gift,” he said. “The Eucharist has the power to transform your daily life.”

 

A Living Tabernacle

Prior to the conference, Mary Healy, one of the speakers, shared with the Register her own moment of discovering the reality of the Eucharist. 

She was in graduate school at Franciscan University of Steubenville at an all-night Eucharistic prayer vigil. Though she started out enthusiastically, as the hours wore on, Healy said, her enthusiasm began to fade. “I looked at my watch, and, finally, around 2 in the morning, I thought, ‘I can’t do this. I guess this is beyond my holiness grade.’”

So she got up and left. “And the moment I walked out into the cold night air, I had this immediate, deep consciousness that the Lord, who was in that monstrance, is in me,” she recalled, because of the Eucharist. “I realized, ‘I am a living tabernacle,’ and I could literally feel his presence in me beyond anything I had experienced before.”

She knew Jesus was with her in a real way. “He gave me that grace.”

 

The Maternal Connection

Sheila Jordan, a mother of five, has been bringing her children to adoration for more than a decade now. In the early years, the kids often would “balk and drag their feet.” But, lately, she has been seeing the real effects of the Eucharist in her children’s souls — especially while praying the Rosary aloud. They’ve not only become more compliant, she told the Register, but are even upset when they cannot go.

“There’s so much beauty in the prayer of our Blessed Mother while in the presence of Our Lord, her son,” Jordan said. “God says all the time, ‘Where two or more are gathered, there will I be.’ Offering our prayers to him through his mother, she’s going to take our prayers to him. And he’s not going to refuse her.”

Bringing her young ones to adoration, she said, also allows her to “get out of the way” to let Jesus do his work on their hearts. “I honestly wish I’d started it sooner, because I don’t think I realized the true beauty of what [the Eucharist] is and was.”

Jordan also expressed gratitude for the conference talk by Sister Miriam James Heidland, who reminded her that Jesus wants to take our brokenness into his heart. “It was so beautiful to be able to visualize that and remember that God wants that personal connection. He wants to hold us.”

Megan Sather, 13, another attendee, shared with the Register how witnessing people being healed during a healing service at the conference reminded her of the power of God’s love, helping her to overcome her reluctance to express love. “Seeing how God loves everyone around me made me feel that I should love everyone around me, too — and my siblings even more.”

 

Processing With Jesus in 2024

Bishop Cozzens shared during the conference the focus of the next three years of Eucharistic Revival, explaining that the Holy Spirit wants to set a fire in faithful hearts. 

“We have received, as Catholics, the greatest gift in the world — one that carries forth [God’s] redemption for all time,” he said. “The Eucharist is not just meant for us, but for us to share with others.”

The first year is intended to help Eucharistic people go even deeper. “The Eucharistic Revival depends on the revival at the heart of the Church,” Bishop Cozzens said. He pointed attendees to EucharisticRevival.org to sign up for updates and prayer efforts.

The second year will zero in on efforts at the parish level and growing the faithful’s understanding of the Eucharist together.

The third year will be about bringing the Eucharist out into the world, beginning with a national Eucharistic congress in Indianapolis in July 2024, the first such gathering in more than 50 years. 

“We expect this to be a life-changing event,” Bishop Cozzens said, noting that it will launch with the Blessed Sacrament being walked across the country from its four ends: the tomb of Junípero Serra in the West; the tomb of Blessed Michael McGivney in the East; Corpus Christi in Texas in the South; and the headwaters of the Mississippi River in the North, all ending in Indianapolis.

“The Holy Spirit knows the Church needs to be strengthened in our hearts,” Bishop Cozzens said. And through this revival, with Jesus’ help and guidance, “We can stand against the struggles and difficulties of the world in which we live.”

Bishop John Folda, whose diocese hosted the conference, told the Register afterward that he felt the presence of the Holy Spirit “guiding us, pushing us forward, and putting us in deeper touch with Jesus through the Eucharist. It is a graced moment for us all.” 

Clockwise from top left: Christ is adored in downtown Indianapolis July 20; Bishop Andrew Cozzens blesses the faithful with the Blessed Sacrament from the Indiana War Memorial July 20; the Host is elevated at Mass and adored at Lucas Oil Stadium on Day 2 of the NEC.

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