Doubt vs. Devotion: ‘Jesus Thirsts’ Grapples With Eucharistic Belief in Modern Times

No matter where one finds oneself in the world, where there is a Catholic church, there is the Body of Christ.

Billboard poster for new movie on the Eucharist.
Billboard poster for new movie on the Eucharist. (photo: Spirit Filled Hearts)

There is a wonderful moment midway through Jesus Thirsts: The Miracle of the Eucharist when viewers see School Sisters of St. Francis of Christ the King making hosts. “We prepare food for the world,” a sister says. And when one contemplates the definition of “host,” viewers are struck by its power: from the Latin hostia — “spiritual victim,” a term used as early as the time of Tertullian and Justin Martyr.

Jesus Thirsts: The Miracle of the Eucharist is both a new documentary and a catechetical tool for Eucharist evangelism. It is distributed by Fathom Events, with nationwide screenings slated for June 4, 5 and 6

“This film is a powerful representation of how lives have been changed through the Eucharist,” Ray Nutt, CEO of Fathom Events, told the Register in a statement. “We’ve actually added a matinee showtime to this film to make it more accessible for families, schools and religious education programs — we feel it is that important to see and experience.”

Jesus Thirsts is the brainchild of Deacon Steve Greco, founder and president of Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry and director of evangelization and faith formation of the Diocese of Orange, California. Indeed, Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange introduces the film with a short video message. Jesus Thirsts comes in the aftermath of Deacon Greco’s national and global movement Jesus Thirsts for America, which sought to motivate and inspire the faithful to rediscover the Eucharist.

The 90-minute documentary attempts to position itself as a bulwark against disbelief in the Eucharist among Catholics and the wider secular culture. An early vignette in the film references the 2019 Pew Research survey that found only one-third of U.S. Catholics believe in transubstantiation. Interviewee Marian Father Donald Calloway recalled his shock at the survey, and the film includes footage of concerned bishops discussing the matter at a bishops’ conference meeting. The bishops’ conference approved a document, “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” in November 2021.

The National Eucharistic Revival followed in 2022, launched on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, preceding a massive Eucharistic Pilgrimage for May-July 2024, culminating in the Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis July 17-21. 

Jesus Thirsts: The Miracle of the Eucharist, then, fits squarely in the universal Church’s efforts to reorient believers and nonbelievers to the miracle that occurs at every Mass in every Catholic church around the world. 

Featuring a veritable who’s who of Catholic apologists and evangelists, Jesus Thirsts is firmly anchored in sound Catholic teaching. While the film skews heavily in favor of male commentators, there is a particularly strong sequence with Irish Sister of St. Clare Briege McKenna and her apostolate of defending the priesthood of Jesus. The film juxtaposes this vocation of Sister Briege with sound bites of 20-somethings the filmmakers encounter in a Chicago neighborhood. “What are your thoughts on Catholic priests?” they are asked. These unnamed individuals appear at the outset of the film, too, vocalizing disbelief in the Eucharist and a general relativistic attitude toward religion. “To each their own when it comes to rituals,” one says.

These young people appear for less than a minute, but their presence hovers over the film. Their function appears to express the contemporary culture’s dubious view of Catholicism; I suspect their responses will generate snickers from some viewers. But might this be exactly who would benefit from the message, images and Person presented in Jesus Thirsts? Are these not who the faithful are called to accompany?

Here, Jesus Thirsts misses an opportunity: to accompany those who doubt, those who abandoned the faith (“[The Church] traumatized me,” one of the young women said, without further explanation), and those who otherwise never would have thought about the Eucharist or the Mass in general. What would have unfolded if the film’s point of view was from one of these doubting voices from Chicago? What conversations or conversions might have transpired if, somehow, they experienced the silence of Eucharistic adoration in Uganda or the prayerful pilgrims at Medjugorje (both locations seen in the film).

This raises a further question: Who exactly are the one-third of unbelieving Catholics from the Pew survey? How many families are torn asunder by the conflict between those who fervently believe and those who do not? On the other hand, a 2023 report published by Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) found that almost two-thirds of Catholics believed in the Real Presence, a significant difference from the Pew findings.

So who is the target audience of Jesus Thirsts? Clearly, the filmmakers desire that a Eucharistic revival sets the world on fire. Bishop Vann says so in his prologue: “We present an invitation for Eucharistic revival in our church. This film, this journey seeks to ignite the hearts of all believers.” The film, then, strives to inspire those who do believe to become Eucharist evangelists and to share that faith with others. 

It is a daunting task, particularly when at least 72% of Catholics do not attend Sunday Mass. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners” (5:32). “[O]ur goal is for viewers to gain a deeper appreciation for the Eucharist as the ongoing incarnation of Christ in our world and to recognize his profound longing to share himself fully with us,” director Tim Moriarty told the Register.

By and large, Jesus Thirsts is finely crafted; the overall mise-en-scene is handsomely assembled by Moriarty, the executive director and owner of Castletown Media, an up-and-coming film studio attempting to bring a high level of storytelling and production value to Catholic films. Among their efforts are David Naglieri’s acclaimed film Mother Teresa: No Greater Love. Castletown’s next effort following Jesus Thirsts will be Roadmap to Reality: Carlo Acutis and Our Digital Age, slated for a Fathom Events release in 2025.

“We aimed to capture the timeless essence of the Eucharist while grounding it in historical reality,” Moriarty said. The Castletown team filmed Jesus Thirsts in seven countries (the U.S., Poland, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Uganda, Canada, Slovenia), across three continents. 

Jesus Thirsts certainly captures the beauty that is global Catholicism, employing the now-familiar style much favorited by faith-based genre filmmakers, the Terrence Malick-inspired floating handheld camera with many slow-motion shots and lots of quick cuts. But in its visuals, the film’s beauty is particularly effective when its liturgies, churches and prelates are reverently oriented to the eternal.

 In a word, the celebration of the Eucharist is other-worldly. Though he only appears for but a few seconds when the film highlights Eucharist miracles, Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer is fond to describe the consecration as a moment when time collapses:

“God can make time collapse for the sacred event without making physical time collapse. God can literally think the species of the Holy Eucharist all the way back until his Son’s Last Supper. Also, God can think of his Son holding up the bread at the Last Supper going into the future Crucifixion and bringing his crucified body in the Host. So that’s one direction of time. And then when the priest today says Mass, he’s going to the past moment to the celebration of the Last Supper of his Son, and his Son is pointing to the prophetic future, collapsing time, bringing His crucified body into the present moment. And when those things coincide — ‘This is my Body’ really is his crucified body but also his risen body, post factum, and therefore our integration into his mystical body.”

Father Spitzer told the Register that the Eucharist offers four transformative spiritual gifts: “1) forgiveness of venial sins, 2) protection and help to contend with the evil spirit and temptations, 3) the supernatural help needed to imitate him in our daily actions (which ultimately transforms our hearts to be like his), and 4) the gift of peace which is beyond all understanding.”

The visual aesthetics of Jesus Thirsts are a testament to the high-quality content modern audiences have come to expect from apostolates and ministries seeking to spread the Good News. Recent cinematic efforts like Jesus Thirsts and others within Church evangelization follow a long tradition. Perhaps once again, in this pivotal time for the life of the Church as it grapples with disbelief both in and outside it, one might find sacred art as a way into hardened hearts. When transubstantiation was defined at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, a wave of imagery geared towards meditation on the Body of Christ followed in the subsequent decades: The devotion of the Veronica veil, the Holy Face icon, the Man of Sorrows, and monuments to the entombed body of Christ proliferated across Christendom are such examples, as if to say, “Behold him who has been pierced” (John 19:37).

Beyond the visible ardor the Eucharist instills within those glimpsed in Jesus Thirsts, there is a remarkably comforting takeaway: No matter where one finds oneself in the world — the Rwenzori Mountains of Africa, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the sleepy medieval villages of Italy, the hollowed-out ruins of Belgrade — where there is a Catholic church, there is the Body of Christ, ready at once and everywhere to give himself as a ransom for many. 

This review was updated after posting to clarify the work of Castletown Media.