I have many friends, Catholic and Protestant alike, who wonder why I am so enamored by my belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I am constantly promoting it without reservation (if you'll pardon my pun). But why? In our day and age increasing numbers of Catholics, Orthodox, and other sacramental Christians are questioning this doctrine – a doctrine that was never questioned until the beginnings of the Radical Reformation. I went the other direction. From a mocking unbelief to utter belief.
It all started in the late 1990's. I had been raised as a Mormon (a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). The Mormon church denies anything like the sacramental understanding of the Holy Eucharist of historic Christianity. Like many Protestants, most Mormons mock the Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I was no different. I looked down over my nose at those ignorant and superstitious Catholics.
In the early 1990's I converted to Christianity in its Pentecostal variety. Pentecostals generally have no use for sacramental theology, either. Not much changed for me there. Then I began to attend a Seventh-day Adventist church. Adventists are generally nice people and sincere in their faith, but for them anything whatsoever that they associate with Catholicism is utterly anathema, from the anti-christ. The “wafer god” of Catholicism is not just mocked, but derided as a satanic counterfeit. In short, everything in my Christian experience set me up for just this sort of future.
Back to the late 1990's. It was November, 1998. I was working grave yard shift in an auto parts supplier factory in northeastern Michigan. We were working 7 day weeks with only an occasional and rare day off. One of those nights I sat up listening to the radio as my wife slept in the next room. I decided that I would find one of those good Christian stations on the AM dial that came in after dark. I stumbled on this pious sounding preacher man and stopped to listen. It was not long before he had started preaching on the rosary and the Blesséd Virgin Mary. That angered me. I believed that not only was veneration of the Saints a violation of the First Commandment, but that the Virgin Mary had absolutely no contact with this sinful world and would roll over in her grave if she could see the “worship” all those awful Catholics were rendering her!
I determined right then and there that I was going to start doing my homework, deeply researching Roman Catholicism's unique claims and I was going to write the tell-all, end-all refutation of Roman Catholicism. But God had other ideas.
I was at that same time very interested in the “Celtic Church” (which I mistakenly believed to be a proto-Protestant body). I decided that they were, if I interpreted Thomas Cahill correctly, the precise model that I would offer the reader as a counter-Catholic model from the ancient Church. I had started my interest in the Celtic Church after reading Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization. That had happened about the same time as I had noticed that Protestant churches that had competing claims were always saying that they did things “just like the Apostles did it.”
It was all a big, potent, and very Providentially timed mix. As I said, I had my ideas, but God had His. And they weren't the same.
As I began to study Roman Catholicism, I read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and kept saying to myself, “They're right! Oh my gosh, I did not know that!” and lots of similar things. About the same time I began to understand the Roman view of the Eucharist, I also noticed that the pre-Roman Celtic view, as well as that of the Orthodox, the Copts, and other branches of the Christian Faith were all saying the same thing about the Eucharist: Christ is Really Present in the Blesséd Sacrament. I was cornered by the evidence to agree with what I had set out to refute.
It lead me to seek out a Celtic church that would have me as a priest. I approached several bodies. Then, a short time later, I discovered the Independent Catholic Movement. I found a body, Friends Catholic Communion, one of whose bishops would take me on as a candidate for Holy Orders. The more I studied, the more I came to love St. John's Gospel, chapter 6, where Jesus gives His “Great Eucharistic Discourse.” In time I would discover a book on the Real Presence given at the English College in Rome in the Nineteenth Century by an archbishop who was a Protestant convert himself.
In time I would experience three Eucharistic miracles. At the request of Father General Myke Beckett, I am sharing them with you. Please share them with others who you believe will benefit from them or who will at least be respectful of our belief in the Real Presence. If you are so lead by the Holy Spirit, share it with the disdainful. It may be a seed of faith for them, or else water a seed already planted.
First: I was in my apartment in Beaverton, Oregon, just outside Portland. I was saying mass for a small house church we had started. One of our regulars had brought a guest. I counted out just enough hosts for everyone present to receive. The guest declined to receive and when I went to put away the one left over Host, there were two! The extra one was carefully placed in my mass kit as a precious relic of the Faith.
The second time: We had been homeless in Bryan, Texas. I had gotten work and with some help we got into a trailer house of our own. I celebrated a mass of thanksgiving the first Sunday in our new home. Again, I counted out just enough hosts for those present (just my family this time). When I went to put the paten away after communing my last child, there was one Host left again! This extra Host was added to the last one. (Eventually, I built two monstrances by hand for them and one was gifted to the Augustinian order I would briefly join as a oblate member.)
The third time was a much more precious story. After getting to Texas, God began to start teaching me about the real meaning of Divine Providence, that is, the care He has for His creation in all things. It was an hard lesson to learn. Part of that lesson was that God does everything He does for multiple reasons. After four and an half years of being either on time or early with our rent, we were cornered into seeking legal help against a property manager who was abusing the lease. In the end it cost us because a vengeful land lord told us we would be able to renew the lease only to be told just days before it came to an end that we would not be allowed to do so.
I fled from Bryan to Austin, Texas to look for new work and housing. Work was easy, but I knew I faced homelessness again. I lived with my best friend in my van for about a month as we prepared to bring my family to Austin. One night as I sat in the van in a grocery store parking lot eating canned chow mein I realized that we were low on gas. My friend, John, knew where I could get a voucher, but to be there in time (they only took the first fifty people needing help) we'd have to be there at 4:30 in the morning. We decided to sleep in the church parking lot that night. I went to start the van and the starter gave the most horrible grinding noise I have ever heard from a car. I was terrified that my van had just died and I was about to be out of a job.
About an hour later, I got the guts up to try again and the engine turned over just fine. I pulled out with a huge sigh of relief. There was micro-SUV coming at us that I wanted to beat to that left-turn lane (because it was a short green with a very long red after it at the light). I looked back in my rear-view mirror. Mom, Dad, and two car-seated small children. I commented how little tiny plastic SUV's should be illegal because they are so dangerous in accidents. When I looked up, the light turned green. I pulled out. As I look to my left, there are two headlights coming at me at a tremendous speed – well above the speed limit. I rammed the gas and turned to deflect as much of the impact as possible and told John to “hold on! We're about to get hit!”
I found myself in a chapel with no doors and no windows. The place was candle lit, but did not need the light. There were flowers in the vases at the front, but they were fully alive. In the center of the altar at the front was a monstrance. The host glowed with a light far above the noon-day sun, but not blindingly. There was no awareness of anything beyond this room. I was barely aware of the room as I contemplated the Eucharistic Lord in the monstrance. I began to sing Tantum Ergo in Latin with deep devotion. Then, as my custom usually is, I began to sing it in English. Then the Voice said to me, “Stop. You can't sing that now.” I began to form the question, “But why?” but before it even formed in my mind the Voice answered me like Isaiah promised (i.e. “Before you call, I will answer”), “You have to go back.”
I suddenly was aware once more of my family, my earthly life, all those things I had “left behind” in coming to this place. I began to cry. I did not want to go back. This place was so beautiful, so peaceful, so desirable. I so did not want to go back! Then the Voice spoke again, “Your family still needs you. They're not done with you yet. You need to go back.” I knew that this was not an option, and yet there was no violation of my free will. I really don't understand that, but I just know that it was. “You need to go back,” the Voice said one more time. I acquiesced that my family needed me and that I had to go back.
When I woke up a cop was looking at me and asking, “Are you okay?” Blood was all over my face and chest, but I walked from the accident. I had been hit by a drunk who had hit me at 55+ miles per hour. My 3,300 pound all metal full-sized van had absorbed the impact. When I looked back at the micro-SUV that I was in such a hurry to get in front of, I realized that had I gotten behind them, I would be witnessing the death of the child and probably Dad who was driving. They would at the very least be cut out with the 'jaws of life.' God never does anything for a single reason – of that I am sure. God knew that confronted with Him asking me to take the place of that micro-SUV, I would have done it, so He simply put me up front. God compensated me with a personal audience – a visit to Him I could never have dreamed of.
Two days later, as John and I surveyed the damage in the tow yard, we realized that we had totally forgotten about the container of pre-Sanctified Gifts that we had with us. John said, so poignantly, “Jesus was with us in the accident. I have been in a car wreck with Jesus!” And so it was.
That day, I went from believing ardently in the Real Presence, to knowing the reality of it. For me, this is no longer a matter of faith. It is not “the evidence of things not seen,” as the writer of Hebrews says. It is clear and present knowledge for me. When Jesus said, “I will neither leave you nor forsake you,” He meant so much more than we know. “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age,” is no simple platitude. He really meant it.