1. Do I Really Believe?
The first step to understanding the Lord more deeply and loving the Lord more fully in the Eucharist is to strengthen our belief. I first have to ‘believe’ in Jesus, the Son of God. If I don’t believe, and if I am not aware of myself as one who lives, one who makes decisions, and one who acts from that core belief, then my love, worship, and service is empty.
In the Gospel of John (11: 19-27) we read:
“Many of the Jews had come to
Martha and Mary to comfort them about
their brother Lazarus, who had died…
Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection
and the life; whoever believes in me,
even if he dies will live and anyone
who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?’
She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe
that you are the Christ,
the Son of God, the one
who is coming into the world.’"
The dialogue from this passage is incredibly compelling. There is a simplicity to it. There is a strength and clarity about it. In the midst of experiencing the deep sorrow at the death of a beloved brother, a family member, Martha manifests her belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. At a dark moment, she manifests her belief that her brother, Lazarus, will rise in the resurrection on the last day. It is her credo that shapes who she is, how she sees the world, how she engages those around her, how she gives witness. We know that later in the same passage Jesus in fact raises Lazarus from the dead. And in so doing he reveals his own Sonship and the mystery of the Triune God. It is a revelation that calls for the deepest act of faith, calls for us to say and to live, credo.
It’s one word. It’s a simple word. It’s repeated often, every Sunday, every Solemnity, and every rosary we pray. I believe.Credo is at the heart of who I am, who we are. We are who we are because we believe. We do what we do because we believe. Why should I seek to live a life of virtue if I don’t believe? Why preach, give witness, and commit myself to the truth of the Gospel if I don’t believe? Why seek to receive the sacraments if I don’t believe? Why be ready to endure hardships or challenges from the secular world if I don’t believe?
In the midst of the many challenges we face today, one of the persistent ones is relativism. It’s certainly not a new reality, but we are so immersed in it. It manifests itself in the current trends of society as a rejection or disregard of truth that is often accompanied by a disillusionment and hopelessness. We see that being played out in a number of areas of our society, and you’ve probably heard it in statements like: “You can’t trust any leadership” or “That’s your truth.” The significant impact of such a trend is that it also moves to erode our confidence in the truth, the authority and validity of the Revealed Word of God, particularly about the truth of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. And when the revealed Word of God (the Bible) is dismissed as myth, when we hear “Oh, the Bible is just literature made up by humans” we are confronted with the need to renew again our deepest commitment to what we believe.
Credo, then, is critical because it connects us to what God reveals. When I say “I believe” it’s rooted in what God reveals about Himself, not what I choose or what secular society chooses to create on its own, driven by whatever the current ideology may be. Far too often the lack of belief in our society moves us to a disposition where we seek to create God in our image, to force God into categories that we want, rather than rejoicing what God reveals to us and being formed in God’s image and likeness, which is love. “I believe” in the Christian context seeks to explore first the eternal truths that God desires us to know, and to recognize the enduring beauty, goodness, and dignity of the human person.
What am I basing my life decisions on: God, myself or what the world proclaims as truth?
How do my choices reflect that I believe in God, the Real Presence of the Eucharist or the Church?
How have I explored the truths of God to try and understand the mind of God?
For additional reading, please see Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), an encyclical letter written by Pope St. John Paul II in 1998, which helps us understand more clearly the relationship between faith and reason and the confidence we can have in objective truth. In paragraph 12 he writes:
“History therefore becomes the arena where we see what God does for humanity. God comes to us in the things we know best and can verify most easily, the things of our everyday life, apart from which we cannot understand ourselves.
In the Incarnation of the Son of God we see forged the enduring and definitive synthesis which the human mind of itself could not even have imagined: the Eternal enters time, the Whole lies hidden in the part, God takes on a human face. The truth communicated in Christ's Revelation is therefore no longer confined to a particular place or culture, but is offered to every man and woman who would welcome it as the word which is the absolutely valid source of meaning for human life. Now, in Christ, all have access to the Father, since by his Death and Resurrection Christ has bestowed the divine life which the first Adam had refused (cf. Rom 5:12-15). Through this Revelation, men and women are offered the ultimate truth about their own life and about the goal of history.”
2. What is the Connection Between Conversion and Belief?
When Jesus speaks about believing, he is speaking about how we enter fully into a real relationship. He is speaking about believing in the living God, and truly relating to God in friendship. This is not simply the acceptance or the intellectual acknowledgement of a code of ethics, or a concept or a speculative theory. He is calling us to believe in him, who is the way, the truth, and the life, and to align our intellect and will to Him.
And that is what makes belief such a challenge today. We are in a culture that has lost confidence not only in earthly authority, but more importantly the authority of God. The truthfulness of God. The goodness of God. The love of God. There is a disillusionment for many, and for others a deep anger. Why believe in anyone or anything if it is all a big lie. It is better not to believe in anyone but myself. And that can be a cold and lonely place for people. In fact, I saw a bumper sticker on a car last year that said: “Trust no one!”
With that, I think we can see why Jesus links repentance and the Eucharist with belief. In order to believe, to pour our entire selves into the living relationship with the divine God, we need to be about conversion and repentance each day. It is the graced movement and surrender of allowing God to do what God needs to do in our hearts. It is being able to listen to him more attentively, to hear him with new ears, to rejoice that we are called to holiness and that we have hope in divine life. This is a prophetic message for our people today, a radical message in fact, that conversion and repentance are the pathways to freedom, joy and holiness. How crazy is that?
To impress this, Jesus says: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15: 5). In this passage Jesus offers a profound teaching on being intimately connected to God using the imagery of a vine. He is teaching about how important it is for the disciple sent out into the world to stay intimately grafted to the very source of life. When Jesus teaches that ‘whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty,’ we can clearly see the significance of the sacraments in the life of all. Without being immersed in the sacramental life of the Church, we risk slowly deteriorating, in a certain sense becoming dehydrated, from the grace of God. In that context conversion is stifled, growth in holiness is stunted, and we no longer feel the ‘need’ for God.
This brings me to consider the gift of the sacraments, and particularly the Eucharist, and how it is that the Eucharist is the wellspring for sustaining us as pilgrims in the world, forming us as humble and bold disciples, bringing about continual conversion and transformation in our minds and hearts. In a sermon on the Ascension, St. Leo the Great writes: “Our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high.”
We live as pilgrims in this world, and as such, we need to be sustained for the journey. St. Gregory reminds us that Christ’s “visible presence has passed into the sacraments” and by the regular reception of the sacraments, we too encounter Christ in the most profound way.
Not surprising, data points that keep screaming out to us in the past several years are the fact that Catholics are not approaching the sacraments in the numbers they used to; that an alarming number of Catholics no longer believe in the real, true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Why, we might wonder? One answer is that sadly their own credo, their own ‘I believe’ has been eroded. That core belief has grown cold. But it does not have to stay that way! We too can exclaim like the father seeking a miracle for his son, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Our call is to ask the Lord unceasingly to strengthen our belief, to be renewed in our faith, to enflame within our own hearts a constant desire to be transformed by the Eucharist, and to joyfully share that gift with others.
For additional reading, please see Sacramentum Caritatis (the sacrament of love) an exhortation written by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 on the Eucharist. In paragraph 77 he writes:
“Eucharistic spirituality is not just participation in Mass and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. It embraces the whole of life." (216) This observation is particularly insightful, given our situation today. It must be acknowledged that one of the most serious effects of secularization is that it has relegated the Christian faith to the margins of life as if it were irrelevant to everyday affairs. The futility of this way of living – "as if God did not exist" – is now evident to everyone. Today there is a need to rediscover that Jesus Christ is not just a private conviction or an abstract idea, but a real person, whose becoming part of human history is capable of renewing the life of every man and woman. Hence the Eucharist, as the source and summit of the Church's life and mission, must be translated into spirituality, into a life lived "according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:4ff.; cf. Gal 5:16, 25). It is significant that Saint Paul, in the passage of the Letter to the Romans where he invites his hearers to offer the new spiritual worship, also speaks of the need for a change in their way of living and thinking: "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (12:2). An integral part of the eucharistic form of the Christian life is a new way of thinking, "so that we may no longer be children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Eph 4:14).