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Do I Really Believe He’s There?

I recently celebrated my 10-year anniversary of becoming Catholic and the event got me to thinking about what it was like to come into the Church as an adult. I grew up in a small southern town, with a Protestant church on every corner, and I was undeniably one of the most naive converts ever to approach the altar. I didn’t even know Catholics were Christians until my mid-20s. Which probably had something to do with the fact that I didn’t know who Christ was, either.

Converting to Catholicism as an adult was like growing up an orphan, with all the loneliness and self-loathing of being unrooted, only to discover I belonged to the royal family. I was overwhelmed by the vast spiritual and intellectual riches of the faith that were handed to me upon baptism. Saints, the sacraments, cathedrals, novenas, the holy angels…it was like a never-ending feast for the soul. I reveled in my faith. Even today, I’m blessed with almost a child’s delight in it.

There was only one thing that tainted becoming Catholic, however: the overwhelming number of people I encountered who wore the label, but who did not believe in most of the Church’s teachings or bother to live by them. Oh, I’m not just talking about contraception or coming to Mass on holy days of obligation. I mean the really important, core teachings, like heaven, hell, the Bible. I was naive enough to be shocked when I heard lifelong Catholics casually dismiss going to Mass or confession. I was bewildered that so many of my spiritual siblings, who were blessed with being born into the family home instead of having to yearn and search for it as I had, seemed oblivious to the priceless value of their Catholic faith and heritage.

I’d had the idea that once we converted, it wouldn’t matter that our families didn’t support us in our faith journey, because we’d have the spiritual support we’d need among our fellow parishioners. But that was not what I found. I found the same hostility to faith within the Church itself that I did in the world–in some cases, stronger than what I encountered among non-Catholics. In time, I realized that there were Catholics worshiping with us who also practice their faith. And that there is one simple litmus test to tell who these people are:

The Eucharist

It didn’t take long for me to discover there are two kinds of Catholics in our Church:

1) those who think the little wafer they ingest at the end of Mass is a piece of bread, and

2) those who know it’s God.

When my husband and I were going through RCIA, our priest explained the Eucharist to us and said, “It’s either the biggest hoax in history that’s been perpetrated on billions of people for nearly 2,000 years–or it’s the truth.” It made me realize then that there is no middle ground; I had to accept on faith that what looks like a piece of bread to me is, in reality, a person: Jesus himself, fully human and fully divine. I had investigated the major world religions on my way to Catholicism because I wanted to find the Truth and I knew that if I ever found it, I wanted to live with integrity. I knew I could not call myself a Catholic if I was not willing to submit my will to the most fundamental, core teaching of the faith: that the Eucharist really and truly is Jesus. Not just a symbol of Jesus. Or even a really meaningful memorial of Him. But really and truly Jesus of Nazareth, the God-man who was born of a virgin, died on a cross, and rose from the dead 2,000 years ago.

My belief that Jesus is really there in that host fuels everything I do as a Catholic. I show up to Mass every weekend because I don’t want to miss the privilege of communing with Him. I go to Confession because I want my soul to be a welcoming abode for Him, who is perfect. I pray because He is part of me. I use NFP because I respect His gift of fertility, through which I’ve cooperated with God in the creation of five new, immortal souls. Everything, from genuflecting before the tabernacle to sacrificing for my friends and family, is  rooted first in my relationship with Jesus, who comes to me under the guise of bread.

This teaching is foundational; I’ve found that a person who doesn’t believe in the Real Presence rarely believes much else the Church teaches, either. It just makes sense–if you don’t believe the Church is telling the truth about the Eucharist, then how can you trust that anything it teaches is true? If it’s wrong about Communion, then maybe it’s wrong about heaven and hell and all the rest. Maybe its wrong about God loving us or existing at all.

It cuts both ways, too: if you do believe the Church is right about the Eucharist, and Jesus is really and truly present, then why doesn’t the Church have the authority to guide you in ALL parts of your life? To me, it seems irrational–not to mention self-serving–to believe God gives the Catholic Church the power to turn a piece of bread into the Son of God, but that its guidance on moral matters is suspect. If you can take the monumental leap of faith that a piece of bread is really a person, then the rest ought to be cake.

Today is Holy Thursday, the day we memorialize Jesus giving us His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. This truth about the Eucharist–that Jesus is present to us under the appearance of bread, so that He can commune with us most intimately–is the core of our Catholic faith. This Sunday, as you move toward the altar, there is only one question that ought to consume your soul: “Do I really believe He’s there?” After all that Jesus did to redeem us, He deserves a straight answer.

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About Misty

Misty converted to Catholicism from atheism 13 years ago, just a week after becoming a mother to her first child. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom, she worked full-time as a magazine writer and editor. She has been married to her best friend for nearly 20 years and looks forward to many more decades by his side. Her days are now spent cooking, doing laundry, freelance writing, and homeschooling her five children. After spending so much of her life in spiritual darkness, she revels in the joy of being Catholic. Without a doubt, the Lord’s greatest gift to her has been saving her from a life without Him.

  • Gina Nakagawa - God bless you at Easter and always. This is a beautiful expression of Faith. The Faith we should all have. Thank you.April 5, 2012 – 2:19 amReplyCancel

  • Terri LaHugh - Beautiful article Misty! I so wish everyone, especially those that are Catholic, would believe in the true pressence of Jesus in the Eucharist! What a different world we would have! God Bless you and your family during these most Holy Days! Thank you Jesus for loving us so much that you established the Eucharist for us!!!April 5, 2012 – 1:41 pmReplyCancel

  • Terri LaHugh - Beautiful article Misty! I so wish everyone, especially those that are Catholic, would believe in the true pressence of Jesus in the Eucharist! What a different world we would have! God Bless you and your family during these most Holy Days! Thank you Jesus for loving us so much that you established the Eucharist for us!!!April 5, 2012 – 1:41 pmReplyCancel

  • BirgitJ - Shared, posted, tweeted! I loved this paragraph:

    ‘My belief that Jesus is really there in that host fuels everything I do as a Catholic. I show up to Mass every weekend because I don’t want to miss the privilege of communing with Him. I go to Confession because I want my soul to be a welcoming abode for Him, who is perfect. I pray because He is part of me. I use NFP because I respect His gift of fertility, through which I’ve cooperated with God in the creation of five new, immortal souls. Everything, from genuflecting before the tabernacle to sacrificing for my friends and family, is rooted first in my relationship with Jesus, who comes to me under the guise of bread.’

    That says it all!April 5, 2012 – 1:50 pmReplyCancel

  • Megan - This post is wonderful and eye-opening. I (a cradle Catholic) have so often been saddened when I see a lack of faith within the Church, but had not quite made the connection that for those people, it all tied back to a lack of belief in the Eucharist. I see it now. The piece of your article that another commenter quoted above is an eloquent description of why belief in the real presence is so important and also a great call to examination of conscience to make sure that all that I do is consistent with my belief in the Lord’s presence in my life!April 6, 2012 – 1:04 pmReplyCancel

  • Michael - I’m new to this blog, but what I’ve seen of your writings so far, Misty, I like! We’re different–I’m a man in my late twenties, and a cradle Catholic–but we think alike, from what I’ve seen, and we’ve even had similar experiences. I fell away from the Church as a child, and used to think VERY differently theologically and morally from Catholic doctrine. Indeed, when I refound my faith (through evidence and reason, of all things), the hardest part for me was giving up beliefs I thought were morally sound: I was pro-choice; I thought a failure to ordain women was old-fashioned, sexist, and discriminatory; and most especially, I supported same-sex “marriage”. That last one was the hardest to give up belief in–I couldn’t see any arguments against it that held water, and I saw arguments for it that I thought did. Plus I thought opposing it made you a homophobe, something I never wanted to be because some of my closest friends have been gay. And I felt guilty knowing I was now supposed to feel the opposite of how I once would have felt about “gay rights” legislation in the news.

    But I was like you: even though I thought I would never change my mind on those things, I was determined (having already more or less concluded Catholic theological doctrine as true) NOT to be a “cafeteria Catholic”, and so I had to find some way to address my disagreement with the Church. Either she was wrong, or I was, there was no alternative. Either she would change her mind over time (like when she favored the heliocentric model of the solar system), in which case it was only a matter of time–or her doctrine was RIGHT, and I was mistaken because I hadn’t found or hadn’t bothered to listen to arguments favoring the Catholic positions. But now it all makes sense to me–it all fits together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle–to where I have difficulty conceiving of a world in which any part of Catholic doctrine is NOT true.

    Bless you for finding your way here, and for posting your experiences on it! I haven’t read many of your blog entries, but what I’ve seen I find informative (and well-informed), interesting, familiar (in that I might have written some of it myself), and loving.

    Happy Easter!May 4, 2012 – 12:53 pmReplyCancel

  • AmyS. - Misty – you’re article is spot-on! Though I was a cradle Catholic (from a devout family with double-digits of children), *I* didn’t believe in the Real Presence as a young woman. (I, the product of a post-Vatican II Catholic education system, didn’t even realize that Catholics supposedly believed that!) I, a “liberated feminist” who had found “enlightenment” outside of the Church, had long ago rejected such Catholic teachings as papal infallibility, sanctity of life, indissolubility of marriage, and unacceptability of artificial birth control, as well as a whole host of “lesser teachings”. Then, when I was in my mid-20s, my dad (God rest his soul) found out that I didn’t believe in the Real Presence, and he was absolutely shocked — especially when he found out that I didn’t *know* that that’s what the Catholic Church still really taught and that there were real Catholics who believed it. He gave me a book about Eucharistic miracles, and my eyes were opened to the Truth for the first time ever. That led me to study in depth all sorts of issues, which in turn led me on a journey of the spirit. Now I am a devout, fully-practicing Catholic who would willingly give up my life to defend any Catholic core belief, especially the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Thank you for writing this! We NEED to teach cradle Catholics (especially post-Vatican II ones) about the Real Presence!!!!!May 4, 2012 – 1:23 pmReplyCancel

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