By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, June 7, 2010

Real Presence

Blog June 7, 2010

Yesterday the Church celebrated the solemn feast of Corpus Christi, or the Body and Blood of Christ.

As we gathered in our churches to give thanks to the Father for the gift of salvation in the death and resurrection of Christ, we reflected in a particular way upon the wondrous gift by which the saving grace of the Cross is made present for us here and now: the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Then many of us carried the Blessed Sacrament to the streets of our towns and cities in the traditional Corpus Christi procession. Such processions make visible our conviction that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a gift not only for us but also for the world.

What message does the Eucharist bring to contemporary society? This can be considered from a variety of perspectives. Today I am considering the Eucharist in the light of the current and widespread experience of social networking via modern communications technology and its impact on our relationships with one another.

More and more relationships today are characterized by presence that is not real but virtual. Social networking is taking place more and more over the Internet, via sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and communication is increasingly virtual through things like emails and text messaging. These communications media can have great benefits, to be sure, but we need to ask what they are doing to our capacity to relate in a real way to one another, to be truly, really present to each other.

I once had a conversation with a man who had just been speaking with his teenage daughter about all the texting that takes place among her friends. He asked her, “Why don’t you just pick up the phone and call your friends?” “In order to do that,” she replied, “I’d have to have something to talk about.” Whatever is going on in the texting, it wouldn’t appear to be any significant conversation. The more that virtual interaction becomes widespread in our society, the less will our relationships be real. When the interface between persons becomes not personal, one-to-one, but indirect through a medium such as the Internet or computer game, then meaningful relationships are not possible.

Tragically, as this virtual “relating” becomes widespread in society, it will inevitably creep into the daily life of the family. But it is in the family above all that relationships must be real, not virtual. The family is the school of genuine relationships of love and thus the cell of a genuinely human society. The family must therefore be that place where members are not just present with one another in the same place, but present to one another. The presence to the other must be genuine, real. What did Jesus teach us about real presence at that last supper?

Catholics see in the last supper of the Lord his institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist and of the priesthood. In the Eucharist, following the Lord’s command, we do as he did at the last supper, and by his word spoken by the priest and by the agency of the Holy Spirit simple gifts of bread and wine are transformed such that they are bread and wine no longer but the real presence of Christ, his true body and blood.

But this is not a static presence of the Lord. It is more than a “presence with”, as wondrous and comforting as that might be. It is a “presence to”. It interacts with and engages the other and invites to communion. Christ did not say only “this is my body, this is my blood”. He said “this is my body given for you; this is my blood poured out for you”. With those words he was referring to his approaching death on the Cross, and teaching that his death was a self-offering, a self-gift for the life of the world. By offering the gifts to his disciples he was engaging them and inviting them to make of their lives a self-offering, through with and in him to the Father, for the life of the world. In other words, Christ’s real presence to the other in love engages the other at the deepest level of their life with the totality of his own.

In the family and, by extension, in society, love finds expression in real presence when we redirect our gaze away from the virtual to the real, when we turn away from the television, from the computer, from the video games and turn toward one another in ways that are deeply meaningful, creating the space and time to engage one another in such ways that each knows that he or she is known and loved, and comes to appreciate that his or her individual life matters. Pope Benedict said in his first homily that every person is the result of a thought of God, that each man, woman and child, is willed, loved and necessary. This is learned only through the real presence of one to the other. It is obscured by virtual relationships that deepen our sense of anonymity even as we connect with others.

May our celebration of Christ’s real presence to us and to the world in the Eucharist inspire and shape our relationships, such that they be experiences of real presence to one another.