Abiding Presence: Christ our Eucharistic Refuge
“Our Lord Jesus Christ, as though all the other proofs of his mercy were insufficient, institutes the Eucharist so that he can always be close to us. We can only understand up to a point that he does so because Love moves him, who needs nothing, not to want to be separated from us.”
St. Josemaria Esriva; Christ is Passing By, no. 84
“I know of a young man whose loneliness was cured by a priest’s simple reminder during a Sunday homily: ‘With Jesus always present in the tabernacle, we never have a reason to feel lonely.’ Sometimes we need to be reminded of the obvious, and perhaps it takes a particularly difficult moment for a familiar truth to hit home: Jesus is ‘here on earth for you’ (The Way, no. 539).”
The Lord does not remain with us in the Eucharist for His own sake, but to meet our deepest human needs for love and friendship: “Jesus, who has encouraged this feeling of emptiness in us, comes out to meet us” (Christ is Passing By, no. 170). In some, like that young man, the Lord allows a certain loneliness so that they will seek Him out and discover the truth of another equally simple reminder: “When you approach the Tabernacle remember that he has been awaiting you for twenty centuries” (The Way, no. 537).
A relationship of permanent remaining or abiding with us is what Jesus ardently desires, and He is most forthright about it in connection with the Eucharist: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him”; “Abide in me, and I in you” (see Jn 6:56; 15:4). The Lord describes the special kind of relationship that He wants to have with us as a mutual abiding. Almost inexplicably, as St Josemaria says, Christ does not want to be parted from us even for an instant.
This ‘incomprehensible’ fact demands reflection: Hasn’t Jesus Christ been an eyewitness to our entire lives, seeing right through us at every moment? Hasn’t He seen us at our worst? He has, and in spite of (or because of) our occasional or frequent stupidity, our vanity, selfishness, blindness to what is truly important, Jesus still wants this. He still wants to dwell within us; He still wants holy communion with us. For reasons that love alone can explain, the Lord “does not want to be separated from us,” but wants us to be as branches to His vine.
The Eucharist penetrates to the heart of the human problem: “No one, man nor woman, can stand alone; we are so constituted by nature; and the world, instead of helping us, is an open adversary. It but increases our solitariness.”1 St John Henry Newman portrays here an ‘unsolvable’ dilemma: God has made us to seek communion with others, yet everywhere we turn, everyone and everything falls short. The world can offer no lasting remedy.
We are all born with a radical loneliness that nothing can finally cure except a close communion with the Lord. Adam and Eve lost not only original innocence, but also the continual sense of God dwelling with and within them. Close human relationships are indispensable, but even their comfort can’t reach our deeper, inherited solitude. Those deeper places within us are God’s domain, and He reserves the power to touch those depths to Himself alone.
This is why Jesus doesn’t have to explain why an abiding relationship with Him is desirable. We get the point as soon as we hear it. The Lord doesn’t need to explain why we seek friendship, love, union with others. As our Creator, He has made us this way—we’re “hardwired” not only to want God, but to have Him abide with us always. It’s a Gospel pattern: Those who have been touched by the Lord—by His words or by a healing—often beg to accompany Him, or beg Him to stay with them.
Although our Lord’s express desires for union with us are both marvelous and mysterious, yet they make perfect sense to those who love Him, because to anyone in love, the Eucharist is no mystery. Love makes perfect sense of it. Jesus promises this mutual abiding and we get it. We recognize it as what we’ve always wanted, as Newman again explains:
Yet many who heard the first announcement of the Eucharist reacted against it: “‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” Followed by the sad commentary: “They returned to their former way of life” (Jn 6:60, 66). It’s not that they lacked intelligence. They may not have been entirely clear on the meaning of our Lord’s words, but one thing clear: Jesus was asking a very personal involvement that seemed to go too far. They didn’t want something so demanding, so personal, as this relationship would have to be: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me” (Jn 6:56-7).
The people are not willing to cross the line between being interested in Christ and being totally involved with Him. And so they return to their former way of life where the demands of this relationship are not going to complicate their lives and compromise their plans. They go back to where the demands of the Gospel are absent. They go back to an “easier” way. Perhaps it is an easier way, but life without Christ and His Gospel also makes one feel trapped in this world—a prisoner of appetites and desires that nothing can satisfy. They will be hungry always in their prison.
And Jesus is saying: The Eucharist is the only way out. This bread and this wine satisfy every taste because they feed the hunger and thirst of the spirit. No human formula, recipe, or magic spell could ever come close to doing what the Eucharist does for the heart that is ready to enter into a vital communion with Jesus. Nothing has ever succeeded in supplying the deepest needs of the heart like the Bread of Life.
When Christ enters our unredeemed lives, He finds us adrift: searching, sinning, mistaking good for evil and evil for good; looking for love, friendship, some connection with others that will make us whole. But, if we are open to His gentle invitations and promptings, this is also how we may find God: as incomplete (perhaps lonely) people needing to be taken in and sheltered from our confused search.
All of mankind needs “some shelter, refuge, rest, home or sanctuary from the outward world,” as Newman characterizes our situation—and this very drive can lead people to discover the “shelter or secret place which God has provided for them in Christ.” In the Eucharist, Jesus Christ Himself becomes our shelter, our place of refuge.
St Peter speaks truly for all of us: We’ve already had enough personal contact with you, Lord, to know that going back to our former life means stranding ourselves again on the very shoreline where You found us. We know that there is no place else to go (cf. Jn 6:68). Jesus is our home, our refuge in this world, as we look forward to the glorious promise of the next: “And he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence” (Rev 7:15).
1. This and all other Newman quotations come from his sermon, “The Church A Home For The Lonely,” Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. IV, no. 12.