Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Being Present to Real Presence

It has been said that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.”[1] While the doctrine of the Real Presence is a touchstone of Catholic orthodoxy, I think that if we’re not careful we can miss something critically important about our experience of Eucharist in daily life.

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr notes:

After defending and believing the Real Presence all my life, I recognize that the concept of presence is inherently and necessarily relational. Catholics can defend the Doctrine of the Real Presence all we want, and I do, but if we don’t teach the children of God how to be present to presence, there is no Real Presence.[2]

Rohr is not suggesting that Christ’s real body and blood are absent from the Eucharist. Rather he is suggesting that we are the ones who are absent from the Real Presence of Christ, that our experience of Eucharist is intimately related to our personal disposition, or, in other words, our willingness to be “present to presence.”

This idea makes it particularly exciting to share this next story. It is a story about a beautiful confluence of presence – the ministry of presence in Young Life and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This story comes from Nathan Gunn, a faithful Catholic, dear friend and Young Life colleague of mine from Syracuse, New York[3]. Nathan shares his experience of being present to the Real Presence of the Eucharist this summer at Young Life camp:

We experienced an extraordinary gift this month at Saranac Village, a Young Life camp in upstate New York.  Through the generosity of Msgr. Yeazel at Holy Cross Church, we were able to have the Eucharist available each Sunday morning for our Assignment Team, Camp Staff, Work Crew and Summer Staff.  As we put the communion service on the schedule Week 1, it seemed unlikely that many people would get up early to participate with the opportunity.  Were we ever surprised!  Folks began arriving early, just to enjoy the quiet of the club room as we waited to enjoy His presence.   The service was short and intimate - but those of us who were able to commune together were able to build quick bonds.

The mere presence of the Eucharist in camp spurred scores and scores of wonderful conversations around camp.  Walking through the bakery, down at the Outpost, in the living room of the Guide House, people were having deep conversations about the presence of Jesus in their own lives.  Several young Catholics stopped to tell me how healing the Eucharist was for them.  Enjoying the fellowship around the Presence of the Lord was incredible healing.

Each week grew a bit until our final Sunday morning during Wyldlife camp.  Since our middle school friends and their leaders were away from their parishes for camp, we offered the communion service on the schedule for campers as well.  Again, this service was optional and something that people would have needed to sacrifice in order to be present.  Our hearts were warmed when over fifty people gathered for the communion.  Our prayers together for the campers and the week ahead were inspirational.  Our reverent pause before Jesus and His Love was a personal highlight for me.  Sharing the peace with kids from multiple areas is an experience none of us are soon to forget.  We can only imagine the positive ripple effect as kids return home and tell their parents that YL had made the Eucharist available to them.

Jesus never stops surprising me.  The promise of His presence in our lives is our daily hope.  To bring the Eucharist into this setting was an experience that was not only transformative but revelatory - we promise kids Jesus, what could be better!

Nathan, wife Tammy, and two boys.

[1] Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), 11.
[2] Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still (NY: Paulist Press, 2014), 15.
[3] Nathan Gunn is a Catholic who has served the mission of Young Life for over 18 years. He currently serves as a Metro Area Director for Syracuse, NY and Regional Field Developer for the Central New York Region. He lives with his wife, Tammy, and two strapping boys in Syracuse.

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