Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I don't know about you but I always feel if I can just get about ten more things done, then I can rest. I have all sizes and colors of Post-Its covered with lists--Staples, Trader Joe's, emails to answer, letters to write, phone calls to respond to, accounts to balance, bills to pay, prayers to pray, stats to check, admin, admin, admin....

Anyway, so one recent Monday morning I was breathing a sigh of relief. I thought, I have cleared off my desk, everything is pretty much in order, and now for the love of heaven, could I have one single day when I am simply free to do as I please, what I am made for, which is write?

That was when I opened my email [why I would be opening my email when purporting to try to work is a separate issue] to this:

re.shirt of flame.....please explain what you mean by real rather than actual or virtual Presence.  now that i've read thru the book, will now go back and READ it as it is addressing  what the Lord is teaching me.....that focusing on God alone and dying to self(ishness) to focus on the other guy are not diametrically opposed at all........rather one is the result of the other...... thanks for taking the time to read this.....shirlee

Is that not priceless? I'm trying to work, I'm trying to be effective, I'm trying to bear fruit here and you're going to ask me to explain the REAL PRESENCE?

This is not something you can dash off in an unthought-out sentence or two so I thanked Shirlee for writing and told her I'd get back to her within a few weeks.

Right away, though, I started to try to come up with something that would sound smart. And then I thought of my friend Horace who has (by his own admission) "anger issues" and a deep, real, authentic spirituality and no use at all for the Catholicism with which he was raised, but I know (maybe you do, too) many such types. They can't abide (rightfully) religious cant and in some ways they are closer to the bleeding heart of Christ than many of us church-goers.

Anyway, I remembered two stories about Horace. One was about when he was in prison as a youth, one of many such visits, and he said on Friday nights the inmates got fish and chips. The one time of the week they got a decent meal and they all looked forward to it mightily. Well he had a cellmate, Peter Ord, and the prison was a harsh, dangerous place and Peter had been a good friend. And finally Horace was poised to get out of prison the next morning, a Saturday morning (Peter had a six-month sentence and Horace had a three-month sentence),  and Friday night rolled around, and the fish and chips came, and he wanted that meal badly. He'd been eating slop all week, like always. But Horace looked at Peter, who was not going to be getting out in the morning  and he said, "Oh it was hard! My mouth was watering!" But at last he held out his plate and said, "Wouldja like my fish n chips?"

So Peter had two dinners that night and Horace went without dinner, and got out of prison, and had many more adventures, and has been on the high road or a higher road for many years, and awhile ago he went back to his hometown in England and lo and behold he ran into the old cellmate, the chap he hadn't seen in 40 years. And the very first thing Peter said was, "Remember when you gave me your fish and chips?"

Now that, to me, is the Eucharist. It is saying that giving that fish and chips to your cellmate, that act, that heart, that sacrifice that does not get you anywhere in the eyes of the world, that does not get you money, sex, fame or recognition and that hurts is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING, THE ONLY IMPORTANT THING, and in that sense the "realest" thing IN THE WORLD. It is worth dying for.

Because that kind of self-giving comes from the deepest part of us, the part that is most precious, most innocent, most childlike; that was there before the sexual predators, or our parents, or siblings, or teachers, or neighbors, or the people we loved so much who didn't love us back, got to us; before that heart was betrayed, stomped on, pierced, shattered, pierced, spat on, ridiculed, scorned, wounded.

So the Eucharist is not the literal flesh and blood of Christ. It's consecrated bread; it's consecrated wine. But starting from the Last Supper, when Christ knelt to wash the feet of his disciples saying, The greatest among you will be the one who serves, and broke the bread and said, Do this in memory of me, and when he raised the chalice and said Do this in memory of me, ever since, we have. Through the prayers of the faithful, the words of consecration, our hearts that consent to believe that, all evidence often seemingly to the contrary, love will reign; that yearn to be part of him, and of each other, to give our own bodies and blood, in an unbroken (though very imperfect) line for over two thousand years, we have kept the flame going. Through the priest, who has devoted years of his life to being educated in the teachings of Christ and the rituals of the Church, through the re-enactment of the sacrifice that we believe saved the universe, through the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist that comprise Mass, we bring in the whole world, we pray for the whole world, we incorporate the whole world, through us, through the Church that Christ built on Peter and said, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it"; through our participation and, in a sense, our consent to the Mass; through every sacrificed plate of fish n chips, every hidden act of kindness, charity, generosity, nobility, forgiveness, the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Real Body and Blood of Christ. Love, which is inherently invisible, becomes visible. And then we eat it and drink it. 

We believe that Christ is God incarnate. We believe he was crucified, as we are crucified, in our bodies, in our spirits, hearts and souls, for in a sense that is what it is to be human: to be crucified. We believe he rose again on the third day. We believe life comes out of death. We believe that the kingdom of God is like yeast, all through the loaf, and that every tiny act of self-giving, of self-forgetfulness, helps everyone, past, present, and future, everywhere. So the Eucharist is not a symbol. It is Living. It is the repository of all that is holy, all that is pure, that sob in our throats and hearts that makes us human. Our hearts that ache for the other, because to know Christ is to know that the other--our spouse, our child, the enemy soldier--is us.

You will find a way more intelligent, fuller, more theologically grounded and correct exegesis in the Catechism and in any number of encyclicals, books, treatises. But from a mystical, which is also to say everyday, even practical viewpoint, that's one way of putting how I understand the Eucharist.

I remember another thing about Horace. He said when he was a small boy there was a garden, a rosary actually, outside the hospital where his grandfather worked and he didn't know why but he loved to be in this one shady, very quiet spot and he would go around the Stations of the Cross. He just liked going around to the Stations of the Cross. And he would wonder....

So I figure keep the Church going. Do my little part. So some kid in a country across the ocean or halfway around the world or next door--today, ten years from now, ten centuries from now--can have a moment of feeling, of knowing in his or her heart, a sense of the holy.

So I can continue to die to my selfishness and, as Shirlee says, focus on the other guy.

There is a hush around the Eucharist, a stillness. If you ever start despairing of the world, go to Mass and study the faces of the people as they process back to their pews after Communion. They are dreamy, at once somber and joyful, turned in on themselves, like the faces of people on their honeymoon night.

Like my face probably is now. As I do what I was made to do, which is to love Him and to be received by Him. And of course, to write.

early morning October light
Silver Lake, California....


  1. Ahhhhhh so good and true and beautiful... Jeez...

    If I ever see the Pope I'm gonna hand him one of your writings or tell him to go to your site... Maybe I'll chicken out but still. It would be worth his while.

    We are in such wilderness at times, in life, but what bread there is, what bread.

  2. "Remember when you gave me your fish and chips?"

    Oh, man. No words . . . Straight to the gut.

    Gorgeous photos, Heather. That first one looks like it was shot through a tortoiseshell.

  3. Real Presence

    You express this beautifully.

    The word Mass comes from the Latin phrase "Ite, missa est" spoken by the deacon at the conclusion of Mass. The english translation is, "It is sent."

    The Mass and what happens at Mass helps bring life to everything outside of the Mass. How does it do this? Through the real presence of Christ. What does this mean? It means that the sacrament of the Eucharist is not magic. You are not going to actually "see" Jesus' bleeding heart on the altar. If this did happen it would captivate us for about 5 minutes and then we'd move on. It means that the Eucharist and what Jesus said about it is as real as the invisible transformation in our own hearts. He has given us everything we need to transform ourselves. He has given us his body and blood as an ultimate act of self-giving. So after we have consumed Him, (Can you believe he allows us again and again to consume Him and be consumed by his love?) His presence and love is as real as we make it outside of the Mass in all the big and small encounters of our life. Those encounters and moments that are so easily missed, but where freedom and truth and love exist-- in noticing the need of the person right in front of you and in our small but significant self-sacrifices that speak of a person's ultimate worth in the eyes of God.

  4. Beautiful, anon! That would make a nice book, a collection of various people's reflections on the Real Presence...

    Thank you, Robert, do give Most Holy Father my very best homage, reverence, regards, and love if you see him!

    And Bill, so glad you liked the pix. Six-thirtyish a.m. in my room: is not the light in L.A. this time of year beyond? It was only after I posted that I saw the connection between the mention of the honeymoon night and the first photo--of my (unmade) bed...

  5. Love the photos as well, especially that first one. There's something about fall light that I just love--the richness of it, probably. The tangible quality of it, like you could take it up in your hands and admire it up close.
    Beautiful reflection. We ARE the church--if we don't go to Mass, if the priests don't say it, what will happen? I forget which Saint said it, but one saint said "It is easier for the earth to exist without the sun than for it to exist without the Sacrifice of the Mass."
    How small Jesus became for us...how small we have to be to serve Him...

  6. I think it's also important to say, though, that even if we don't share our fish and chips, even if we don't believe, even if the priest doesn't believe, if he consecrates the Eucharist with the intent to do what the Church intends, that bread and wine become the Body and Blood Christ. It's important to say this because it shows that it's His work, that it's His love. That He loves us so much that even is we refuse to cooperate with Him, He is there, continually offering Himself. If that host sits unconsumed, unheeded, unloved in a tabernacle for years, He will be there, because He loves us that much.


  7. A new dimension, for me, of embracing the Real Presence more deeply. :)

  8. Heather, you are amazing! Keep writing please! Your last line says it all so perfectly! I am still in a dream-state from receiving Him in Holy Eucharist over 3 hours ago. I don't want it to ever end! Thank you for your beautiful and true words!

  9. Jason, a new dimension, indeed! Let him love you!

    Heather, THIS is evangelization!! Beautiful. The truth.

  10. Amen amen amen again Heather. This is so beautiful.
    I read a book years ago called 'Real People, Real Presence' which I remember enjoying - the subtitle is 'ordinary Catholics on the Extraordinary power of the Eucharist'.
    Thank God for this bread of angels that really does transform EVERYTHING.

  11. Real insight, Heather -- thank you. Thought provoking as the bishop's candlesticks in Victor Hugo.
    Debby and I I hope to be present on Saturday.

  12. So glad you all liked the piece. Horace is a character EVERYONE should get to meet, a story-teller par excellence and extremely funny.

    Kirk! We are all deeply excited and grateful that you, Debby, and so many of the RI folk are planning to come Saturday. I fly out tomorrow so safe travels and hope to see you there...

  13. Real: not fake, not mere symbol.
    Real: actual, substantial, literal.
    Presence: present to us, Immanuel.

    The only (or at least primary) thing these days that keeps me Christian these days is being Catholic and the only (or at least primary) thing that
    keeps me Catholic is his Real Presence in the Eucharist. The Gospel has ruined me for any other religion and Jesus as ruined me for any other expression of it than his Church, the Catholic Church.

    The above is not very pretty reading, not clever, nor picturesque but it is hard core real.

    God bless you dear Heather.

  14. Mary Valli: I did, this morning, at Mass -- one could hear the angels kneeling in the church around the altar. Another layer of grace opened up for me, via Heather's post and your urging. Mille grazie!

  15. Dear Heather, I've really enjoyed following your blog since its address was posted in Magnificat! Tonight I went to listen to one of my favorite poets and loved hearing him read some of my favorite poems. I made a choice to listen to him over go to Adoration. So, I was feeling a little bit guilty, even as I felt justified in that it was a special event. Leaving, I overheard someone saying..."once in a lifetime event." Since thoughts of Adoration had been floating, upon hearing this I thought: mass is not a once in a lifetime event. It is a daily event. In the poet's Q&A, there were a few eloquent and poetical exchanges between the questioner and poet, and again I pondered the beauty but perhaps inaccessibility of poetry to someone of a certain educational level...compared to the host, as food, which as accessible to all. Thanks for reminding us of the humility and small (and big) realities our faith is built upon.

  16. An excellent and luminous meditation, and God bless Horace a thousand times over for his sacrifice which was (under the circumstances) heroic indeed!

    Without going too deeply into the distinction between what the theologians call "accidents" and "substance," I'd like nonetheless to say that there are two sentences of this beautiful essay which strike me as unhappily worded. They are the first two sentences in the paragraph which begins "So the Eucharist is not the literal flesh," et cetera.

    It is true that one doesn't see an exsanguinating corpse on the altar, or taste human flesh when one receives Holy Communion. The accidents (the look, the sight, the taste, the touch) remain that of bread and wine.

    But as you say, they have been consecrated. They have been substantially, really, one might say "literally," changed!

    You say clearly in a subsequent paragraph that "the Eucharist is not a symbol," and you have a paragraph where you acknowledge the greater wisdom of the Church! So I have no cause to doubt your orthodoxy whatsoever.

    But the two sentences I mention, taken in isolation, might confuse a reader who is prone to confusion, or might give fuel to those who make a career of hunting for questionable moments in a person's theology.

    And allow me to append an enthusiastic "amen" to Owen's comment!

  17. Yes, yes, Tom, exactly, thank you. Not the literal Body and Blood but per the Transubstantiaion, the Actual, Real Body and Blood of Christ.

  18. Once again you express it perfectly. I often think of the funny Catholic people who come to the Benediction. I often think of the people at daily mass. The OCD pray-ers, the desperate, the ones who cry in the pews, the ones who smile with radiant faces. They hold the world together. Everything we do has a ripple into the future.As St. Julian of Norwich said, "All shall be most well."

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