Chad Pecknold: Real Presence

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Chad Pecknold: Real Presence

Out of all the amazing things that Pope Francis will do on his mission to America next month, what’s the most amazing? Addressing the United Nations? Being the first Pope to address a joint session of Congress? These are powerful headline grabbers for sure. But Pope Francis isn’t overly impressed by that kind of power. If we asked him the same question, what might he say?

Chad Pecknold

Chad Pecknold

Perhaps someone will say that the most amazing thing that Pope Francis will do is to declare Blessed Junípero Serra a holy saint, which he’ll do right here at Catholic University. It’s hard to beat declaring a human person a holy saint! But more amazing than making saints is the power by which saints are made. And this is the power of Jesus Christ, whose power is present to us in Mary’s womb, in his Church, in his Vicar, and preeminently for us in the Most Holy Eucharist.

In his Angelus address this last Sunday, Pope Francis reminded us that the Eucharist is not a private prayer, nor is it a spiritual experience, or a mere symbol of that experience. The Eucharist is a public act. It is for the life of the people, the nations, the world. The Eucharist is Christ’s body and blood, soul and divinity, the whole of Jesus Christ truly and substantially present to his people.

Preaching on the “Bread of Life” discourse of John 6, the Holy Father taught that the Eucharist “actualizes and makes present the event of the death and resurrection of Jesus: The bread is truly his Body given, the wine is truly his Blood poured out.” Jesus is really on earth in the Eucharist. When Pope Francis celebrates Mass here on the steps of the Basilica, overlooking the campus of Catholic University, Jesus will be present. The Pope will do the same before hundreds and hundreds of thousands in Philadelphia too. In the Pope’s own words, “with the Eucharist, heaven is on earth.” And what is more amazing than this?

This is what it means for the Pope to say that “Love is our mission,” because the most amazing thing Pope Francis will do is celebrate the Most Holy Eucharist. As he says, “The Eucharist is Jesus Christ who gives himself entirely to us. To nourish ourselves with him and abide in him through Holy Communion, if we do it with faith, transforms our life into a gift to God and to our brothers.” Pope Francis comes to increase our faith, which can see what our senses cannot perceive. He comes to us because he has been sent by Christ, and he comes to bear witness to the truth that in Christ, the most amazing thing is that we can be transformed, and made holy through communion with his real and present love.

Jesus Christ chose St. Peter to be his rock and gave him the keys to the kingdom, which is to say the keys to himself. And in the person of Pope Francis we see the successor of St. Peter, and he also has the keys to the kingdom, and he comes to America to open wide the doors to Christ, and to invite us to share in his life. This is amazing!

—    Chad Pecknold is an associate professor of systematic theology at The Catholic University of America School of Theology and Religious Studies.

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