As a family, we were watching a very popular children’s movie together, when midway through the movie, a scene alluded to the death of one of the parents. My husband and I stopped the movie to talk about what was happening with our children, but I could tell that my youngest son, Sean, was troubled.
“Mom, I don’t want anyone from our family to die,” he said with tears in his eyes. “Because Mom, I’m the youngest and I don’t want to be left alone. If everyone is older in the family, I will be the last one left,” he said as he climbed onto my lap. I wrapped him in a big hug and held him close. My heart ached for him. That night, we talked and prayed together as a family, lifting up all of our family members that had gone before us to eternal life, but the conversation did not seem to be settled, at least in Sean’s mind.
A couple of days later, as I was tucking him into bed, Sean sat right up as if he had just connected something in his mind and was having an “aha moment.”
“Mom, Mom, is it true?” he said excitedly. “Is what true, son?” I asked. “You know how at Mass, Father says to us that if we eat this bread, we will live forever?” With an expectant expression on his small face, he held his chubby hands outstretched as if he was holding the Eucharist between them, just like he had seen our pastor do at Mass. “Mom, is that true?” he asked. “Because if that is true, we will never die, right Mom?” he said.
I felt my eyes filling with tears.
During this time, I was having some health issues and so my own mortality was very much on my mind. And yet, this 4-year-old child reminded me and reminds all of us of the power of the Gospel and the Easter message.
According to a Knights of Columbus-Marist Poll from 2015, about 65% of practicing Catholics said the Eucharist is “the true presence of Jesus Christ,” but a similar number of nonpracticing Catholics said it is “a symbol.” It seems that we have much work to do to know Jesus and to make him known.
Like most people, I also need to recover that sense of the power of Jesus’ promise to us, his beloved children. In the Gospel of John, we hear the words of Jesus to each one of us: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (6:51). This is what we, as Catholics, call the “Real Presence.” Just as Jesus is so present to us in the Eucharist, we have to ask ourselves if we are really present to him. Rather than being present to our worries, doubts and fears, can we set those all aside and enter into his sacred presence with the faith of a child?
We have made steady advancements and progress in the Western world in our mortality rates. People live longer today than ever before. And yet, the one gift that will truly give us the grace to live eternally is the gift of love and sacrifice made for each one of us in the real presence of Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist. “Is it true?” my son asked me with a sense of expectant hope. And I answered with every fiber of my being, “Yes son, it is true. He is true and we will live with him forever.”
Stanz is director of Parish Life and Evangelization.