A Foretaste of Heaven

A Foretaste of Heaven

Many years ago there was a priest in Spain—we’ll call him Father Rafael—who, after a long time of faithfully serving the Church, was suddenly troubled by serious doubts: not about the teachings of the Church or the reality of the Eucharist, but about whether he had in fact been validly ordained. If he hadn’t been properly ordained a priest, he realized, it would mean all the Masses he had celebrated over the years weren’t valid. This thought tormented him, but because he was a good man, the Lord God answered him in an unexpected way that year at Christmas. Among the many people attending Midnight Mass were a mother and her five-year-old son, whom we’ll call Alfonzo. Little Alfonzo loved coming to Mass, and that night, at the moment of Consecration, when Father Rafael elevated the Host, the boy cried out, “Mother, look! Father is holding Baby Jesus! He is such a beautiful Child!” In his purity and innocence, Alfonzo had a vision not granted to anyone else in church. He insisted his mother bring him back to church on Christmas Day, and the same thing happened: the boy saw Father Rafael holding not the Host, but a tiny, living Baby, Who smiled and blessed him. After this occurred a third time, Father Rafael heard about it, and sent for the boy. He wondered if Alfonzo had been deceived, but his obvious innocence, and the accuracy of his answers to Father’s questions, convinced him he really had seen the infant Jesus in the Eucharistic Host.

This brought the priest great inner peace—until some further doubts set in. As a final test, Father Rafael placed a consecrated Host from the tabernacle on the altar, along with an unconsecrated host that was, of course, merely a piece of bread. He had Alfonzo come up to the altar and asked him if he saw the Child Jesus. “Yes!” the boy exclaimed, pointing to the Eucharistic Host; “He is smiling and stretching out His hands!” Father then asked, “And what about this other host—is Jesus there?” “No, Father,” Alfonzo answered; “there is no one there.” This answer finally relieved all Father Rafael’s doubts, and for the rest of his life he served God with faith and devotion (print-out of Eucharistic stories, filed under “Eucharistic Devotion”). Few people are privileged to see the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist as little Alfonzo did, but all of us—if our faith is genuine and humble—are invited to receive this Source of holiness and everlasting life.

When Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of the bulls offered in sacrifice, this was a form of worship and a source of blessing—but it was merely a forerunner of the perfect sacrifice Jesus was to offer at the Last Supper. As the Gospel tells us, Our Lord used the occasion of the Jewish Passover meal to institute this great sacrament. Notice Jesus did not say, “This is a sign of My Body; this is a symbol of My Blood.” Rather, He said, “This is My Body . . . this is My Blood”—and as the Letter to the Hebrews states, Jesus is the Mediator of a new covenant, a sacred promise on God’s part that, through the Blood of Christ, we can be saved from our sins and made worthy to live forever in heavenly glory.

Just over a month ago our second graders from school and the faith formation program made their First Communions, and I asked some of them to describe what it was like. A girl wrote, “Receiving Holy Communion for the first time was magnificent,” an idea echoed by a boy who said, “I felt fantastic.” One girl commented, “I’m very happy to make my First Communion; I loved it.” A boy added, “It felt amazing when I received my First Holy Communion,” and another boy said, “I felt joyful and happy.” One girl wrote, “I got goose bumps; I felt holy after my Communion,” an idea echoed by a boy in her class, who said, “I felt Jesus blessed me, and I felt stronger.” Another boy added, “I’m happy that Jesus is closer than ever,” and another boy stated, “I felt the presence of Jesus and this made me feel holy, like Jesus was close to my heart!” A girl repeated this theme, saying, “When I received Jesus I felt different; I felt closer to Jesus.” One girl announced, “It was the best day of my life,” and a boy wrote, “I felt very excited. I am so happy to be part of the Catholic community.” Lastly, a girl reflected with deep insight and compassion, “During the First Communion Mass I looked at the Stations of the Cross and I realized that I felt sorry for Jesus and [grateful for] all that He has done for us. He died on the Cross for us and gave us His Body and Blood.”

Psalm 8 praises God by saying, “Above the heavens Your majesty is chanted by the mouths of children” (v. 2, Jerusalem Bible), and we certainly have an example of this in the words of our parish’s own 2nd graders. They provide a useful reminder for us. Even when we genuinely believe the Eucharist truly is the Body and Blood of Christ—an immense gift available only through the Catholic Church—it’s still possible for us to take It for granted, or to receive It in a routine and unthinking manner, or to be somewhat lax when it comes to preparing ourselves for this great sacrament. If we only knew how much Jesus desires to be united with us, how greatly it pains Him when people ignore Him or receive Him in a state of serious sin, how many souls in purgatory yearn for just one more opportunity to attend Mass and receive Communion, how many saints are present around the altar bowing down in adoration, and how the angels look at us with holy envy when we receive our Lord and God—a privilege not granted to them, despite their superior nature and perfect holiness—we would fall to our knees in wonder and gratitude. Receiving Communion worthily is the holiest and most important thing we can do throughout the entire day, and so immediately afterwards we should worship Jesus in our hearts, praise and thank Him, and then pray for others and express our own needs and intentions—while remaining until the end of Mass and participating as fully as we can.

The Feast of Corpus Christi should remind us that we as Catholics are privileged to receive a miraculous foretaste of Heaven each time we come to Mass. Let us never doubt this truth, or take this Gift for granted. Rather, let us open our hearts and our minds as fully as possible, so that the Lord may truly live in us, unite us to Himself, and prepare us for a lasting joy and peace beyond anything we could ever imagine.

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper