Years ago the pastor of a parish in the poor section of a city noticed that every day at twelve noon a shabbily-dressed old man went into church, and came out again a few minutes later. He was a bit concerned; maybe the man was a bum, going into church to steal money from the poor box or the magazine rack. He waited for the man one day and asked what he was doing. The man, whose name was Jim, answered, “I go in to pray.” The pastor was suspicious, and said, “Come on, you’re never in church long enough to pray.” “Well, you see,” Jim explained, “I can’t pray a long prayer, but every day at 12 o’clock, I just come in and say, ‘Jesus, it’s Jim,’ and wait a minute before leaving. It’s just a little prayer, but I bet He hears me.”
A few weeks later Jim was injured while crossing the street, and was taken to the charity ward of the local Catholic hospital; during his recovery, he turned out to be a wonderful influence on all the other patients in the ward. Rough old men who used to grumble and complain about everything became cheerful and appreciative, and quite often the ward would ring with laughter. The religious sister in charge of the ward said to him one day, “Well, Jim, the men tell me you’re responsible for the change here because you’re always so happy.” “Yes, Sister,” Jim answered, “it’s true; I can’t help but be happy because of my Visitor every day.” Sister was puzzled, for everyone knew that Jim was a lonely old man with no family, and she had never seen anyone visiting him in the ward. “Your visitor?” she asked. “When does he come?” “Every day,” Jim responded, his eyes growing brighter with joy. “Yes, every day at 12 noon He comes and stands at the foot of my bed. I see Him and He smiles and says, ‘Jim, it’s Jesus’” (Fuller, Stories for All Seasons, p. 79). Did it literally happen that Jim had a mystical experience, a vision of Jesus Himself, every day at 12 o’clock? There’s no way of knowing—but there’s also no reason for doubting it, for the type of simple, child-like faith Jim showed is very precious to Our Lord. Jesus promises that those who trust in Him are never alone—and the Eucharist is one of the most important, and wonderful, ways He fulfills that promise.
We are reminded that God blesses and protects those who are faithful to Him. This was the case with the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:4-8), who had upheld true worship of God despite the opposition of 450 false prophets doing the bidding of the wicked Queen Jezebel. Elijah won that showdown, infuriating the queen, and the prophet was forced to flee for his life. Elijah was so discouraged that he simply wanted to lie down and die, but the Lord sent miraculous nourishment to enable him to continue his mission, just as He had provided manna in the desert for His people hundreds of years earlier. In the Gospel of John (6:41-51), Jesus describes Himself as the true Bread from heaven, a source of divine presence and spiritual nourishment for all who seek God in faith. Most of the people who heard Jesus could not accept this, and their murmuring echoed the complaints and doubts expressed in the desert by their ancestors. Such negative and sinful attitudes are possible even among believers; that’s why St. Paul warns the Ephesians (4:30-5:2) not to grieve the Holy Spirit by showing bitterness, anger, or malice. These sins must be avoided, for we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption—in other words, God is being faithful to His promise, and so we must live in a way that expresses our trust and gratitude.
Sometimes we’re unaware of Christ’s presence because we’re too busy or distracted to notice Him—so it can be good to slow down from time to time to “take inventory” of our blessings and of the ways He constantly demonstrates His love for us. For instance, the Lord makes possible every breath we take and gives us each moment of our lives; if God were ever to forget us, we would instantly cease to exist. He loves us in spite of our unworthiness, and is always willing to forgive our sins and give us a second chance. Furthermore, the Lord has helped us make it through past crises, problems, and times of grief. We’ve all had experiences in which we wondered “How am I ever going to get through this?”—yet, here we are. God never abandons us or forgets us.
Another blessing is the fact that we have families, friends, and fellow parishioners who know us, who see our many faults and failings, and who love and accept us anyhow. The Church in particular, especially our own parishes, are places we can call home, places where Christ wants all sinners to feel welcome—which means there’s a place for all of us. God also expresses His love for us through the gift of our Catholic faith, with its sacraments, guaranteed teaching authority, and preservation of His Word in Sacred Scripture, along with prayers, practices, and religious devotions for every taste and temperament. Above all, we have the gift of the Eucharist—the most wonderful and amazing form of Christ’s presence, a blessing of immeasurable value available only in the Catholic Church. Sadly, it’s one we very often take for granted, or perhaps even receive unworthily—so it’s good to be reminded of just what It is and what It means. Our Lord says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world.” Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ while in a state of grace is the single most valuable and important thing we can do to prepare ourselves for eternal life and everlasting happiness, and praying here in church—in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament—is one of the best ways of growing in holiness and of receiving the strength and inner peace needed to overcome all our worries and problems.
It’s a wonderful thing to see a vision of Jesus with our own eyes, but this grace isn’t granted to most of us—nor is it necessary for holiness and happiness. Our Lord promises that He is always with us, even when we’re unaware of it—and when we do open ourselves to this truth, especially by worshipping Him and receiving the Eucharist here at Mass, Jesus comes to us in a very special and loving way. He invites us to rejoice in His presence, for there is no greater blessing than this.