One of my favorite saints is Catherine of Siena, who lived in 14th century Italy. The youngest of 25 children, she refused to marry, as her parents wished, and instead entered the Dominican Order. Catherine became known for her great holiness and spiritual insight, and had many followers; she also became known for her surprising influence with kings and popes, writing them stern letters of advice or correction when necessary.
On one occasion Catherine was staying with a young widow named Alessia. Because of a famine, it was impossible to find good flour to use in making bread; the only thing available was moldy old wheat, which Alessia was forced to buy. However, when the famine finally ended after a good harvest, she planned on buying good wheat and throwing out the old. Catherine told her not to waste the old moldy wheat, but to use it in making bread for the poor. When Alessia objected, saying that her conscience wouldn’t let her give something to the poor she was afraid to use for herself, Catherine said, “Get the water ready, because I would like to make some bread for the poor of Jesus Christ myself.” Then, while Alessia watched in amazement, the saint produced many loaves of bread at a high rate of speed—and even though they were made from moldy wheat, they were perfect in every way. This bread was distributed not only to the poor, but also to the priests and brothers in a nearby monastery—and no matter how much was given away, more bread was always available (Joe Cieszinski, Loaves and Fishes, Queenship, p. 15).
There are many recorded instances of the miraculous multiplication of food in the lives not only of the saints, but also of ordinary believers; the one thing they all have in common is a willingness to trust in God’s loving care for His people. The ultimate miracle involving food, of course, is the transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. This happens at every Catholic Mass—and if we receive Holy Communion worthily and regularly, the grace of this Sacrament will be multiplied so greatly that it leads us into eternal life.
If Jesus is capable of multiplying five loaves and two fish into enough food for five thousand people—as described in the Gospel of Luke (9:11-17)—He is certainly capable, through His Divine power and authority, of changing bread and wine into His own Body and Blood. As St. Paul explains in his Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:23-26), this is what Our Lord first did at the Last Supper, and at every Mass since then, no matter when in history and no matter where in the world, the Church continues to share in our Savior’s life-giving death and resurrection. The bread and wine presented by Melchizedek (Gen 14:18-20) in the days of Abraham foreshadowed the miracle of the Eucharist and the ongoing multiplication of divine life and grace, and you and I are personally invited by Jesus to share in this great Gift.
Each year I like to ask our 2nd grade students what it was like for them to make their First Communions—which they did about six weeks ago—and now I’ll share some of their comments with you. A boy named Trevor said he was looking forward to First Communion; another boy named Gavin not only echoed these words, but also had several questions for me, asking if I remembered that event from when I was his age, and what it was like. In fact, I do remember it, and the procedure was basically the same as today— except the rules were stricter; for instance, we couldn’t have anything to eat or drink, including water, from the previous midnight until after First Communion Mass. A girl named Gianna also said she had been looking forward to receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, and Adam wrote, “When I made my First Communion, I felt like I had Jesus in me; I felt good and happy!” Alexis said she was excited and felt happy inside, and Adriana wrote that she felt nervous beforehand, and holy afterwards. According to their classmate Josie, “At Communion I felt nervous and excited, but after Communion something changed: I felt happy and great and good, because Jesus was in me.” Kaleb said that receiving Holy Communion made him feel like a new person, and Trey wrote, “[What] I felt inside my heart when I received my First Communion was God’s love for us.” Lastly, David said, “I never felt happier . . . I am filled with the Holy Spirit.”
I think it’s obvious from these comments that our 2nd graders “get it.” They may not be able to describe or explain the Eucharist in theological terms, but they know that It is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus, that It’s an expression of Our Lord’s love for us, and that receiving It should make us happy and grateful. Their insights could very well prompt us to reflect on whether or not we receive Communion with the proper attitudes or dispositions. We must never receive unworthily, of course; if we’re in a state of serious sin, we need to go to Confession first. Aside from that, however, we might also ask ourselves: Have we fallen into a routine, in which we’re taking the Eucharist for granted? Are we trying to participate as fully as we can during the entire Mass, so as to be truly ready to receive Our Lord’s Body and Blood? Do we think about what’s actually happening—and Whom we’re about to receive—as we come forward in the Communion line? Do we spend at least a few minutes in grateful prayer afterwards? Instead of only asking for favors for ourselves in our post-Communion prayer, do we also pray for the needs of others, and thank and praise Jesus for His incredible goodness?
Each reception of the Eucharist is not meant to be an isolated event; instead, all of them we receive in our lifetimes, along with all our private prayers and good deeds, are meant to be part of an ongoing process in which God’s grace is multiplying and growing within us. Each Mass we attend should make us holier persons, and if this is not happening—probably due to some unconfessed serious sin, or some spiritual laziness or complacency on our part—we need to repent and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, so that we may put things aright. The Eucharist is far too valuable and important to be wasted or taken for granted; It’s our way of sharing in the very life of Jesus Himself, and of being prepared for eternal life and happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us strive to imitate the example of our 2nd graders by always receiving this Sacrament with humble and worthy hearts, and with the greatest possible gratitude and faith.