Once there was a Native American reservation out West; some of the tribe’s members had been converted to Catholicism, but the nearest priest wasn’t able to visit them very often. One day a government agent came to the reservation with gifts for all the Native Americans, including coats, shirts, and tobacco. He jokingly said to one of the older tribes members, “Your priest doesn’t seem to be looking after you; he hasn’t brought you any presents, has he?” The old man pointed to his bare chest and said, “Can you see into my soul?” “Well, no, I can’t,” the agent admitted. The Native American continued, “If you could, you would see the beautiful white garment God gave me when the priest baptized me. And every time Father comes, he washes it clean for me in the Blood of Jesus. And when he gives me Communion, he puts Jesus Himself into my heart. Your tobacco soon goes off in smoke, and your shirts and coats soon wear out, but the presents the priest brings me will truly stay with me and will take me to Heaven” (Anthony P. Castle, Quotes and Anecdotes, p. 133).
This wise tribal elder spoke a truth which we can easily forget or take for granted: namely, that we do indeed encounter Jesus whenever we receive the Sacraments. Just as the two disciples recognized Christ in the breaking of the bread, so we must recognize Christ among us—and then we must carry His presence to the rest of the world.
God never intended that we travel alone on our spiritual journey through life; His plan is that we learn from and accompany others who have faith, and that we also invite those who do not have faith to join us. St. Peter (1 Peter 1:17-21) tells us that our faith and hope are centered in God, and that we will one day be judged by Him. Therefore, Peter says, “conduct yourselves reverently during your sojourn in a strange land.” This means we must not let the attractions and preoccupations of a temporary earthly life distract us from what really matters: achieving eternal life through Christ. Jesus intends this gift for everyone, and that’s why St. Peter and the other apostles proclaimed the Good News of salvation to all who had gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. Jews from throughout the Roman world had assembled there, and when they returned home, they and later Christian missionaries carried this faith in Christ to the ends of the earth. This is our mission, too; all followers of Jesus are called to share His truth with others.
If we are to proclaim Jesus as Lord to other people, we must first of all know Him ourselves. We are given numerous such opportunities, even if we don’t always recognize them as they occur. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) didn’t realize at first just Who it was Who accompanied them, but they were greatly blessed by His presence. Jesus also travels with us, especially when we pray, when we read His words in sacred Scripture, and when we encounter other people who allow Him to act through them. The disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread; we too are given the chance to experience His presence whenever we receive Holy Communion or share in any of the other Sacraments. The more deeply we open our hearts to Christ, the more deeply we, and those around us, are blessed.
A religion teacher once asked her students what was the most important part of the Mass. She expected them to answer “the Liturgy of the Word” or “the Liturgy of the Eucharist,” but one of them surprised her by saying, “the Dismissal Rite.” When she asked the student what he meant, he explained, “The purpose of the Mass is to nourish us with God’s word and with the Body and Blood of Christ, so that we can go out and bear witness to the world—and it’s the Dismissal Rite which challenges and allows us to do this” (Mark Link, Illustrated Sunday Homilies, Year A, Series II, p. 36). This is a very profound answer, for when the Mass ends, our Christian responsibility is just beginning; the grace we receive here in church is intended to help us change the world around us.
This day you will have the opportunity to touch someone’s life—perhaps by paying a compliment, by doing a favor, by giving a good example, by praying for that person in his or her time of need, or just by being present in a loving and caring way. This day you will have the opportunity to witness to the truth that Jesus is Lord—by standing up for your moral values, by doing what’s right even when it isn’t easy, or by being a living sign of Christ’s presence in the world. This day you will have the opportunity to make a difference—for you are empowered and enlightened by God’s word, nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, and commissioned to share the Good News of salvation.
As the elderly Native American explained to the government agent, our faith is a great gift from God, and whenever we receive the Sacraments, we do encounter the Lord Jesus. Such a wonderful blessing is not meant to be kept to ourselves; truly knowing Jesus should make our hearts burn within us with the desire to help others know Him, too.