Becoming Catholic has made me feel a bit like a pregnant woman.
Not just because I’m super emotional (that’s normal for me), or because my Body is changing. (c.f. 1 Co 12, Eph 1. Geddit!?) But because I have these weird, bizarre cravings. For the Eucharist.
Ah, but Laura, you’re thinking, you’re Catholic now. Of course you are craving the Eucharist. It’s what Catholics do. (Also, I’m not pregnant. Just thought I’d clarify that.)
For Catholics, the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11), because it is Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith (Heb 12:2), “truly, really and substantially” present in the bread and the wine (Council of Trent, 13:1).
And a deep, visceral craving for Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is kind of normal for Catholics.
St Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch (c. 1st Century) wrote to the Romans that,
“I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.” (Letter to the Romans, Chp. 7)
While in our own time, St Padre Pio (1887 – 1986) explained that,
“My heart feels as it were being drawn by a superior force each morning each morning just before uniting with Him in the Blessed Sacrament. I have such a thirst and hunger before receiving Him that it’s a wonder I don’t die of anxiety.” (HT)
And they weren’t joking.
Have you heard of Anorexia Mirabilis? It means “Miraculous Lack of Appetite” and is a phenomenon among women of the Middle Ages who would fast continuously. Along with hairshirts and self-mutilation (oh, and of course chastity, poverty and obedience), these women denied themselves all food except the Eucharist. St Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380) was reputed to self-induce vomiting if she accidentally consumed anything else.
The idea was to show how completely dependent they were on God, that like Jesus, their food “is to do the will of him who sent me…” (Jn 4:34) And women actually died, starving themselves for Jesus.
Ok, disturbing Medieval practices of female piety aside, let’s get back to me.
For me to want, even crave the Eucharist is a big deal. I haven’t had a good relationship with the Blessed Sacrament, the Bread of Angels, the Heavenly Manna.
The second time I received communion when I was about ten, I choked. Not metaphorically – literally. It got caught in the back of my mouth, I started choking and I spat it out onto my hands. My Scripture teacher, sitting behind me, lent over: “Put that back in your mouth this instant!”
And oh boy, I did. But it wasn’t pretty. From then on, I would get this awful, sick, clammy feeling if I had to receive Communion. The consensus is that unleavened wafers resemble cardboard more than bread. But even then, most people don’t start feeling queasy as the stretch out their hands to receive the Lord of the Universe.
I didn’t really get over this till I was in my mid-teens, which is also when I became a Protestant. So problem solved! At my church, we had tiny, neat squares of soft, squishy white bread. I think it was Wonder White.
It was the best.
Until I started believing in the Real Presence, and then in Transubstantiation, and in the whole Catholic thing. I knew I had to leave my safe Wonder White Symbol of communion for the true Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of my Lord, substantially present in this unleavened, nauseating wafer.
But Jesus humbled Himself to us.
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isa 53:2)
There is nothing in the taste of Communion that I would desire.
But “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb 11:1). And I would add, what we do not taste.
And so I believe. It tastes awful but I believe.
I believe that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53)
I believe that Christ’s “flesh is true food and [His] blood is true drink.” (Jn 6:55)
I believe that “whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (Jn 6:58)
And nothing is going to keep me from Christ, certainly not some crummy piece of bread. Now, I am hungry for the Eucharist. I crave Holy Communion. It is my miraculous appetite for Jesus in the Eucharist. A kind of Orexia Mirabilis.
For I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. (Ps 34:8)