On this Sixth Sunday of Easter the Gospel reading is taken from the farewell discourses. In the hours of the night before he was taken captive, Jesus talked at length to his friends. He confided to them what was most important. Every word here is weighty. It’s all so dense with significance that we need a great deal of time to grasp the meaning of his words. People have been meditating on them, and drawing strength from them, for almost two thousand years now. And one saying here has always struck peoples notice: “We will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
God does not live in Heaven alone, in that world of his, “up above,” away from earth. He also dwells within our midst, in his Word, within our Souls, and most especially in the Holy Eucharist. And He makes himself a Divine Prisoner of our tabernacle. I want to share with you a story about a Saint and his great love of the Eucharist. This saint’s name is Tarcisius and he lived in third century Rome when it was very dangerous to be a Christian. Mass was celebrated in secret usually in houses or the catacombs where the dead were buried. Tarcisius was an altar boy and he assisted at Mass whenever possible. Following Mass one day the Bishop gave him an important task. He asked Tarcisius to bring Holy Communion to a group of condemned Christians who were awaiting their execution. The Bishop thought that the guards at the prison would not suspect a twelve year old boy, would not suspect that he was there to bring Communion to the condemned.
Tarcisius accepted his assignment. The Bishop carefully wrapped the Blessed Sacrament within a fancy decorative cloth. He gave it to Tarcisius who gently but securely carried it under his coat next to his heart. So off he went. No one suspected a thing until he met a group of his friends. Friends, who though not Christians, were ones he often played with in the streets. These young boys saw Tarcisius and asked him to join in their games. Tarcisius quickly declined, saying he was on an important errand. The boys saw that he was carrying something under his coat and they became curious asking, “What are you hiding under your coat?” “We want to see” they excitedly yelled. Tarcisius had learned to have a great respect and love for our Lord present in the Eucharist. So he refused to show them saying it wasn’t for them and that they wouldn’t understand. But these boys were very determined to see what he carried. So they asked and pleaded many times. Each time Tarcisius emphatically said no.
These young men would not let him pass. They began to threaten him with harm if he didn’t show them. Again Tarcisius refused. Eventually it came to violence with the group of boys beating Tarcisius repeatedly until he was unconscious and mortally injured. A passer-by, an adult Christian, who recognized Tarcisius, chased the boys off. He brought the injured boy back to the Bishop who anointed him and looking under the young boy’s coat, the Bishop found the Holy Eucharist just as he had sent it safe and unharmed still within the fancy cloth. Tarcisius died soon after.
St. Tarcisius showed a great love and devotion to our Lord present in the Holy Eucharist. He showed a great attentiveness and protection. What is our response to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament? In that situation or any situation do we show the same attentiveness and devotion and love?
Last Fall I was in Boston visiting my friend Fr. Joe. And on the trip home I sat next to a woman who half way through the flight asked if I was a priest. I don’t know what gave me away, probably the collar. We had a pleasant conversation. She told me that she had been born, raised, confirmed, and married in the Catholic Church. But in her thirties she just kind of drifted away from the faith. She wasn’t upset or mad about anything she was bored and she just drifted away. She drifted away, unknowingly leaving behind the greatest gift, the gift of the Eucharist. I think the Church failed her. We didn’t do a good job of educating her and witnessing to her our great love of the Mass and of the Eucharist, the source of our spiritual life and the height of our spiritual life. She didn’t learn that each Mass allows us to be mystically present at the Last Supper. And as the Apostles are fed with the Lord’s body and Blood so are we. So that’s our job now, that’s the job of all Catholics (you reading this letter), to teach those around us and to joyfully witness to our great love of the Eucharist and the Mass. This fall I’m going to be adding classes for the parents of those making their First Reconciliation and First Communion. I want them too, to grow in knowledge and love of the Eucharist. They are, after all, the first teachers of the faith to their children.
Our Lord says to us in the Gospel today, “I will come back to you.” And he keeps his promise he comes back to us at every Mass and he stays with us as a divine prisoner of the Tabernacle. So as the Christmas hymn says, Come, let us adore him! Always!
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley