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Making Christ's Real Presense Real

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Jun. 07, 2013

About 3 years ago, there was a story that, depending upon your perspective, inspired you or had you shaking your head in disbelief.  The story was about a man, around most of your ages - a 23 year-old named Grant Desme.  The guy, born and raised in California, had played baseball throughout his life.  Excelled in the sport in high school, being named Most Valuable Player for his region while a junior and a senior.  Went to San Diego State University and then transferred to California Polytech State University where he continued to play, and excel - being named Player of the Year.  He kept impressing scouts to the point that it wasn’t a surprise that he was eventually drafted into the Major leagues.  As he started out in the minor leagues of the majors, the guy seemed to be a natural.  Even after suffering injuries to the shoulder and the wrist, he came back the following year and had an extraordinary season.  He was all set to begin playing professionally for the Oakland A’s.  

But reflecting on his situation, he said,  “I had everything I wanted and it wasn’t enough.”  Yes, he would hit home run after home run, but still he couldn’t ignore that voice calling Him to the priesthood.  And just as he was being lured with promises of riches and fame, the desire to renounce everything and make radical choices of making vows of obedience, poverty and chastity grew stronger within him.  He said, in an interview not too long ago, that one day he simply had this deep realization about his priorities in life - his pursuits in life.  He said, “I started thinking, ‘What’s this [game, Baseball] all about?’ I’ve put SO much into it. That was the big wake-up call. I was angry. I put everything I possibly could into this game, and it could be taken away from me in a moment without any fault of my own.”

He felt drawn deeper into the Catholic Church, drawn deeper into the scriptures.  As he visited religious orders and talked to different priests,  he recognized that his only fulfillment would come from being able to respond to God’s invitation.  To abandon what he had pursued his whole life- baseball - and enter into a Monastery where he was stripped of the cell phone, the laptop; chose to follow the strict discipline of regimented prayer requiring his rising at 5 am; doing routine, mundane tasks such as dusting and cutting glass and coming to recognize all of these things as ways of glorifying God, and finding that joy, that peace, that thing to fill the emptiness that plagued his life until he gave of himself - completely - to The Lord and at His service for His people.  

As one writer observed:  “[Grant] believed in the Catholic Church, in its virtues and its mission. .. He recognized that as the country’s opinion on homosexuality and gay marriage evolved, the church would be prone to criticism about an unwillingness to adapt. He would need to own religion when so much of the world snarked at it. The Catholic Church in which Grant Desme believes stands for good. God needs priests to resurrect the church’s standing and lead people to heaven, to counsel the troubled and bring peace to the sick, to understand the supernatural for those who can’t.”

That’s a lot to ask of any person.  

It’s a lot to ask any person to give up something that they’re good at and passionate about and recognize something bigger, more urgent, more important.  

It’s a lot to ask them to bring the Gospel, to bring Jesus Christ right in the midst of a world growing less and less welcoming and more and more hostile to Him and His messengers.  

And for those who, like Grant, have begun to experience the deep love, the peace and the foreshadowing of eternal joy that comes from Jesus Christ, we see that incredible hunger that exists throughout the world in the lives of those who don’t follow Him, don’t know Him, don’t yet have that joy.  

We see that they are starving for Christ.

That’s why we want our loved ones who don’t practice the faith to start to.  We want our friends, our peers who are living less than fruitful lives to have a conversion.  We want their deepest hungers to be fulfilled by the only one who can fulfill them. And Jesus recognizes these beautiful prayers that arise from our hearts and lips.

And just like in today’s Gospel, as the apostles mention to Jesus the physical hunger of the crowds who have surrounded Jesus as they’ve been following Him, Jesus responds to us in the same way:

“Give them some food yourselves.”

Immediately we can begin to itemize, articulate the ways that is impossible for us to do.  We, like those who are still in disbelief that a young man on the cusp of a breakout career in baseball would abandon that pursuit for a monk’s life, can be stuck in disbelief at Jesus’ suggestion.

Which is why this is such a perfect Gospel on this feast of Corpus Christi - where we celebrate the unfathomable gift of Jesus’ Body and Blood being present under the appearances of bread and wine… That His sacrifice on the Cross, His glorious resurrection knows no bounds; that it is not limited to a couple of days, thousands of years ago, but is made really present in our midst, on our altar.  

Jesus is able to continually be made really present when we give of ourselves.  When we lay down our lives for Him and His Gospel.  When we allow His voice to direct our lives, upset our plans, present new dreams in the place of the old ones we once valued so highly. Coming into a much deeper, greater trust in Him than we’ve ever had for anyone, anything else in the world.  Recognizing, as we do, that the cross will figure prominently in our choice - but remaining hopeful, as we carry that cross, of the glory of ultimately experiencing the resurrection ourselves.  

It’s a sad reality that there are many, Catholics included, who doubt this miracle.

I couldn’t help but think that there’s a connection in the disbelief so many have over this young guy, formerly pursuing a career as a major leaguer, abandoning that to follow Christ as a priest and stunned into disbelief at that choice are probably some of the same ones who find this miracle, the bread and wine becoming Christ’s Real Presence is just as preposterous.

Perhaps because we’ve been conditioned and lectured to such an extent to prioritize taking care of ourselves, putting ourselves first, that the idea of sacrifice is becoming more and more foreign to us.  Which is what makes our participation and belief in this Eucharist that much more urgent, something that needs to be something that animates us and directs our entire lives, long after the final note of the recessional hymn has ended.

About the Author

Father Jim Chern
Montclair State University

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