CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - This Sunday's gospel passage reminds us once again of God's unconditional love for us. "When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick" (Matthew 14: 14). In essence, Christianity is an on-going love story. It is a love story about God's unconditional love for you and me.

"Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds" (Matthew 14: 19). The feeding of the multitude is a concrete manifestation of God's unconditional love for humanity. Jesus cannot send the crowds away hungry. His unconditional love compels him to provide for their needs.

However, the miracle of the loaves and fishes directs our attention to the miracle of the Eucharist. Jesus' miracle is a foretaste of the greatest of all miracles, the miracle of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the sacrament of love. The Eucharist allows us to experience his unconditional love. He loves us so much, that he cannot leave us.

When people are in love they always have pictures of those whom they love in a very special way. True love is unconditional. True love of spouses for each other and their children knows no boundaries. Parents always have pictures of their children, and children, when they leave home, always have pictures of their parents. Anyone who is truly in love always, in some way or another, always has pictures of those who are unconditionally loved.

When Jesus ascended to the Father, it would have been very simple for him merely to leave us with a record of all that he had said and done; however, he could not contain his love within the confines of time and space. Because of his unconditional love, he had to remain with us. The Eucharist is not a symbol, it is a reality. Jesus is truly with us.

Romano Guardini once wrote: "The Holy Eucharist is the final link in the sacred chain of life-giving nourishment reaching from the remoteness of God into the here and now of human existence" (The Lord 238-239). Do you understand why this is so?

The Eucharist is the most perfect of the seven sacraments. God dispenses sanctifying grace through the sacraments. Moreover, not only is the Eucharist an aqueduct of divine life, the Eucharist is God himself!

"The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend. In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really and substantially contained. This presence is called real - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as of they could not be real too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present" (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1374).

Transubstantiation means "change of substance", or "change of reality." When the priest repeats the words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper, the bread is no longer bread, and the wine is no longer wine. Instead, the entire substance of the bread and the entire substance of the wine have been changed into the substance of The Body and Blood of Christ.
Transubstantiation occurs only by the power of God, and in a way that we cannot empirically detect. We know that transubstantiation takes place through the certainty of faith. Jesus, the Son of God; Jesus the Messiah; Jesus the Lord and Savior of the universe said: "This is my body"; "This is my blood". Faith is a vision superior to reason, but it does not contradict reason, precisely because faith relies upon the authority of God who neither deceives, nor can be deceived. Jesus is the truth and thus is incapable of lying.

Many Catholics throughout the world no longer believe in the Real Presence. What could be a cause of this alarming loss of faith in something so basic to Catholicism?

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now our beloved Pope Benedict XVI, provides an interesting answer to this question in his book God and the World. He writes, "Johann Baptist Metz once said that the formula today is: No to God, Yes to religion. People want to have some kind of religion, esoteric or whatever it may be. But a personal God, who speaks to me, who knows me personally, who has said something quite specific and who has met me with a specific demand, and who will also judge me - people don't want him."

"What we see is religion being

separated from God. People don't want to do without this sensation of the Wholly Other, this special religious feeling, entirely; they want it available in many shapes and forms. But there is in the end no guarantee of its continuing to be there, unless the will of God and God himself are also present. In that sense we are not so much in the middle of a religious crisis - religions are springing up all over the place - as in the middle of a God crisis" (69).

Look at the tabernacle. Our Lord is truly there. He looks at you and cries out: "All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?" (Isaiah 55: 1-2)

Remember what Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote in his first encyclical letter, "Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it." It is here, at the altar, it is here at the tabernacle that we encounter the God of unconditional love. It is through the Eucharist that we truly experience love. This is why the Eucharist is called the sacrament of love.

"It is highly fitting that Christ should have wanted to remain present to his Church in this unique way. Since Christ was about to take his departure from his own in his visible form, he wanted to give us his sacramental presence; since he was about to offer himself on the cross to save us, he wanted us to have the memorial of the love with which he loved us 'to the end', even to the giving of his life. In his Eucharistic presence he remains mysteriously in our midst as the one who loved us and gave himself up for us, and he remains under signs that express and communicate this love" (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1380).

I have never really understood why people who could attend Mass or make Eucharistic visits during the week simply choose not to do so. It is quite possible that with the availability of so many parishes and adoration chapels, that people simply begin to take the gift of the Eucharist for granted.

However, what would happen if you were in a prolonged situation where you did not have the regular availability of a priest? What would happen if even Sunday Mass was no longer accessible?

Many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world experience these kinds of terrible situations. One example can be found in the life of Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.

Francis was a Catholic priest from Vietnam. He was ordained a priest, became a bishop in 1975, and later was chosen to be a cardinal. Only a few months after his appointment as bishop, he was arrested by the Vietnamese government for thirteen years. Nine of those thirteen years were spent in solitary confinement!

During the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II invited the Cardinal to direct the annual Lenten spiritual exercises for himself and the Curia. The collection of meditations that were delivered make up an amazing book entitled "Testimony of Hope".

In one of the meditations, Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, movingly describes what it was like not to have the Eucharist readily available and what he had to do to celebrate Mass.

"When I was arrested, I had to leave immediately with empty hands. The next day, I was permitted to write to my people in order to ask for the most necessary things: clothes, toothpaste.I wrote, 'Please send me a little wine as medicine for my stomachache.' The faithful understood right away.

They sent me a small bottle of wine for Mass with a label that read, 'medicine for stomachaches.' They also sent some hosts, which they hid in a flashlight for protection against the humidity. The police asked me, 'You have stomachaches? Yes. Here's some medicine for you.'

I will never be able to express my great joy! Every day, with three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of my hand, I would celebrate Mass. This was my altar, and this was my cathedral! It was true medicine for soul and body, 'Medicine of immortality, remedy so as not to die but to have life always in Jesus', as St. Ignatius of Antioch says.

Each time I celebrated the Mass, I had the opportunity to extend my hands and nail myself to the cross with Jesus, to drink with him the bitter chalice. Each day in reciting the words of consecration, I confirmed with all my heart and soul a new pact, and eternal pact between Jesus and me through his blood mixed with mine. Those were the most beautiful Masses of my life!" (p. 131)