Sometimes I feel like I’m on the verge of heresy. Like now. I am not happy when a 4 year old asks “Where is God?” and a confident priest takes the toddler up on the altar and points to the tabernacle and says, “He’s in there.”
I once witnessed a woman who worked at a retreat house, go up to the tabernacle, open it with the key, take the cover off the ciborium and proceed to lecture her seven year old daughter on the presence of Jesus in the sacred bread. “There He is,” she said.
Another time a man in his twenties with access to the eucharist tells me that he held a consecrated host in his hand and said “That’s God?” I watched another priest, during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, snatch the monstrance containing the sacred host and march around a parishioner who he felt needed a miracle.
I can hear a chorus of believers saying of course all these people are correct. I’M NOT SO SURE. The proper response to the reserved presence of Jesus in the eucharist is awareness, silence, homage. The eucharist is not a tool to be used as an ikon of God. To make it no different than a statue of the sacred Heart or a blessed rosary is to denigrate the sacrament.
Three-quarters of the Catholic world has no reserved eucharist. Are these people less Catholic because they do not have a priest most days, or are they second class Catholics because they have no tabernacle containing the eucharist? This morning I listened to a Myanmar bishop mention that certain of his villagers up in the mountains are fortunate that a priest gets to the village once a year. Is the living Christ not among them after the priest leaves?
Is it heretical to say that Catholic communities gather to celebrate the presence of Jesus not so that the eucharist can be reserved for adoration but as an act of thanksgiving to God? At the Eucharist we are there at Calvary with Our Lord as He gives His life for us. We eat His Flesh and drink His Blood so that we can have life within us, so that we can have Him with us as we return to our secular lives.
The Holy Eucharist is a sacrament, a mystery. He comes to us under the form of bread and wine. The bread tastes like bread and the wine like wine. Yes, He is there in substance and when I receive Him He is entirely present to me. But He is not the Eucharist as it appears physically. The Eucharist is properly the action of celebrating and worshipping our Savior, the entire celebration of the Mass. This said, I love to pray in a church when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration. I know He is there as bread, sacred bread and His presence moves me deeply.
As to where is God, what about Jesus telling us that the kingdom of God is within us? And where His kingdom is, He is present.
When a little child (or a big adult) asks “Where is God?” The first place a priest should point to is the heart of the child and respond, “He’s right there.”