Reflecting on ‘a symptom of the modern mentality’

By Maria Sermersheim

Editor’s note: Editor Tim Lilley asked young-adult columnist Maria Sermersheim to reflect on the Pew Research report regarding U.S. Catholics’ belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

When I saw the numbers of the Pew Research Center survey on Catholic belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, my jaw dropped. I see it as an obvious symptom of the modern mentality. I believe Pope Benedict XVI accurately describes today’s perspective when he writes: “God has come so near to us that we can kill him and that he thereby, so it seems, ceases to be God for us. …in an age like this it seems an absurd idea that this supreme being should concern himself with man, his pitiful little world, his cares, his sins, and his non-sins” [Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, (p. 55-56)].

God has come so close that we are incredulous. It is hard to believe that the God of the universe, who created and sustains and can act in all things, seeks such an intimacy with us that he gives himself to us through Jesus and continues to do so through the Eucharist at every Mass. If God is all-powerful, then surely it is beneath him to become bread for us? The universe seems too big and we seem too small to merit transubstantiation at every Mass. Not to mention, we are very confident in our material senses, and unfortunately the numerous, astonishing, and verified Eucharistic miracles are not well known.

Benedict XVI reminds us that though we might think our disbelief does credit to the grandeur and awesome powers of God, “we are in fact thinking of him in a very petty and only too human way.” We see how big the universe is and put God in a box, thinking the big concerns exclude the little ones; but nothing is too big or small for God who is Love and Truth, who comes closer to us than we fathom is decent or respectable precisely because he is unfathomable.

Father Mike Schmitz addresses God’s love manifest in the Eucharist in the YouTube video "The Hour That Will Change Your Life." I highly recommend listening to this talk, regardless of your confidence in the real presence. He explains the inner logic of the Eucharist through relatable human experiences and the Gospel of John’s Bread of Life discourse, a foundational text for Catholic belief in the real presence.

Jesus said what he meant quite explicitly in John 6, and when people left him because they took his words literally, he did not retract what he said, apologize, or clarify. He let them walk away because the truth does not change, regardless of others’ belief. The Church today echoes his words and stands by God the Son’s teaching. Facing Catholics who do not believe an essential aspect of the faith, Christ asks us, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter voices our response: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69).

I am convinced that Jesus is the Holy One of God, the Word of God, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He told us plainly about the Eucharist, and I hold to Christ’s word. It makes more sense to me to stand by the literal Word of God than anything else, even if it shatters my expectations of God—especially then because God should never adhere to my expectations.

I believe God. Do you take him at his word?