The Real Presence

When I used to live in Bali, I celebrated, each week, what I called a “Meditation Mass” and I tried to teach the small number, who came, how to listen to the Scriptures. I told them that as they were being read, they should notice those words, phrases or events that gently pulled their attention – for this is how the Spirit speaks to us. Then, after a moment’s quiet, I would invite each to share what he or she had noticed. At first, they found this rather difficulty, but slowly they began to trust themselves and share something and, then, I would invite them to pray for those people and things that their sharing had pointed to – but this they found very difficult. They prayed for those close to them – such as: their aunt, a sick friend etc. – but even though I tried to show them how to open their prayer to a wider group of people, for instance, “Let us pray for my sick friend – ‘and for all sick people everywhere’”, they still found it very difficult to go beyond the barriers of their immediate concern and also pray for those they did not know – or really care about – but, then, why should they?

One of the central truths of our Catholic Faith is that of the Real Presence, which teaches that our faith is not just a set of beliefs about what is right and wrong, but that we live move in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. We Catholics believe that Jesus is really and truly with us: Body, Soul and Divinity and although we particularly speak of this in reference to his presence in the Blessed Sacrament, his Real Presence is wider than this. In receiving the Blessed Sacrament, we truly meet the Lord in the most intimate and loving way; in communion we are assured that we are loved, wanted and invited to become one with him. It is this meeting in love that gives us the courage to choose to live with him – but, how do we do that? This we come to learn by listening to the Scriptures, in the way I have described above, for the Lord is also really and truly present as we listen to the Scriptures and, through them, he gently touches our hearts, pointing us in the direction that he wants us to go with him. This can be understood as the “second” aspect of the Real Presence – for when this happens he is speaking to us directly and immediately about the situation we are in and, thus, we find ourselves faced with a choice – “Will I join him or not?”  The way we answer “yes” is by reaching out in prayer and action to those people and needs to which he has drawn our attention – and when we do, we really and truly become one with him in his love and service for the world. We know this also from what the Lord tells us in (Mt 25:40): “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me” – he does not say, “do it for me”, but, “you do it to me” – so we find ourselves in what we may call the “third aspect” of the Real Presence, in that, when we reach out in compassion, we really and truly become one with him – just as husband and wife become one in the joint living of their married lives.

There are, therefore, three aspects to the Real Presence – our meeting with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, our listening to him in the Scriptures, and the giving of ourselves to him in his compassion and care for the world. This is how we are truly formed as his brothers and sister – “sons and daughters of the Most High”. Why, then, is the Real Presence not usually taught in this way and we sometimes get the impression that the teaching refers only to Jesus’ Presence in the Blessed Sacrament? The answer is the needs of “history”! At the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers denied that Jesus was really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament; they said it was only a symbol, so we changed our catechetics to stress his sacramental presence. However, the Reformers did not dispute that we truly meet him in the Scriptures, nor did they dispute that we also truly meet him in the community, so there was no need for our teaching to argue for these aspects. Thus, with the passing of time, and the reason for teaching in this way came to be forgotten, the teaching came to be a little lop-sided and some assumed that Our Lord was really and truly present only in the Blessed Sacrament. Over the last fifty or sixty years, however, we Catholics have begun to appreciate more and more his Real Presence in the Scriptures and we are now becoming more and more aware that our intimate communion with him comes to its fulfilment, when we join him also in his care and service of the world – the third form of the Real Presence.

Now, back to the Bali Meditation Mass: In Ch. 3: 1-10 of his Letter, St James writes that although the tongue is only one of the smallest organs of our body, it nevertheless dictates the direction our lives take – just as a rudder sets the direction of a ship. In other words, if we use our tongue to criticise people it will turn us against them, but if we use our tongues to pray for them and bless them, then our prayers will lead us to reach out to them in friendship and mercy – and allow the Lord to really and truly live in us through those actions. However, if we pray only for those dear to us, we remain trapped by those barriers that prevent us from joining the Lord in the fullness of his mission. Only when we deliberately pray and reach out to those we do not yet really care about, can the Spirit lead our hearts to follow our words – and we are drawn deeper and deeper into the Real Presence of our Lord as he heals the divisions of hatred and indifference in the world. It is Lent, the season which we are now entering, which calls our mind particularly to this need of prayer and sharing.


We had a great feast in Sibu last week. Bishop Dominic Su was retiring and Bishop Joseph Hii was installed as the second Bishop of Sibu. Sibu always does things in great style and 2030 people sat down for the installation dinner. It was a also a time of meeting old friends and I was surprised and pleased to meet a group of people, who had been in the secondary school in Mukah, where I lived 40 years ago. The affection that people hold us in still amazes me – we do not know the effect we have on people – however, I am sure that this comes not through what we do for them, but by the way that we do it.

However, having said that, I also met a priest, whom I taught nearly forty years ago. I still remember him very clearly, but on introducing myself to him, I got the distinct impression that he did not remember me – at least not until later! Maybe we also need those experiences that show us that we are not quite as important as we think we are!

I have learnt my lesson about not wearing short trousers when cutting grass and have not suffered from itching since. However, now I have a gum infection, but found a wonderful pharmacist in Sibu, who gave me some painkillers, which completely relieved me of the pain while the antibiotics were working. And, I do mean “gave” me, for, although I did not know her, a Catholic friend of hers took me into the Pharmacy – Catholic Mafia again!

Lastly, an advert: I am planning a retreat cum visit to Bali from 9th – 15th May. Three days retreat at the St Joseph’s Carmel in the hills near Bedugul, Bali, and three days visiting other parts of the island. I do not have prices yet, but if you are interested please let me know and then I will be able to make the proposal more concrete.

God bless,


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