Real Presence

July 03, 2021

Written by: Bro. Brian Poulin

Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle

The term ‘Real Presence’ has become quite the theological buzz word in Catholic circles. For those not in the know, it refers to the true and mysterious of Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist. Bread and wine, once consecrated during the Mass, and without changes to any observable property, somehow become the Body and Blood of Christ. No, it doesn’t make any sense, and yes, it is a core article of the Catholic faith. It is also one belief that differentiates us from many other Christians. Holy Communion is not a symbolic ritual but rather an act (and reenactment) of intimate union between us and the Divine, which unites us with each other by extension.

It’s a big deal, both for those of us who hold that belief as well as those who respect the profundity of our faith without holding it themselves.

The centrality of this belief to Catholic doctrine however, does not make it equally central to mainstream Catholic culture. After all, there are numerous Catholics who either disavow this doctrine or remain ignorant of it. Nonetheless, we have all been at least somewhat formed by people who experienced Christ radically accessible in the Blessed Sacrament. Coming into contact with this experience, whether directly or indirectly, has prepared us to engage with an enchanted world in which an encounter with the Divine can come at any moment. Those who speak of the “Catholic imagination” must be referring to this ability, not unique to Catholics, to see the magic in this world that lies just beyond what we can perceive with our senses.

Many people, including a large number of Christians, devote their lives to the serving those who suffer in various ways. Many find in their helping activities an opportunity to evangelize by explicitly sharing the Good News they believe while attending to people’s material needs. They often proclaim a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Among those I have encountered though, I often feel as if they tell people about Jesus without actually introducing them to him. They study the Bible to learn about God, but I wonder at times whether some of them actually encounter him there.

Catholics don’t tend to talk about Jesus as our personal savior, or about a personal relationship with him. For one thing, we believe he came for the whole world and that we are only saved in community—so we had best be concerned with the well-being of our neighbors. Our relationship is personal, but it is ‘personal plus’. Some of us simply come from cultures that are less comfortable with this kind of emotive language. Maybe I just know what to look for, but I find Catholics—and many who have been spiritually influenced by Catholics—talk more readily about encountering God in nature, in service, in art, in human relationships, etc. than do many evangelicals… at least in my limited experience. We may talk less directly about a personal relationship with God, but we seem to have been trained to seek and nourish the experience of Communion however God may choose to reveal himself in a moment. Even many self-labelled ex-Catholics seem to retain spiritual instincts that help them to continue perceiving mysteries in the mundane.

Many people express great devotion to Jesus but at the same time seem to act as if he is distant and can only be learned about rather than met personally, whether in Creation or in our neighbors. Of course, I am grateful for the gift of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. However, I am coming to see an even greater gift in the ability to perceive the world sacramentally, as the real presence of Christ fills the world around me, awaiting only my recognition. Sharing a sense of spiritual wonder and awe, even without theological concepts, is surely part of what it means to “make Jesus known and loved”.

St. Thomas would not believe until he stuck his finger in Christ’s wound. We are not to judge him, as he only required an experience of Christ’s Resurrection as powerful as that already granted to the other disciples. Some of us may feel the same way today: “Lord, I’ll believe you, if only you allow me to experience you directly.”

But what if we are fully immersed in the experience of the Divine and simply need to pay more attention?


This week’s “ear candy” sings of an encounter with the mysteriously inexplicable that overwhelms sensory experience. The “brain food” reflects on the crimes that can result when we neglect to see Christ in others… as well as the potential for experiencing Christ in painful but necessary experiences of restorative reconciliation.

Ear Candy: “Mysterious Ways” by U2

Brain Food: “Canadian Catholics Grapple with a History of “Whitewashing” Indigenous Children” by Eileen Markey

Come back on the first Saturday of next month for a new post!