The Most Rev. Robert Carlson, now Archbishop of St. Louis, answered this question at a talk he gave at Central Michigan University in January of 2009. His answer: “because of the Eucharist.”
Jesus is made present to us in the liturgy in many ways: through His word proclaimed; through His priests in His Sacraments; through two or three fellow believers gathered together; and most profoundly through the Sacrifice of His Body and Blood made present in the Holy Eucharist. Yet, the Eucharistic presence surpasses the others. Pope Paul VI said it this way: “This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if 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.” (CCC 1374; Mysterium Fidei 39)
Rediscovering the Eucharist
Midway through my freshman year of college I experienced a profound conversion where I came to know Jesus as so personally present to me as to be next to me or ‘in me.’ I never knew such closeness to God before. I came to know Christ so deeply while pursuing God in the Scriptures and asking Him to help me to believe in His Son (as I later discovered, He was pursuing me).
I was raised in a good Catholic home all my life, but I never understood that Jesus was REALLY present in the Eucharist. I was flabbergasted when I realized that Jesus wanted to take the spiritual closeness we had and make it a physical, tangible reality in Holy Communion.
I already knew that God loved us so much that He took flesh and dwelled among us. He wanted to reach out and touch us, but not because physicality is more real, but because He made us to be both spiritual and physical beings and He wanted to approach us on our level. The invisible God wanted a physical union with you and me. I had thought that was just an experience of the Apostles and early disciples, but…on the night He was betrayed, Jesus established the Eucharistic Sacrifice as the perpetual offering by which His REAL PRESENCE would “be with you always” (Mt 28:20).
I had been receiving Christ bodily in Holy Communion since I was a kid, but when I realized the reality of Christ’s real presence, everything changed. I started to prepare myself, to get ready to receive Him. He was already in my life through the Gift of the Holy Spirit I received, but when I received Him anew in the Holy Eucharist it was a most special time of intimacy with God. He was with me and in me in a way that was singular and spectacular.
The Pearl of Great Price
When I discovered this truth about the Eucharist and discovered that Catholic and Orthodox Christians were the only ones who taught and practiced Jesus’ abiding presence in the Eucharist, I knew why I was Catholic and why this was the Home I had always been searching for. On this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), let us give thanks to God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, for giving us His name (Christian), for raising us in His house (the Church), and for feeding us at His table with His very life-giving flesh, the Holy Eucharist!