by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – I am not an expert in Catholic theology, so I cannot give a scholarly commentary on the Eucharist.
However, as someone who attends daily Mass and spends time each week in Eucharistic adoration, I can answer a question I am often asked: why?
A 2019 Pew research poll indicated that two-thirds of Catholics do not recognize the physical presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
I am not among them.
The nuns who taught me in elementary school called this presence a “holy mystery” – but it is no mystery to me.
As I read the scriptures, I came to know an incarnate God who deeply loved the people he met in his human experience and who recognized the importance of physical touch.
Jesus’ healing power certainly did not require touch; he healed the centurion’s servant and raised Lazarus without even entering the tomb.
Yet time and time again Jesus touched people in his acts of compassionate healing—a 12-year-old girl in Capernaum, a deaf man in the Decapolis, two blind men near Jericho, a leper in Galilee, and so on. .
Jesus knew that the combination of faith and touch was powerful.
And because of that, the Last Supper must have been one of the most heartbreaking moments in Jesus’ life.
I feel it when I listen to the Eucharistic prayer at Mass, recalling with Jesus the night he knew he was going to leave the disciples he loved.
He would send them the Holy Spirit to strengthen their souls; but he understood, in their humanity, that they needed more.
By instituting the Eucharist – transforming bread and wine into his own body and blood – Jesus was able to offer his disciples an incredibly beautiful and generous gift.
The church calls it transubstantiation. That’s a big word for what I see as the simple act of a compassionate man, deeply in love with his followers, giving them a way to touch him forever.
This is why I attend daily Mass – so I can touch Jesus, embrace his divinity in faith, and become one body with all Catholics around the world doing the same.
And that’s why I spend time in Eucharistic adoration, because I believe I’m literally sitting at the feet of Jesus.
My favorite Bible story, and the one I remember every time I receive Communion, is the story of the woman who had hemorrhaged for 12 years.
No one could heal her.
She heard about Jesus and believed in his healing power – so much so that she pushed her way through a crowd just to touch the hem of his coat.
And it worked. She knew immediately that she was healed.
I love this moment in this story because Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “Who touched me?
I imagine the disciples thought he had lost his mind.
They looked at the crowd of people around him and replied, “Master, people are crowding and crowding against you.”
But Jesus knew that a person with great faith touched him because he said, “The power has gone out of me.”
When the healed woman came forward, Jesus said to her: “Daughter, your faith has healed you, go in peace.
Every time I go up to Communion, I think of this woman.
I know I will touch Jesus, but it is my faith in his presence that will allow his power to flow through me.
When I return to my pew and kneel in prayer, I imagine Jesus in front of the church turning and asking, “Who touched me?
And though there might be a hundred people around me, I say, “Yes, Lord.”
And he said, “Talk to me.”
It’s personal. It’s Jesus and me alone together, and I pour out my heart to Him.
In this moment of intimacy, I feel the Holy Trinity – God in spirit and in flesh. I cannot present a pain or a temptation, a fear or a need, that he has not experienced in his own humanity.
And I know in my heart that with Jesus’ touch and my faith, I have the strength to continue Christ’s mission in the world.
I am never alone.