Like most of us, I suspect, I have the bittersweet blessing of having met wonderful and life-changing people who I’m now separated from by years or distance. Even the myriad ways of staying in touch that technology offers us can’t substitute for the pleasure of actually being in their presence. I have often reflected on my relationships as a sort of wealth I have accumulated over the years. They are the most valuable “product” to have come out of my years of living so far. Even other formative and essential life experiences, like growth in wisdom and faith, can’t be extricated from the influence of these relationships. So to witness certain relationships lose some vitality from the effects of separation feels very impoverishing.
This past summer, I facilitated a course on the sacraments. Much of our reading material on the Eucharist came straight from the Catechism, a text I hadn’t really appreciated in its own right until recently. Some of the lines about the Eucharist spoke directly as a soothing response to my desire to be closer to people I love:
“Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ. Through it Christ unites them to all the faithful in one body – the Church.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1396)
“To the offering of Christ are united not only the members still here on earth, but also those already in the glory of heaven.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1370)
Not only does my participation in the Eucharist put me in communion with those at Mass with me, it puts me in communion with loved ones who celebrate the Eucharist everywhere, even with loved ones who are no longer on earth. Beyond that, it puts me in communion with those across the world whom I’ve never met, but still am intimately bound to in the Body of Christ. And even beyond that, it puts me in communion with those I disagree with, those who I probably wouldn’t prefer to share a meal with otherwise. The Eucharist is the promise that our boundaries can and do come down.
In the Eucharist, hope abounds. My relationships with those I am distanced from—in any way—are not as anemic as I feared. Instead, we’re mysteriously and beautifully united, already getting a taste of our ultimate communion with God in heaven. This is the essence of our salvation: the end to alienation, the reconciliation of all division, and the unity of all in God and with God. It amazes me that such a transcendent experience can be so readily present to us each day, unfolding as we touch and taste the very Body and Blood of Christ.