One of my favorite pictures was taken May 6, 1984. I am standing in front of the altar with my great-great grandmother … and with my glasses, dress shirt and little brown tie, I have the biggest beaming smile. It was the day of my first Communion. My preparation for the event was excellent and instilled in me a true sense of the sacred and the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I was so excited to receive the Eucharist for the first time, and I remember feeling so light and joyful that day. All these years later, I look forward to the first Communion for our young people each spring. Seeing their sometimes nervous smiles and encouraging parents, I think about how life-changing that day was for me and how that first union with Jesus in the Eucharist deepened my life in Christ — and how that joy is wonderfully renewed at each Mass.
Whenever I share my vocation story, I always include how important the Mass was to my family. Growing up, I don’t remember us having many rules, except one expectation that my dad was very clear about: the Sunday Mass at St. Mary’s was at 8 a.m. — and our family was to be there together in the pew by 7:50 a.m. I don’t think I fully appreciated it at the time, but looking back now, I see how clearly my dad was instructing us that Sunday Mass together was the most important part of our family’s week. We had a wonderful routine of having a nice breakfast together after Mass as a family, and then we spent time together really striving to make it a day of refreshment. That weekly commitment to Sunday Mass stayed with me in my college years and, along with interest in a certain young woman at the time who was regularly in prayer, developed into a habit of daily Mass and regular prayer with Jesus in the tabernacle. In spending that time with Jesus, I realized how much stronger and more peaceful I felt, and how my heart grew in conviction of knowing that he really is there! It was through spending that time with Jesus in the Eucharist that I ultimately came to clarity of how God was calling me to serve in the Church as a priest. What happened to that young woman? I know she still prays for me; I joyfully served as a deacon at her wedding and later baptized one of her children!
During my seminary years at Mount St. Mary’s, the daily Holy Hour became part of my regular prayer. I am joyful to say that time in adoration has continued to be part of my daily prayer life as a priest. Being with Jesus in the Eucharist is where I feel most at peace and where I feel most myself. I never wonder if I should be doing something else — I always feel the peaceful conviction that there is no better place I can be at that moment. Being in his presence helps me see clearly that I am loved and that he has given everything for me. It is where I am renewed in strength when I falter and where I receive the strength to do whatever he asks of me each day. On days when I am not feeling well or under some burden, I am always thankful that I finish the time of Mass or prayer feeling better and more energized. My time with Jesus in Mass and in adoration is always the best part of my day.
If you also have been blessed by time with Jesus in the Eucharist, I encourage you to continue to enjoy the fruits of that encounter as often as you can. Remind yourself that he is really there. Challenge yourself to keep that time as a priority. Know in confidence that our loving Lord will continue to bless and strengthen you through that time. If you haven’t been able to experience this wonderful gift, or haven’t been as consistent as you would like, I invite you to begin by renewing commitment for Sunday Mass and a little time with Jesus in the tabernacle or at adoration.
For me, one of the great gifts of the Eucharistic Revival is an invitation to rediscover the gift of Jesus truly present. He really is there, and he really does love us perfectly. Spending time with Jesus in the Eucharist helps us to see him more clearly, both in the sacrament and in one another out in the world. Joining with Jesus in the perfect worship of the Father brings peace to our hearts, helps us to know that we are loved and never alone, and deepens our desire to share his love with those around us. Jesus in the Eucharist helps our hearts to be more like his and helps us be ready for one more great gift he wants to give us — the life of perfect love and peace in heaven.
Father Luke Spannagel is a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, and serves as a National Eucharistic Preacher to serve as part of the National Eucharistic Revival.