There is a true story of a 4 year old Irish child by the name of Nellie Organ, when Nellie’s mother died, her father William was not able to care for his four children; two of her girls were given to the care of the Good Shepherd Sisters, in Cork, and the two boys were sent to another home. Nellie was suffering from whooping cough, spinal injuries because a child minder had dropped her when she was a baby, tuberculosis and a rotting disease of the gums and jaws.
A Jesuit, Fr Bury was one day giving a retreat at the Good Shepherd convent and was visiting Nellie’s bedside each day. He was amazed at Nellie’s deep devotion to the Eucharist. When he asked Nellie, “What is Holy Communion?” She answered, “It is Holy God.” “And what would happen if you were to receive Holy Communion?” Nellie said, “Jesus will rest on my tongue and then He will go down into my heart.”
One night, when the Mother Francis, the Superior of the convent was wishing Nellie good night, Nellie asked her if she would bring her Holy Communion the next day. The Mother Superior said “yes”, but misunderstood Nellie and visited her the next morning without Holy Communion; Nellie was devastated. Nellie then asked people to come to her bedside immediately after they had received Holy Communion, and then they could return to the chapel to finish their Thanksgiving prayers. To Nellie, that was the closest she could get to receiving Jesus in Holy Communion.
Fr Bury was convinced that Nellie, even though she was only four years and three months of age had met all the criteria necessary to receive her first Holy Communion, even though at that time, the children had to be twelve years old before they could receive Holy Communion. Fr Bury appealed to the Bishop of Cork for Nellie; he agreed. Fr Bury then heard her Confession and gave her First Holy Communion in the convent chapel.
Mother Francis, the Superior, said “At the moment of receiving Holy Communion, Nellie’s face shone as if the presence of the great light in her heart reflected itself in her face. This was seen also in Nellie’s other Holy Communions; that her countenance was deeply recollected; her attitude very pious; and her appearance extraordinarily radiant.” It is said that Nellie’s Thanksgiving for receiving Holy Communion would continue till late in the afternoon. From the day of her Frist Holy Communion the foul smell caused by the rotting of her gums and jaws ceased. Two months later, Nellie died and was buried at the St Joseph’s Cemetery in Cork. Eighteen months after her death, permission was granted to have Nellie’s remains transferred to the Good Shepherd Convent Cemetery. Upon opening her grave, Nellie’s body was found to be incorrupt. Her body was fresh with no sign of the wasting disease she had at her death.
If Nellie’s witness and the miracleof her incorrupt body are still not good enough for those of us who are very intellectual about our faith, then perhaps this illustration from NASA might help. NASA did some experimenting with a special type of camera that could see the energy levels in the human body. This is then seen on a monitor. This energy shows up as an aura around the body. NASA’s interest in the experiment was to investigate the effects of space travel on astronauts in orbit. Experimenting in a hospital they discovered that when a person is dying, the aura around the body is thinner and gets thinner and thinner until the person dies.
The scientist was carrying out this investigation in the hospital with his associate behind a two-way mirror. While observing what was happening, they were suddenly surprised to see with their camera a man coming into the room with light coming from his pocket. When the man then took out the object from his pocket, the whole room was filled with such a bright light that the camera could no longer film what was happening. Both scientists ran to the room to see what was causing so much light to appear in their camera. They discovered that the dying man was being given Holy Communion. After the Holy Communion, it could be seen in the camera that the dying man’s aura around him was brighter. Even though the scientist conducting the experiment was in his fifties, he decided to become a priest after witnessing that.
My brothers and sister in Christ, what do we make out of these true stories of Nellie and the NASA experiment and the “conversion” of the scientist? Today’s Gospel on the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Jesus, the real flesh and blood of Jesus in the bread and wine that we receive is an easy, but very challenging topic to preach on. Why? It’s easy because all of us here believe that when we receive Holy Communion at Mass, we are actually receiving the real flesh and real blood of Jesus as He proclaimed in the Gospel of John that we just heard. Yet, it is very challenging to preach on this topic because our external behaviour and attitude are very often discordant and seem to cast doubts as to whether we really value this divine gift of Jesus Himself to us in the Eucharist?!
Is it any wonder that we need to remind ourselves, and all the Catholics around the world to please be reverent during the Eucharist? Are we surprised to hear pulpit announcements and bulletin notices to: please do not distract others during the Eucharist, to please dress appropriately when we come for the Eucharist, to please to do not come late and rush off during the Eucharist, to please bring your child out of the Church when they are distracting others, to please participate actively and attentively during the Eucharist, to please do not applause at the end of the Eucharist as though it is a performance, to please do not double park and don’t quarrel with our Traffic Assistants immediately after Mass in the car park, to please come for the Eucharistic Adoration for children, to please spend time in our Adoration room to be with the Lord . . . please this and please that . . .
Are such reminders unreasonable in helping us value Jesus in the Eucharist more fully? If Nellie were to hear all these announcements and read all our parish bulletin notices, I think her heart would be torn and she would be weeping and praying for those of us who are still taking Jesus in the Eucharist for granted; and for parents who still think that if there are piano lessons, or tuition or examinations coming up, then there is no need to come for Mass . . . and the like.
In spite of having highlighted all these challenges that we are facing, I would like to add that it is a blessing that most of us still value the Eucharist sufficiently enough, but evidently we all need to continue to challenge ourselves to value Jesus in the Eucharist more fully and more reverently, and we cannot deny that there is still a lot room for improvement . . .
And so to conclude, let us remind ourselves what Jesus in today’s Gospel is saying to us. In very clear words Jesus says, “For My Flesh is real food and My Blood is real drink. He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood lives in Me and I live in him . . . and he will have eternal life.” Do we take this Truth seriously?
Do we take His Body and Blood for granted?
After receiving Christ’s Body and Blood at Holy Communion, are we more Christ-like
to others in our daily living? These are some of the questions Jesus is asking us, each time we come for Mass. Let us ponder on
them for a few moments.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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