The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist – Eucharistic 2024


A recent poll showed that 70% of Catholics believe that the Eucharist is a mere symbol, rather than the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. Fr. Steven Borello shares his experience coming to know the true Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, as well as ways in which you can better come to know and love Him in this way.

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Reflective Study Guide Questions

“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

John 6:55-56

1. How is your relationship to Jesus in the Eucharist? Do you regularly seek out time to encounter Him in this way? How do you approach these opportunities for worship?

2. What doubts do you have in your faith life, particularly in regards to the Eucharist?

3. Fr. Borello reminds us that the words we use to talk about something are important. How do you speak about the Eucharist? What language do you tend to use when talking about Jesus in the Eucharist or while praying in the presence of the Eucharist?

4. Do you feel as though you were catechized well on the Church’s teaching of the Eucharist? How can you be more intentional with learning about this important Truth of our faith?

5. How can you help bring others to a deeper understanding and love of the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist?

Text: The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist

I am Father Steven Borello, director of Vocations of the Diocese of Joliet in Illinois. And I’m so glad that you are joining us for this Pray More Eucharistic retreat. Today, I’d like to talk with you about the reality that almost 70% of Catholics see the Eucharist as the symbolic presence of Jesus, rather than His body, blood, soul, and divinity. And how the Lord moved me from this place to true belief in the, in the sacramental presence of Jesus and the most holy Eucharist. Let us begin with a prayer.

Opening Prayer

In the name of Father and the Son of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Almighty God. And Father, I adore you. I praise you, I glorify you. For you have given to us your son, Jesus Christ, and the Eucharist, you have given to us this most holy and sacred sacrament. I ask Father for an ever deepening of my own faith and the faith of all my brother priests, that we might truly believe in the presence of Jesus.

We ask all this through the intercession of Mary and Saint Joseph, as we say, Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen. Father, son, Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Lack of Reverence

Well, when someone shared with me that the news that 70% of Catholics see the Eucharist as a symbol, I have to be honest, I was grieved, but also not surprised as I thought about it. I remember my own experience from childhood and that, and, and just the lack of an environment in which the, the centrality and the significance, uh, of the Eucharist was made manifest to me. I think about, just the way I experienced liturgy, the way I experienced my catechesis and religious education, and my curiosity with science, and the questions that people struggled to answer on my behalf.

When I went to mass as a child, there were a couple, uh, just, there was, there was just so much that was really lacking in my experience. I wanted the, the mass to be minimized, or the mass really was minimized. We got through it as quick as possible. It didn’t have that sense of worship or of adoration of the Lord. It was almost a little hokey, unfortunately when I was growing up.

And not only that, I remember like the first time I heard the Gloria song, I don’t think my parish really ever sung the Gloria except for Christmas and for the Easter vigil. But I was in college and all of a sudden we, here we are singing the Gloria, and my heart was just lifted. And I’m like, oh my goodness. Like, there’s something, there’s something more that could have been there that I didn’t, I didn’t know wasn’t there in my own life and my own story and my own experience of liturgy.

I was an altar server, but I’ll be honest, I struggled doing that at different times. And I just think that there was this sense of, there was just a sense when the liturgy was celebrated, there was just a lack of reverence really, by the whole community. And I even remember too, like, we’d come into church and we’d just be talking and we’d just be talking and talking and talking, not realizing that Jesus is, is right there in the tabernacle and being invited, to pray.

And then when they built our new church, I also remember, that they put Jesus off into, a side chapel, which is beautiful in itself, but it, it just, it took him out, it took him out from being the center. I remember my re catechesis when we were going through it, it was a lot about love, it was a lot about being kind. But really there was, there was a lack of focus, on the centrality of, of Jesus in the Eucharist, on the centrality of God’s sacrifice, on the centrality of, of the teachings of the church.

A Difficult Time In The Faith

And so when I, when I graduated and was confirmed, blessed be gone, confirmation took root. even though I was on, you know, just even though like I wasn’t open necessarily to that, the reality was just like, I just didn’t know. I didn’t know, or understand how it was possible or how we could even talk about God being present in what looks and tastes like bread.

And, and then I have this deep love of science, right? This deep love of, of wanting to understand why things are the way they are asking questions about science. You know, I found myself saying, how could it be that bread and wine become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus? And I learned that, you know, that we could observe things at molecular levels that we could study DNA, and, and in my mind, if the Eucharist is a Eucharist, there should be DNA present in it, because that’s what makes a person a person, right? I don’t understand that there’s an underlying substance. I don’t understand the concept of, of the soul. I don’t understand all these different concepts that, that made it me think in a very linear and literal way that really, either this was or this wasn’t Jesus based upon, you know, a simple test of science. And because science couldn’t demonstrate that there was DNA right? In my mind, it meant that, that this really was just a symbol. This wasn’t, this wasn’t the Eucharist.

And really the fruit of, of all these struggles, these questions that came and these experiences was a lack of belief in the presence of the Lord. And, and so much so that I actually left the practice of the faith because I didn’t know what I was, what I was looking at. I didn’t know who I was worshiping. And it was, it just seemed to be more and more just about me. rather than, about the Lord, rather than about giving Him the best of myself I kept kind of expecting it to almost be like an entertaining experience when I went to mass.

What Is About Church That Matters?

So what changes, what changed in my life? Well, the first thing that changed in my life is that when I went to college in that first, that first year of college, there was just this profound feeling of emptiness. It didn’t matter what I did in life, the more I did it, the less full, the more empty I felt, the more like I was grasping after something to just, to fill that hole in my life. I remember coming home that Christmas hadn’t gone to mass at all, that semester, and I just sat there miserable, and I was there, and I just really uttered the first prayer. I think I uttered in years. And I just like, why am I so miserable? Maybe it wasn’t even a prayer, it was just a question.

I’ll be honest. The only thought that came to mind, that day was, it’s because you don’t go to church. Now, I thought to myself, well, this is kind of ridiculous. Like, why could, why would church matter that much? I mean, I’m a chemical engineering student. I keep thinking that, you know, that this would make sense, right? Because if church really matters, right, then everybody should be going, but not everybody’s going. So like, what is it about church that matters? And as I left that day, as I kind of continued with my Christmas break, you know, nothing really changed over that break. But when I went back to school, there was just this thought, you know what? I know how to do experiments. I know how to write hypotheses. I know how to, how to do this.

And so I said, okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to, we’re going to make it. We’re going to see what happens if I start going to mass and give God time. So I decided that I’d go to mass one week and skip a week and go two weeks and skip two weeks, and then go three weeks, skip three weeks, go four weeks. And, really asked for the courage to be honest, because I knew, that scientists have a tendency to embellish or to diminish.

And so I was really asking for this grace to be honest. And so at the end of that semester, when I looked at my life, like I saw my grades got better, my friendships got better, I saw that it took me less time to do homework. It took less time to get things organized. And overall, like just my life was better when I didn’t go to mass. The opposite was true. I tested more poorly, my homework took longer, my friendships seemed to have more difficulties and struggles. And so I realized that there was something, there was something that was going on here. There was something about going to church that changed, me and, and allowed me to, to engage in the world in a different way.

You Have To Have Faith and Belief

But I wasn’t sure if I needed to be Catholic or, the Eucharist. And so that didn’t happen until my sophomore year of college, during my sophomore year of college, uh, I would go to my girlfriend’s church and, and just to, to experience the gift of their preachers and their pastor man, he was, a phenomenal preacher. And I could still remember, you know, us having bibles, and that we’d open up and we’d flip back and forth. And I’ll be honest, the first time I went with her, I was just like, what is going on? And I don’t even know where these books are in the Bible. And it was a little embarrassing, right?

But, even after we were there, there was always something in my mind that was missing. There was almost like, there’s almost like this hunger that I really couldn’t, I couldn’t describe as a hunger at the time, but like, there was this a longing for something more. The preaching was good, but like, I was longing for something more, and I didn’t know what that was. You know, I knew that that spending time going to church was important, but I just didn’t know if I could go anywhere. And I thought, well, why not try my girlfriend’s church? You know, I, as I was struggling with this question with my girlfriend, uh, with my girlfriend’s church, and just like internally like, okay, like what is here that I feel is missing? There was also a similar struggle that was taking place, right in my engineering. And we were in an organic chemistry class, and we’re talking about DNA, we’ve been talking about DNA and the building blocks of the human person. And I just started asking my professors questions about it and like, why is there something rather than nothing, how did this come about? Like, why do these things exist in this way? And how come we don’t see this anywhere else in the universe if there’s been billion years that this has been going on or more?

And me and my professors, god bless them, they’re, they looked at me and they said, well, you know, we’ve only known about DNA for, for years at this point. and, and we’ve learned a lot, but we’re going to need another years to answer those questions. And so just have faith in science, believe in the scientific method. Trust, trust in the research that’s being done. And, and so it’s all this language. And, and I remember my grandmother kept saying to me when I was a kid, “Steven, like, you, you have to ask for the gift of belief. You have to trust in what God is doing. You have to have faith in the way that God does things.”

And, and there was this moment of grace, like, right? I’ll be honest with you, where I just sat there and I thought to myself, you know, you’re using the same language my grandmother would use, right? My grandmother would talk about this, this belief and this faith and this trust. And to which my professor goes, said to me, “well, but what we do is observable. What you’re talking about isn’t.” And, and, you know, I thought for a second, because my grandmother always challenged me to, to go to mass more regularly, to give God the chance to give God that opportunity. And I, you know, I realized that I don’t really want to wait, years to find out, you know, whether or not like the scientific method is going to actually give us an answer. And so I said, okay, well, what’s easier waiting years or, or trying to go to mass more for a month and see what happens?

A Realization During Mass

And so I started, I started going to mass, that lent, I started going to mass twice a week. And then I was like, okay, then I continued going to mass twice a week and Easter, and I remember it being the third Friday, the third week of Easter on Friday. And it was the reading from the Gospel of John, where he says, “unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will not have life within you.”

And I was sitting there in the back, in the, the back left hand side, of the Newman Center at the University of Illinois. And while I was sitting there, just all of a sudden there was just this overwhelming sense as the priest was consecrating the Eucharist. That if God has got who God says He is, He can’t lie. And if, and if God can’t lie, then what He’s saying to us is the truth. And what He is inviting me to participate in is something that I don’t really understand, but that He has to have a way of fulfilling this. And that if the priest is truly in the person of Jesus, which I knew that much, and that I allow myself to, to believe that, that the words of the priest speaks are Jesus’s words, all of a sudden I’m looking at the priest holding up the host and then holding up the chalice, and I just start crying. And, and, even now I’m getting a little emotional about this.

I just start crying because I’m like, that’s Jesus. Oh Lord, that’s Jesus and I, and there’s this reality, It’s like I have to change my life because the person who that priest is holding in his hands, it’s not an it, it’s not a thing, it’s not a symbol, but it’s the person of Jesus Christ who suffered and died for me. And I just remember just sitting there shocked at the reality that now was being made known to me and just, just crying in the back of the chapel. And, and I realized all of a sudden it came to, to into complete focus. Like it was like, no wonder I would leave my girlfriend’s services hungry for something, right? Because it was Jesus. I was looking for Jesus. I didn’t have, I had no knowledge that the Lord was feeding me with His very body, blood, soul, and divinity, and, and, and what looks and tastes like bread because, because I couldn’t handle it otherwise. And just this gift of the Lord’s love for me that He would do this for me. And, and really it was, it was just through these, this God’s providence, how He worked with me and openness in my heart, and just the witness of my grandmother constantly encouraging me to ask the Lord and to give the Lord the chance to surprise me, but to do that with honesty, with humility, and with patience.

Jesus, Help My Unbelief

So how do we help others, right? Come to this, this real and true belief in, the Eucharistic presence, in the presence of God’s body, Jesus’ body, blood, soul, and divinity. And I think there’s a couple things, right? First, I love, I love this quote. I think it’s from, from Carl Newman, “that a thousand doubts does not equal a single ounce of unbelief.” And I think that we can have doubts, and I’m going to be honest, there’s times I still have doubts. I remember that even after that profound encounter, I still had to say, Lord, I believe, help my unbelief, Jesus, help my unbelief, Lord, I believe. And there are times, even as a priest, when I celebrate mass where these doubts try to creep back in, I’m like, Lord, I know that that these are Your words, and that, that this is Your body, blood, soul, and divinity. I cannot sense it at this moment. All I know is that I heard myself speak these words. So help me to believe and help me to continue to trust in your presence. And I’ll be honest, right, there are times when it’s challenging, but, but always, the fruit of that is, the fruit is always is that on the other side of that, in the reception of, of community, when I receive Jesus myself, and I celebrate the mass, there’s always this sense of peace. And I’m like, Lord, I do believe, I do believe, I do believe, and I thank you for being patient with me. And it’s such a gift for me as a priest to celebrate mass and to hold Jesus in my hands. it is just a gift.

Do we speak about Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist?

The second thing is right, so it’s just a thousand doubts, right? So the first thing was, is just recognizing that doubts are doubts, they’re not reality. And just to place, place ourselves there and ask the Lord for that gift of faith. The second thing is our language. Do we speak about Jesus presence in the Eucharist? Or, and do we speak about it as a person? Or do we speak about as an it or a thing? I’m going to receive it, I’m going to receive that, right? Because words have power.

So if I speak of Jesus in the Eucharist as an “it or a, that,” it diminishes, right? It actually puts it in the category of a thing rather than, than speaking of the Eucharist, as Jesus as His body and blood, soul, and divinity as this person that I’m coming to encounter. So we want to make sure that when we speak about the Eucharist, we do so with very personalized language because it is Jesus Himself who is present to us there, in, in under this unique, in this very unique way.

The Importance of Patience

So first are doubts, second language. The third one is, is to be patient with ourselves, right? And to realize that our encounters with Jim, that you know, that we actually asked a question, do I personalize my encounters with Him? and when I speak, just this, like when I speak with the Lord, do I speak to the Lord in a personalized way, right? And, and making sure that that too, right? Not just talking about the Eucharist, but like, when I pray, do I pray before the blessed sacrament in a personalized way so that it’s like Jesus, you know, here’s what’s going on, Jesus. There’s this, you know, and, and I make things very, very personal. And I don’t say, well, you know, that, or they or them, right?

But I actually, I speak of them like I’m speaking to another friend. Another thing that’s important is that we have to realize and be patient with ourselves, right? Because where we are at and what we’re struggling with is unique to each person, but also we have to be patient with others. And oftentimes we don’t know the difficulties that there are, are experiencing, but there are often real difficulties that make, that make it challenging for people to believe in the Eucharist. And so we want to give them the space and encourage them just to bring their hearts to the Lord as they are.

We Need To Be Catechized

Another one is, is for us to be catechized, right? We have to take time, to learn how to speak about the, the different aspects and facets that take place within the mass. And when we speak of Jesus and the Eucharist, right? And understanding the concept of transubstantiation, right? This is something very, very important that, that I didn’t understand when I was a kid, right? That the word transubstantiation is used to describe what happens to the bread and wine that while still still looking like bread and wine, the underlying substance, that which, which girds the essence of the thing, right, changes. Like, it literally changes. And even though I cannot sense it with my senses, this is what takes place. And we can see this, right?

We see the Lord, we see the Lord giving us these touch points throughout history with some of the very different, with some of the many Eucharistic miracles that have taken place throughout the world, right? From, from Lanciano, where the host becomes heart tissue, to Santarém where the host is bleeding. And there’s, it’s in a, in a little crystal, thing that the Lord created for Himself with it, right?

So there’s these eucharistic miracles that also help to reinforce us when we have that, those questions at times. But the beauty is, that we, we want to know the language. We want to study like what is happening here at the mass? What happens when the priest speaks these words, right? When Jesus really speaks these words through the priest, and they do this together, to allow the Holy Spirit, which allows the Holy Spirit and causes the Holy Spirit and, and the work of God has done here, and that the bread and the wine become the body and blood, soul, and divinity of, of Jesus Christ Himself.

Further, right? We want to encourage people, to go to mass, to take time, to worship, to take time to pray, because it’s also in that posture of worship and that posture of giving thanks and that posture of putting Jesus, at the center, right, and that, transforms us, right? I can remember, you know, how, the more often I went to mass, the more I became convicted and convinced of God’s presence in the Eucharist.

Another one that’s super important, I actually think then too is, for us who do believe is to spend time in adoration every week, to spend time before the most Holy Eucharist, to spend time looking face to face with God and saying, Lord, like, like here I am. And having those conversations with Him about what’s happening in your life and your family amongst your friends and work and what you need, right? To bear your heart to Him, because He desires to meet us in these beautiful places of encounter, these beautiful places of intimacy and love. So I want to encourage you there, for adoration.

So right, there’s those things that we can do to help others, right? We can, we can recognize doubts, don’t equal and belief. We can, be attentive to our language. We can make sure that we speak personally, of Jesus and the Eucharist, the gift of patience with ourselves and with others as they struggle on this journey. And trusting, right? That this is the Lord’s work. It’s not mine, it’s not yours. It’s the Lord’s work. And he asks us to be he His missionaries, His ambassadors, His leg. Its really right for Him to bring, others to an opportunity to encounter, to attend the mass more regularly, to pray before Jesus in the most blessed sacrament, to be catechized, to learn and to study, to read the catechism section on the Eucharist, which is so beautiful.

Brant Pitre has a book on the Eucharist. and there’s a couple other books that are out there on the Eucharist that are just super powerful, which, which can really stir up in the heart, this understanding and acceptance of how, from the feast of Passover, really going all the way back to Melchizedek where he offered, and in Abraham where bread and wine are offered all the way up to the Passover where there’s bread, bread and wine up to the time of Jesus Christ, right? And so, just like it’s so beautiful, how God, how God ties it all together, how the Lord does all of these things and how He connects everything, and how the Lord uses it all for our sake and for our salvation.

We Have The Capacity To Change

So if we remember that we walk into the church, we are walking into the divine presence of God, into the presence of Jesus Christ, we want to make sure that our behavior, our actions match the reality that is before us. That our, our actions, match this reality that we have come to adore. We have come to worship the Lord. And so we are invited to give witness to this in these sacred spaces. We’re invited to give this witness in the way that we speak, in the way that we talk, and the way that we act.

And, and I believe truly that if we ourselves take these small initiatives in our own lives, we give profound witness to our brothers and sisters in the church, and they will begin to wonder why are they kneeling? Why are they so silent? What are they doing? What do they know that I don’t know? What do they have that I don’t have? And I truly believe that it’s by our own witnesses, our own continued conversion, our own deepening of belief through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and that grace at work that you and I have the capacity to change that 70% of of those who see Jesus as simply as, uh, the Eucharist is simply a symbol to making it a hundred percent of those who see that that is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus truly present and given and handed over for you and for me, that we might be saved and nourished and, and have eternal life.

Closing Prayer

The Lord be with you. Almighty God and Father, we just ask for an outpouring, of your spirit upon all those who are listening, who are watching, that they would experience this reality of your son’s true presence of His body, blood, soul, and divinity present in the Eucharist that we receive, that we adore.

We ask Father that you would, strengthen the faith of all those who attend the mass, that all those who participate in worship, that they would come to that true belief, that their hearts would be convicted of your presence, and that they would know of your love for them.

We ask Father that you would bless us this day and deep in our faith and grant us whatever graces that we most need and bring with us. And may your blessing now come upon us in the name of the Father and the Son of the Holy Spirit, Amen. God bless you.

About Fr. Steven Borello

Fr. Steven Borello, a priest of the Diocese of Joliet, currently serves as the Director of Vocation for the Diocese of Joliet-in-Illinois. Fr. Steven grew up in Glen Ellyn, Illinois and is the oldest of 4 children. He attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana where he studied chemistry and chemical engineering. While there, he received a call to the seminary to discern the priesthood. He received his bachelor’s in theology and Master of Divinity from Mundelein Seminary and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Joliet in 2011. He first served as an associate pastor at Notre Dame Parish in Clarendon Hills and was then transferred to Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Naperville in June of 2014.

In August of 2015, he began serving at St. John Vianney College Seminary as a spiritual director, director of human formation, and instructor to over 120 men discerning a priestly vocation. He returned to the Diocese of

Joliet in August 2018 to begin as the new Director of Vocations. He has a podcast titled, Rooted in the Really Real, and has a number of short videos on YouTube.