In this month of November dedicated to a Church-wide meditation on the four last things and to the practical imperative to become holy, so that after death and judgment we might enter eternally into communion with all the saints whom we celebrate on November 1, it is important that we will the appropriate means to that glorious end.
“The Eucharist,” as Pope Benedict wrote in 2007, “is at the root of every form of holiness, and each of us is called to the fullness of life in the Holy Spirit. How many saints have advanced along the way of perfection thanks to their Eucharistic devotion! … Holiness has always found its center in the Sacrament of the Eucharist” (Sacramentum Caritatis 94).
As the Church universal marks this autumn the 60th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council with its emphasis on the universal call to holiness, and as the Church in the United States enters more deeply into its multiyear Eucharistic revival, it is a time to recognize more clearly that the root and route of holiness is Eucharistic.
Someone who teaches us this truth in a compellingly attractive way is one of the co-patrons of the Eucharistic Revival, Blessed Carlo Acutis (1991-2006), the first millennial to be raised to the altars.
Carlo was raised in a non-practicing home, but thanks to the influence of grandparents, a Polish nanny and his Catholic school, he began to hunger for Jesus in the Eucharist in such a way that he successfully begged to be able to make his first Holy Communion a year early, at the age of 7. Thereupon, he became a daily Mass goer and a Eucharistic apostle, not only bringing his parents back to the practice of Sunday Mass but also zealously trying to bring his non-practicing peers to grasp the awesome gift they were neglecting.
He soon discovered that the most effective means help his fellow students and friends be captivated by the wondrous reality of the Real Presence of Jesus were his descriptions of the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano and the miraculous communion of the three shepherd children in Fatima. That led him on a quest to get to know all the Eucharistic miracles by which God has buttressed the Church’s Eucharistic theology and practice with divine confirmation.
His parents generously accompanied him to the sites of the miracles and, at age 11, he learned computer programming to build a website to catalogue and promote these theophanies, not just to bring his friends in Milan but people all over the world to greater Eucharistic faith, amazement and life. His catalogue eventually grew to a 196-part series that was exhibited in the Vatican in 2005 during the Year of the Eucharist and continues posthumously to travel the global.
If Carlo had not died somewhat suddenly of acute promyeolocytic leukemia in 2006, he would be just 31 years old today. Yet in record speed for someone so young — especially for someone who is not a child martyr or a recipient of Marian apparitions — we are already celebrating him at the altar each October 12. His life shows us that we don’t need long years of life to become holy, but to avail ourselves of the means God provides. The greatest of those means is the Holy Eucharist.
“The Eucharist,” Carlo said, “is my highway to Heaven.” And he sped on that highway faster than most young Italians like to drive on the autostrada. He spent his eight years after his first Communion trying to get as many as he could to join him on that expressway.
He became a catechist and sought to help the students entrusted to him to pursue holiness through a Eucharistic life. He created for them a “Holiness Kit” with nine practices, two of which were explicitly geared to helping them to live a Eucharistic life: “Try to go every day to Mass and to receive Holy Communion. … If you can, stay a few minutes every day in Eucharistic adoration in front of the tabernacle where Jesus is really present, and you will see your level of holiness increase considerably.” He practiced what he preached — and his level of sanctity indeed grew swiftly and substantially.
With childlike simplicity, yet precocious maturity and wisdom, he taught, “The more often we receive the Eucharist, the more we become like Jesus.” If in general we become what we eat, when we receive Jesus with faith and love, we gradually become more and more like Him whom we consume. We begin to live because of Him, as Jesus promised we would during his Bread of Life discourse in the Capernaum Synagogue (Jn 6:57).
That’s why it wasn’t enough for Carlo just to get others to come to Mass on Sunday and to receive Jesus worthily. He wanted to upgrade them from coming to Mass out of duty when morally they must to coming out of love as often as they can. He wanted to get them off the winding, slow, stumbling trek through life onto the supernatural superhighway.
“I think that many people do not fully understand the value of the Mass,” he said with candor and clarity, “because if they recognized the enormous blessing we have in a Lord who gives Himself as our food and drink in the Sacred Host, they would go to Mass every day to participate in the fruits of the sacrifice and let go of so many superfluous things.”
He had great faith in the power of Jesus in the Eucharist to make us saints.
“You go straight to Heaven,” he said, “if you participate in Mass every day.”
Of course he was talking about far more than just attendance, but truly entering into holy communion of life with Him who is holy, holy, holy. He had surprised his parents and friends after his first Communion by saying, “To be always united to Jesus — this is my program of life,” and attendance at daily Mass and loving reception of Holy Communion were the means of that union.
He received Jesus with recognition of what he was doing and Whom he was receiving.
“Jesus,” he would pray, “come right in! Make yourself at home!” He received Jesus not just for a brief visit but as a permanent companion. And he cherished the time in His company. He sought to make a Eucharistic holy half-hour every day. Whenever he would find an open Church, even when he was in a hurry, he would pop in just to say “hello” to Jesus.
He sought to help others, especially his classmates and catechetical students, to relate to Jesus in the Eucharist with similar practicality.
“If we think about it, we are more fortunate than those who lived 2,000 years ago in contact with Jesus, because we have God really and substantially present with us always. It’s enough to visit the closest church! We have Jerusalem on our doorsteps. Jerusalem is every church! If only people visited tabernacles with the same devotion!”
He added, “You see queues in front of a soccer match or an actor or rock singer, but you don’t see a queue for the tabernacle where there is the Real Presence of God who lives among us.”
He tried to help his friends choose differently than the crowds. In perhaps his most famous words, which give witness to the depth that a life of prayer before Jesus in the Eucharist brought him, he said, “All of us are born as originals, but most of us die as photocopies.” We model ourselves on others in their mundane superficiality rather than unite ourselves to God, which not only makes us holy but fully human.
“God has written for each of us a unique and unrepeatable story,” Carlo insisted, “but He has left us free to write the end of the story.”
In the month of November, together with the whole Church, we ponder what we want the end of that story to be.
And Blessed Carlo, by his words, example and intercession, wants us join him on the Eucharistic highway that will lead to the indelible inscription of our name in the Book of Life.
Father Landry is Interim Executive Editor. firstname.lastname@example.org.