“Catholics believe in the Real Presence, how would you explain this to someone who believed it was only a symbol? Use Scripture and historical evidence to support your answer.”
This is one of the questions I asked my grade nine class on their final exam this June and I was so impressed with their answers. Some of the other grade nine religion teachers thought that this question was too hard or they didn’t cover it in detail in class, and didn’t want to include it, but I felt that this was important to know, so I asked it anyway.
Teenagers are naturally curious and I believe they want to know their faith on a deeper level. Sure, it’s great if a student believes in the Real Presence without question, but that doesn’t mean you should not be prepared to answer the “why” if called upon. Judging by their answers it would appear that knowing why Catholics teach the Real Presence, truly helped them to believe more fully in this mystery. Some students even said specifically, in their answer, that it helped strengthen their belief.
We covered this topic in depth and they had lots of information to pull for their answer. For the most part every student answered it extremely well and they sounded so educated and logical! It was so much more fun to mark this answer than the Jesus loves me, Jesus loves everyone, standard go to answer when they don’t know the answer. I even had one student’s answer resemble a book, complete with chapters (unfortunately she did not get to finish in the 2 hour time period, but I got her 10 page rough copy she had typed the night before!)
Although one can go into great depth on this topic, I tried to keep it at a level they would understand. For instance we didn’t cover any f the writings from the Church Father’s on this topic or any of the Saints. We instead focused on Scripture and some historical evidence, so not to overwhelm them with academia! . I wanted them to really investigate, not whether the Real Presence could be proven scientifically, but rather whether this is really what Jesus taught and why don’t all Christians believe it.
This was the target group I wanted the students to focus on, other Christians who believed it is only a symbol. The Scriptural evidence most students drew upon was from the Gospel of John, chapter 6, where Jesus repeats this is My Body this is My Blood three times. Many of his disciples thought that is was too difficult to understand and left, if Jesus was speaking metaphorically why didn’t He call them back? If He wasn’t meant to be taken literally why didn’t He clear it up for everyone? A couple students even mentioned how Jesus made his language more strong when he repeated Himself, changing “chew” to “gnaw” which really blew me away! The historical information many of them used came from Roman historians who wrote about Christians being cannibals and was one of the accusations the Romans made against them. The Romans understood that the Christians ate the body and blood of their Saviour and many were persecuted for this belief. This demonstrated that the early Church believed in the Real Presence. A simple answer but one that can more easily be remembered and I hope that they will remember it in the future.
I was worried at first that I was asking too much of them, but they answered and passed with flying colors. I definitely hope to keep asking these tough questions and to challenge them to take their faith to new heights.