Third. At Manresa also, where he remained almost a year, after he began to feel God’s consolations and saw the fruit produced in the souls with whom he dealt, he gave up those outward extremes he formerly adopted, and trimmed his nails and hair. One day, in this town, when he was hearing Mass in the church of the monastery already mentioned, during the elevation he saw with the inner eyes of the soul something like white rays that came from above. Although he cannot explain this after a long time, yet what he clearly saw with his understanding was how Jesus Christ our Lord is present in that most holy sacrament.
Here we find Saint Ignatius talking about what is perhaps the most inexplicable part of our faith, but also the most important. God’s Incarnation as the man Jesus is the central event of human history (an importance suggested by the fact that our calendar is measured by it). And we believe that it didn’t happen simply once and for all time, but that in an equally real but different way, Jesus becomes flesh and blood again and again every time we celebrate Eucharist. This is what Saint Ignatius came to understand, though he admits he cannot even years later explain it. This is also what Catholic Christians throughout history have also come to understand. Jesus himself is the bread and wine that we share at Mass. We believe it; indeed, we live it, even though we cannot fully explain it. By means of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, we encounter Christ in a real and tangible way, as we do the most ordinary of things, eat.
I also find it striking that this revelation on Saint Ignatius’ part comes after a change in his perspective. He gives up some of his extreme behaviors, trimming his nails and hair. And why does he do so? He feels God’s consolation, especially in the fruit produced in those people that he has been ministering to. His deeper understanding of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist comes, appropriately, after realizing the consolation of being himself the presence of Christ in the lives of others. That’s real presence too!