Real Presence

Some people avoid talking politics and religion, but not my feisty friend



I visited her right after church on Christmas Sunday. It was still morning when I knocked on her door for my weekly visit. Della ushered me in. She had the tea cups already set out, alongside a plate of her favorite pastry. She indicated I should sit, as she reached for the hot water, filled our cups, and sat down to join me.

Della was a “New Age” minister at one point and a successful playwright in her long life. Now she lived in a retirement apartment, disabled with arthritic shoulders. People avoid talking politics, religion, or sex, but not this feisty lady. She dove in whenever she could.

She knew I was a practicing Catholic and I always took Communion at Sunday Mass.

“Merry Christmas to you. So how was church?”

“We were off-key in the choir today, and the sermon was too academic for my taste.”

“I suppose you took Communion.”

“Of course…couldn’t live without it,” I said, stirring two drops of Stevia in my tea.

“After all our debates, still believing that wafer holds The Real Presence of Christ?”

“Not just contains it, as Lutherans claim, but becomes the actual body and blood of Christ. We hold a consecrated Eucharist is God in the flesh. Big difference.”

“I can’t believe a smart man like you still believes in that dumb theological hocus pocus. It’s like believing in Santa Claus after becoming an adult,” she said, stirring her tea. She wore that impish grin, smug in her taunting challenge to “false religion.” “Celebrate Christmas but don’t make a fetish of cocoa and cookies as if it were Santa.”

“So you’re saying the Church makes a false idol of its consecrated bread and wine by claiming it to be Christ?” I asked.

“Couldn’t have said it better,” she said, eating a portion of her pastry.

I also took and ate a piece, nodding with approval. “Very tasty.”

“My mother’s recipe. When we were kids, every Christmas she’d whip up a batch.”

“You relive your mother and feel her spirit with every batch you cook up and eat?”

“Clever boy, saying our pastry and tea is all about my reliving Mother—”

“And you’re sharing that yummy feeling of your mother in communion with me.”

“Come on, you aren’t serious? You’re comparing my pastry ritual with the Eucharist?”

“Why not? Your nourishing pastry isn’t just a symbol or reminder of her…not some form of ancestor worship. It’s you becoming your mother as you reenact her sacrifice to cook for others. You’ve become your mother for me, and it’s a delightful experience.”

“Let me guess. When you take Holy Communion, you become another Christ?”

“I leave church encouraged to live as Christ would live in the world, as best I can.”

“You truly believe this, don’t you?” she asked, lifting another sweet pastry.

“Let me tell you a true story. I happened to be visiting my mother’s gravesite with a cemetery keeper as my guide, for the place was a confusing network of paths and roads. As we stood next to my parents’ gravestone, he took advantage of a sales opportunity and asked me, “Would you like to reserve the plot next to your parents?”

Remembering what Christ promised, Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life (John 6:54), I turned to him and said in a serious tone, “True Christians never die.”

He looked a bit shocked, then broke into a hearty laugh, saying, “Right you are!”

Della stopped her chewing. “Hey, you’d never get that past me without a debate.”

Years later we remain friends, but I can’t visit her nursing home because of Covid-19.


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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