Tarcisius was a twelve-year-old boy who lived in the third century, at a time when pagan Rome fiercely persecuted Christiains.
Each day, from a secret meeting place in the catacombs where Christians gathered for Mass, a deacon would be sent to the prisons to carry the Eucharist to Christians condemned to die. At one point, there was no deacon to send and so Tarcisius, an acolyte, was sent carrying the sacred consecrated hosts to those in prison.
On the way, he was stopped by boys his own age who were not Christians but knew him as a playmate. He was asked to join their games, but this time he refused, and the crowd of boys noticed that he was carrying something. Somehow, he was recognized as a Christian. The small gang of boys, anxious to view the pouch containing the sacred hosts which Tarcisius was trying to hide, became a mob and beat up the poor boy in their fury. Despite being bombarded with severe blows, Tarcisius guarded the pouch with every ounce of strength he had, fearing the sacrilege that would result if the pagans were successful. It is believed that a Roman soldier, who happened to be a Christian, drove off the mob and rescued the young acolyte. The mangled body of Tarcisius was carried back to the catacombs, but the boy died on the way from his injuries.
Today, we find ourselves in the midst of a major persecution of the Eucharist – worse than the time of Tarcisius. The sacrilegious blows to the Eucharist do not come from a gang of pagan boys like in the story of Tarcisius. Instead, more painfully, they come from within the Church itself – from priests, bishops and cardinals who are preaching and promoting heretical ideas and practices against the Eucharist.
A powerful cadre of liberal bishops and cardinals are currently behind a major push to redefine the Church’s teachings and practice regarding the Eucharist. They are pushing for the Church to allow public, unrepentant sinners to receive the Eucharist – adulterers (divorced and remarried Catholics) and even non-Catholics. All this boils down to one thing: sacrilegious reception of the Eucharist by public sinners.
The good news is that there are many courageous priests, bishops and cardinals who have publicly taken the challenge of defending the Eucharist and the Catholic Faith. In fact, thirteen prominent cardinals have even taken the unprecedented step of writing a letter to Pope Francis, warning him of a “collapse of the Church” if the liberal forces in the Church get their way in the Synod.
Just like the thirteen cardinals, we are called upon today to defend the Eucharist from these attacks. How are we to respond? Will we turn a blind eye? Will we run away scared – afraid to challenge those powerful liberal forces from the very top of the Church? Or will we defend the Eucharist with our very lives, as Tarcisius did? May we follow the example of this 12-year-old boy who, without the benefit of so many years of theological study, knew the infinite value of the Eucharist and defended it with his very life.