This talk was given during the display of the exhibit “The Eucharistic Miracles of the World by Blessed Carlo Acutis” at Saint Mary-Saint Andrew Church, Ellenville, New York on May 3, 2023
Christian friendship is so important and is so often taken for granted. Mutual friends can become part of each other’s lives so much so that they shape each other irrevocably as iron sharpens iron or as a statue is carved out from marble slowly over time. The love of holy friendships can mold us and motivate us in such a way that they can forever change how we relate to God, to ourselves, and the world. When I look at my own life, there are relationships that I have had with teachers in high school, friends in college and seminary, and as a priest that has forever shaped me, formed me, and molded me. Without these relationships, I would not be the man, the priest, and the disciple of Jesus that I am today.
Someone who was a true friend not only to those who knew him but who led people to friendship with Jesus was Blessed Carlo Acutis, the first millennial saint. In all his friendships, Carlo became a light that drew others into the abiding love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Carlo sought Jesus in silence, in mystery, in beauty, and in poverty. All that mattered to him was loving Jesus in the Eucharist wherever he was in his life and sharing that same love with others.
Carlo Acutis was an only child, with busy parents, who lived in the city of Milan, Italy at the turn of the Twentieth Century. He was known for his love of soccer, for playing video games, for eating candy, for his sense of humor, and his generosity when he hung out with his friends. Yet even in these everyday desires and interactions, there was a humble, quiet, yet strong flame that animated his life and molded him and that was his love of Jesus in the Eucharist. This would affect him and motivate him even in the face of loneliness and personal difficulties. Carlo became very close with Rajesh, a Hindu man from India who was hired by his parents to care for him. Over time, the two formed a lasting friendship of trust, presence, and vulnerability that became mutually formative and strengthened. Carlo’s friendship with Rajesh would become a pillar of support for him throughout his life. Rajesh would become so moved by young Carlo’s example of faith that eventually he would become a baptized Catholic. (Millennial in Paradise, 27-32)
Carlo received his First Communion on June 16, 1998, at the convent church of Sant’Ambrogio ad Nemus in Milan. Something unique about this church was the inscription written on the Tabernacle, Omnia Christus est nobis – Christ is everything to us! He was seven years old when he received his first communion, but even then Carlo was driven by an immense desire to know Jesus and receive Him. From that point on, Carlo sought to be with Jesus every day in the Eucharist. The First Communion that he received he wanted to adhere to for the rest of his life. It would become a school of love for him, by which he learned to receive the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Eucharist and to share it with others. In going both to daily mass and Eucharistic Adoration, Jesus would enlarge the horizons of Carlo’s heart, helping him come out of his comfort zone, and relate to others. (Millennial in Paradise, 90-94) When once asked by his parish priest about what attracted him to go to churches daily, Carlo responded, “The Eucharist is my highway to heaven.” This was his secret to holiness, a secret that God made available to everyone no matter where they have been or who they are. (Millennial in Paradise, 95)
Carlo would say, “We have all been created with the potential to be saints. But God also made us free – free to do good as well as evil. I want to follow the example of John the Apostle, the beloved disciple. Each of us can become a beloved disciple of Jesus, as John was.” (Millennial in Paradise, 96 cf. 66-68) What does it mean to be a beloved disciple of Jesus like Saint John? Jesus drew John into friendship with him through three gifts of love. The first gift is Jesus letting John rest near his Sacred Heart at the Last Supper (cf Jn 13:23-25). The second gift is Jesus giving John to his mother at the foot of the cross (cf. Jn 19:25-27). Finally, to make John’s love perfect, Jesus gives him a share in his cross in his life (cf. Mt 16:24 & Mt 20:20-28). For Carlo, participating in mass would become an opportunity to be at the foot of the cross of Jesus with Our Lady and St. John. It was going to meet our Lord in his suffering and in his loneliness, where no one wanted to go, to stay with the one who loves us the most. Going to mass and adoration for Carlo meant going daily to the highway of heaven to bring to Jesus his own heart with his hopes and struggles so he can be healed, molded strengthened by the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Carlo Acutis saw the resting near Jesus’ heart at the Last Supper as a beautiful image of what every Christian life should be – a heart-to-heart relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist rooted in friendship and divine intimacy. This drove Carlo to always have a commitment to daily prayer before Our Lord in the Eucharist. Carlo knew the truth that if someone loved someone else as a friend, no matter who they may be, one would desire to be present with them no matter what they both may be feeling or facing. The mutual self-gift of the love of friendship also becomes a place where one can reveal their heart, the core of who they are before the one whom they love, in trust, reverence, and mutual support. This giving of self in the love of friendship also means embracing the cross – coming out of one’s comfort zone, denying oneself even to the point of laying down one’s life so that the friend whom one loves may get to heaven. This is why Jesus reminds us that “No greater love is there than this, to lay down one’s life for a friend.” (Jn 15:13) This is the love of friendship and faith that Carlo found in Jesus in the Eucharist. This love would become for him a place where he could dwell and that would strengthen him, mold him, and unite heaven to his life on earth. Carlo would also say, “When we are in communion with God, we are in communion with a love that is catching. As we are loved by Him, we can, in this way, love the world.”
“When we are in communion with God, we are in communion with a love that is catching. As we are loved by Him, we can, in this way, love the world.”
-Blessed Carlo Acutis
For Carlo, living in friendship with Jesus in the Eucharist would become the surest road to sanctity and heaven. This would remain true for him even when that road led him to places in his life that were light or dark, smooth or rugged. Carlo’s devotion to daily contact and reception of Jesus through the Eucharist at mass, in adoration, and silent prayer would become the highway in which the mysteries of the life of Jesus would become one with the mysteries of his own life. He would simply express this truth, “Under the sun, we end up getting a tan. Under the Eucharistic gaze of Jesus, we become Holy!” (Millennial in Paradise, 100) In his contact with the Eucharist, he sought to always abide in the love of Christ and love like Him in his relationship with others. He also once wrote, “Jesus is love, and the more we feed on Him, the more we increase our ability to love.” (Millennial in Paradise, 98)
Carlo’s life was a life of holy integrity in which he sought to love Jesus both in the Eucharist and in the poor and forgotten people that would line the streets of Milan. He sought to share the blessings of his own life with the poor. Whether it was giving Christmas games he didn’t want to poor children or giving a snack to a beggar, Carlo did not seek notoriety but desired to love with the heart of Jesus all those people that he would encounter in the present moment. He sought to be authentic, real, and approachable, but completely rooted in the love of Jesus. He did not want to be programmed or enslaved to ego or live solely for the fads of this world. Carlo once said, “All people are born as originals but many die as photocopies.” (Millennial in Paradise, 50) Carlo in his love for Jesus was a true contemplative in the world yet was not of it, like St. Francis of Assisi and St. John the Beloved Disciple before him. He would confirm these ideals not only in his written words but in his way of life. “Our goal must be the infinite and not the finite. The Infinity is our homeland. We are always expected in Heaven.”
Carlo wanted to share his love for Jesus in the Eucharist by making the mystery of His presence understandable and approachable to all people. He would use his knowledge of the faith and computer science to bring the truth of the mystery of Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist to the forefront of people’s understanding. He would do this through cataloging Eucharistic Miracles on the internet and displaying the historical documentation and scientific analysis on them for all the world to see. Carlo would show how these miracles are an extraordinary transformation that speaks to us of a much greater miracle that happens at each mass when the Eucharistic prayer is prayed by the priest- the miracle of transubstantiation. These Eucharistic Miracles put us in the true and mystical presence of the Flesh and Blood of Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross. Carlo would explain his drive and purpose behind making this exhibition:
Jerusalem is in each church. Why be discouraged? God is always with us, and He will never abandon us. But how can we understand this truth? There are so many people who are ready to get into interminable lines to attend a concert or a soccer game. Yet, I have a hard time seeing the same lines in our church entrances. The whole world could meet Jesus there. Let us think about it. This is serious! Jesus is physically present in our midst as He was with His disciples while He was alive. Let us not leave the one who comes to help and support us on our earthly path on his own. (Millennial in Paradise, 115)
Like Blessed Carlo Acutis, we pray for the grace to seek the presence of Jesus in the Jerusalem of the Tabernacle, where He desires us to freely approach Him in love. May the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist both at mass and at adoration be more than something that we do out of a mindless, robotic habit. May it be a place of refuge for us where in our love and friendship with Jesus we do the one thing necessary: be at His feet, receive His heart so that we can be sanctified by His love. May Jesus may truly become everything for us.
Bl. Carlo Acutis, pray for us.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.