We were disturbed by a recent Pew poll showing that a majority of Catholics deny the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. But we ought not be surprised.

Archbishop Alexander Sample rightly calls this a failure of catechesis and liturgy. Within that, it’s also a problem of the relationship between faith and science. Catholics of good will — but lacking good formation — find it hard to accept the central mystery of our faith because to them it seems unscientific.

The naysayers mistakenly think faith and science are at odds. That has never been so. Ask the priest-scientists at the Vatican Observatory, for centuries one of the great astronomical enterprises.

On top of that persistent misperception, the Real Presence deniers are using old science. They are thinking of grade school atomic theory, in which we imagine matter is made of little billiard balls. Scientists now know that matter is more about energy, movement and vibrations that are hard to define, grasp or nail down. Matter is less static than we imagined. Scientists cannot even say for certain where particles are at a given moment; it’s all about constant change and probability. That’s even before we discuss dark matter.

The point is, the more scientists discover about the universe — big and small — the less confident we can be about what is where and what is what. 

Jesus is present in Scripture, in the person of our priests and in the beautiful, rambunctious, yearning assembly. But why would the Creator, who seems to want to be as close to us as possible, stop there? 

Our belief in the Real Presence relies on the words of the Lord, “This is my body, this is my blood.” This is God speaking and inviting us into relationship and so we must take it most seriously.

And there is no reason to doubt what Jesus said. If, via the Big Bang (posited by a Catholic priest) God could usher a universe into being, and via evolution allow us as creatures to advance and improve continually, and via molecular structure allow matter to exist even though particles are impossible to pinpoint — then is it really hard to believe that the substance of bread and wine can be replaced by the substance of the divine force that makes everything happen in the first place?

Those who would deny the Real Presence have a great burden of proof.