Dennis Lambert grew up in a very Catholic household. His parents were active volunteers in their church, dressed their kids in their Sunday best to attend Mass every week, and always invited priests and nuns to celebrations in their home. In addition, Dennis attended Catholic schools in their Mundelein, Illinois community, where he found his faith growing under the influence of one of his high school teachers, Father Tom Drolet.
During his college years, however, Dennis developed some issues with the Catholic Church and found answers with Christians from Protestant denominations. As he recalled during a “Christopher Closeup” interview (podcast below), he values the welcome they gave him, as well as all that he learned about Scripture during his two years with them, but he couldn’t help but feel unsatisfied with some of their responses to his deep theological questions.
Dennis finally decided to schedule a meeting with someone at his old parish church in Mundelein to discuss his issues. That person turned out to be the new associate pastor, who was none other than Father Tom Drolet, Dennis’s old high school teacher. Just as he had done years earlier, Father Tom brought the Catholic faith alive for Dennis, prompting him to return to the fold, which brought great joy to his parents.
Dennis said, “They never got on me. There was never any finger wagging or, ‘You’ve got to come back.’ My dad did express that he felt it was an error that I was making, but pretty much you’ve got to discover this for yourself. And he never stopped praying for me…I actually remember the day I returned. I walked down the [church] aisle, there were my parents pretty close up front, and I slip into the pew behind them. I tap my dad on the shoulders, and I said, ‘Dad, I’m back.’ He turned to me and said, ‘I was just praying for you to return.’…It was an unbelievable moment. They are the picture of support and knowing how to handle things the right way.”
Dennis’s journey of faith since then includes times of both joy and struggle – and his decision to become a deacon. But long before that occurred, he had to contend with one of his biggest stumbling blocks regarding the Catholic Church’s teachings: the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. While he clearly saw the Eucharist as a way of remembering Jesus’s sacrifice, accepting that the consecrated host was the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ took a lot more time and effort. His extensive research led him to finally move beyond seeing the Eucharist strictly as a symbol, and he has now shared his personal story and findings in the book “For Real? Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist.”
Deacon Dennis uses a “relay race” metaphor to structure the book. It begins with the words of Jesus Himself. “Then, the relay baton is handed on to the apostles,” he continued. “What does Scripture have recorded that the apostles taught? Is it congruent with what Jesus taught? The baton then is handed off to the early Church fathers, those who led the Church right after the apostles. We have so much of their writings…which clearly say, ‘This is Christ’s body and blood.’ And then that baton finally, leg four, goes on to the Church of today. Is what Jesus taught, is what the apostles taught, is what the early Church fathers taught, is that what we teach today? In the famous words of the four prophets, the Talking Heads, ‘Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.'”
Some of the key points Deacon Dennis makes in the book stem from looking at Scriptural translations from the original Greek and the context in which they were used. This is true in the case of John 6, where Jesus refers to Himself as “the bread of life,” adding, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.” The word Jesus uses for “eat,” when referring to eating His flesh, is “trogon,” which means to “gnaw.” This would be an odd choice if He were speaking metaphorically, notes Deacon Dennis.
And when Jesus gives us the Lord’s prayer, specifically the line “Give us this day our daily bread,” the original translation of “daily” in this context was “supersubstantial,” an indication that this was something unique and divine.
There’s also Jesus saying at the Last Supper to eat the bread and drink the wine “in remembrance of Me.” Deacon Dennis explains, “If you want to dig into anything within the New Testament, you’ve got to look at the Old, and that’s what Dr. Brant Pitre teaches. In his book on the Jewish roots of the Eucharist, he talks about the fact that to a 1st Century Jew, to remember something was to make it present again…You’re not just looking at the past. You’re making those moments present again…That’s exactly what we do every Sunday. ‘Do this in remembrance of me,’ doesn’t mean remember, like I remember what Jesus did at the last Supper. No, it means to make present again.”
Though Deacon Dennis notes that God is truly present everywhere – in the beauty of a sunrise, for instance – He exists in a special way in the Eucharist as a conveyor of grace. “Grace is God’s favor,” says Deacon Dennis, summing up the catechism. “The undeserved help we receive, to hear and to respond to His call, to become adopted sons, partakers in the divine nature and eternal life.”
Deacon Dennis credits God’s grace with getting him through the most challenging time of his life. He said, “Everyone will hit dark valleys in their life. No one’s immune. My wife and I certainly hit one of those, years ago, when my son walked through the pains of addiction. We didn’t know if he would make it out. He’s doing extremely well [now], beyond expectations. I don’t see him turning back. But during that time, I needed God’s grace. I needed to realize my need for Him, my dependency on Him, and the grace. And again, it was such a big outpouring. But even in the day to day – going to daily Mass as much as I can, adoration and those things – it keeps you grounded and keeps that desire to continue to follow Him burning.”
That desire to follow God is what eventually led Deacon Dennis to pursue the diaconate. He recalled, “I felt my whole life that God was calling me to some things, and God is calling everyone to something. Ultimately, just a deeper relationship with Him, that is what He’s calling us all to. But I always felt that there was something that He wanted me to do. I go back to what I just spoke about my son. God often uses painful times in our lives to speak to us. I came to the realization that at that time, my wife and I had seemingly lived such a charmed life. Nothing had seemed to go wrong. As such, I questioned my need for God, my dependency on Him. It took that period to bring me to my knees to say, ‘God, I’m yours. I am nothing without you. I need you. And this time I’m not just saying words. I’m meaning them.’
“It was at that time,” concluded Deacon Dennis, “that the thought entered into my head, ‘What about becoming a deacon?’ I’m not going to say God suddenly spoke to me or whatever, but I began to discern…I checked it out, went to the first meeting about it, entered into the period of discernment, and here I am. So, God does use these dark valleys in our lives, sometimes, for the better. It snapped me out of what I thought was me living a great, perfect Catholic life to think, ‘No, I’ve got so much room. I need you Lord. I need you.'”
(To listen to my full interview with Deacon Dennis Lambert, click on the podcast link):