May 7, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

The Eucharist is our greatest prayer of thanksgiving

Early May marks ordination anniversaries for many of our priests. My classmates and I observed our 46th anniversary on May 3.

Exactly half of my years as a priest have been celebrated as a bishop. I thank God for my ministry and recall that on May 3, 1964, becoming a bishop was nowhere on my horizon. Being a priest is an awesome blessing that has not gotten old with the passage of time.

We priests are often asked what we like most about serving as a priest. Many answer, as I do, that it is the celebration of the sacraments—the Eucharist in particular.

In 1964, we would have said celebrating the Mass. The Second Vatican Council revived the title Eucharist, which translated from the Greek means thanksgiving. The Eucharist is our greatest prayer of thanksgiving.

Pope John Paul II declared the year 2005 as the Year of the Eucharist. It is good to recall his reasons for doing so.

First of all, he wanted us to truly treasure the incomparable gift that Jesus gave us before he died for us.

Secondly, he wanted to emphasize the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of our Christian faith.

Thirdly, he wanted us to re-focus our reverence and regard for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, not only at Mass, but also in the tabernacles of our churches.

Finally, he wanted to draw our attention to the importance of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

When we celebrate the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper which Jesus celebrated at the beginning of his Passion becomes present. Through the Eucharist, we have the Crucified and Resurrected Jesus with us on our pilgrimage through the world. Jesus asks only one thing of us: the “amen” of our living faith.

Pope John Paul said that the Eucharist must be preceded by prayer. And from it, prayer emerges to infuse our every apostolic work. Eucharist and evangelization, Eucharist and proclaiming the Gospel, are interrelated.

In his letter for the Year of the Eucharist, the Holy Father referred to the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They received the first catechesis on the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Eucharist. After the death of Jesus, they were discouraged and giving up—they were returning home to their old ways.

They met a stranger who walked with them—we know it was Jesus—and he patiently led them in a reflection on the Word of God which helped them understand the “events of the day.”

Their hearts were on fire. A chance meeting of the stranger, an invitation for the stranger to eat supper with them and, in the breaking of the bread, they recognized it was Jesus who was with them. And that made all the difference.

The two disciples turned around and went back to Jerusalem to proclaim what they had heard and seen. They had just received the first teaching about the meaning of the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Eucharist. And they went back to evangelize. They did so in faith. It was a moment of recognition in the breaking of the Bread.

Two important teachings about the Eucharist can be detected in the Emmaus story. Pope John Paul focused on the words “Remain with us.”

In the Real Presence of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament remains with us in our tabernacles. When we find ourselves discouraged like the disciples who wanted to give up, we can go to our nearest parish churches to spend time with Jesus, who remains with us. There we can thank God for the gift of our faith and the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist.

We inherited our Catholic faith, and with it the Eucharist, in humble beginnings on the banks of the Wabash River here in Indiana. We share a communion that is not just in the now of 2010. Our faith reaches back to our past—back to Christ and the apostolic age.

From there, our Catholic heritage came to us in Indiana by way of Europe gifted by courageous pioneers—our immigrant ancestors in the faith. We were especially blessed by the saintly leadership of our first bishop, the Servant of God Simon Bruté, and by St. Theodora Guérin, the holy foundress of the Sisters of Providence both from the banks of the Wabash River. These holy pioneers had a profound devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. And both were literally evangelists.

Our call to holiness today is no less important than it was on the banks of the Wabash River in 1834. Our humble beginnings are a striking reminder that God’s grace provides for our needs.

Today we are pointed to the treasure of the same Eucharist and the same shared mission that comes to us through the ages. †

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