September 17, 2021

Evangelization & Catechesis Supplement

Parish, campus ministry leaders experience Eucharist as the source and summit of the faith

Father Jerry Byrd, second from right, leads Benediction during a eucharistic procession on June 3 at St. Joseph Parish in Jennings County, which he serves as pastor. Assisting him are Father Jeffrey Dufresne, left, and Father James Brockmeier. (Submitted photo)

Father Jerry Byrd, second from right, leads Benediction during a eucharistic procession on June 3 at St. Joseph Parish in Jennings County, which he serves as pastor. Assisting him are Father Jeffrey Dufresne, left, and Father James Brockmeier. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

The Eucharist is at the heart of the Catholic faith. It’s a reality that was highlighted at the Second Vatican Council when the bishops there taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (“Lumen Gentium” #11).

This central sacramental teaching of the Church has great personal meaning for Father Jerry Byrd, pastor of St. Mary Parish in North Vernon, and St. Ann and St. Joseph parishes, both in Jennings County.

“If it wasn’t for the Eucharist, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

That conviction is firmly founded on an experience he had in 1997 when Father Byrd was a 16-year-old Baptist attending his first Mass. It was at St. John the Baptist Church in Harrison, Ohio, and he was there with a friend who was preparing to be received into the Church.

“I sat far away from the altar,” Father Byrd recalled. “We were up in the balcony in the back row. I can close my eyes and picture every bit of it like I was there right now.

“The priest said the words of consecration and elevated the host. There was no doubt for a second that that was the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus.”

That encounter that Father Byrd had with Christ in the Eucharist at 16 led him to be received into the full communion of the Church a year later. He eventually discerned a call to the priesthood and was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 2012.

“To me, the Eucharist is everything,” Father Byrd said. “I think that’s what the council fathers were getting to in reminding us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith.”

Other parish and campus ministry leaders in central and southern Indiana share this great love and draw to the Eucharist and seek to share it with those whom they serve.

‘I don’t know why God is so good to me’

Renee Jackson grew up in St. Nicholas Parish in Ripley County. As a student in its school, the seeds of her love of the Eucharist were planted when she attended Mass daily with her fellow students.

She still tries to attend Mass daily as director of religious education at St. Nicholas and at St. Anthony Parish in nearby Morris.

Receiving Communion at those daily Masses is not routine for her.

“I recall that [Christ] has given his life for me and nourishes me,” Jackson said. “It’s a very personal experience for me.

“I don’t know why God is so good to me. I don’t know why he allows me to experience what I experience in the Eucharist.”

That deep love for Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is something that she sees in the children that she prepares for their first Communion when they get to their big day.

“It’s just awesome,” Jackson said. “They’re so excited. They’re anticipating it. I wish we could all be like that every single time. It’s precious.”

The presence of a perpetual adoration chapel at St. Nicholas since 2004 has helped Jackson keep the Eucharist at the center of her life of faith.

“My parents had the very first hour that it was open, on Ash Wednesday of 2004,” she said. “It’s reassuring when I walk past there to my office to know someone’s in there praying, worshipping and spending time with the Lord.”

For a while, her office was turned into a kind of adoration chapel. When churches were closed in the spring of 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Father Shaun Whittington, St. Nicholas’ pastor, placed a tabernacle by a window in Jackson’s office facing a parish parking lot.

“People would stay in their cars and adore,” she said.

While the Eucharist has been the summit of the life of St. Nicholas Parish for a long time, Jackson also sees it as a great source of the ministry of the relatively small faith community of 447 households.

“For the size of our parish, we have a huge amount of ministries,” she said. “I think it comes from the life that they’ve gained from the Eucharist. That’s the source.”

‘One-on-one time with our Lord’

Jared Wuerzburger has a similar personal connection to the Eucharist as the source and summit of his faith—a connection he tries to nurture in the students of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College where he serves as campus minister and an associate professor of information technology.

That connection was deepened for him during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020 when he was serving as the director of religious education at St. Patrick and St. Margaret Mary parishes, both in Terre Haute.

The parishes’ pastor at the time, Father Daniel Bedel, would livestream Mass daily since churches were closed and the public celebration of the sacraments was suspended.

Wuerzburger, who also oversaw technology for the parishes, was present at the Masses to operate a camera and make sure the livestream worked.

“It’s easy for everyone to go through the motions at Mass,” he said. “But when it’s just you and the priest there, you have to be the congregation. You are the people of God. You have to step up to the plate, respond with the responses. There’s no taking a back seat.

“The encounter with Christ was deeply personal. It was literally one-on-one.”

That experience also led him to examine his faith and the role the Eucharist played in it.

“It challenged me,” Wuerzburger recalled. “My ministry can only be effective if Christ is the source of my life. I can’t think of a more holistic way of doing that than through the Eucharist.”

Now he has the joy of leading college students to a similar one-on-one encounter with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Many of them travel from their college campus west of Terre Haute to St. Patrick’s perpetual adoration chapel.

A monthly night of Mass, adoration, praise and worship and Benediction is starting this fall on campus.

“The students are drawn to the Eucharist,” Wuerzburger said. “They see it as one-on-one time with our Lord and Savior. They don’t see it as abstract. They see it as a personal invitation, a personal communion in every sense of the word.”

This relationship of prayer with Christ that the students are entering into in the summit of the Christian life flows forth from that source in their daily life, according to Wuerzburger.

“The people that I see that are most confident in their God-given gifts and in the mission that Christ is setting out for them in their lives are the people who are spending time in prayer and in adoration of our Blessed Lord,” he said.

‘Eternal implications’

Dominican Father Patrick Hyde and the young adults and other Dominican priests who minister at St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington know this from their daily experience.

These people start their day Monday through Friday with a holy hour. Two Masses are celebrated daily in addition to more on Saturday evenings and Sundays. And there are other times of eucharistic adoration at St. Paul each week.

“We want to make sure that that our ministry radiates from the love that we get from Christ that is especially present in the Blessed Sacrament,” said Father Patrick, pastor of St. Paul. “We want to make sure that there’s ample opportunity every day for people to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist, either in adoration or in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.”

Father Patrick noted that the Mass by itself “isn’t always a great evangelizing tool” for many college students who are either away from the Catholic faith or have little faith at all. That’s because the rituals that make up the Mass might be foreign to them.

But what Christ is doing through the Eucharist is something that answers the deep desires of all these young adults.

“God in the Eucharist is not only the answer to all of your problems, but he literally wants to give himself and be wholly united to you,” Father Patrick said. “And his way of doing that is so humble that you can receive him and be raised up.”

Father Patrick has found that this reality is attractive to the young adults he meets at Indiana University.

“When we can get people to really understand the fullness of the Eucharist and that the Church possesses the ability to make Jesus present in the Eucharist, that opens them up to the fullness of the Church,” he said. “They’re attracted to the Eucharist. They understand that value.”

Father Patrick has also seen how the Christian life flows from the source found in the Eucharist through young adults when they encounter Christ there.

“Any time we put the Eucharist at the center of our lives, all of a sudden everything I do has eternal implications, because it affects my participation in the Eucharist,” he said. “All of a sudden, that poor person by the side of the street who’s asking for food is no longer an inconvenience but is Jesus.

“I’ve encountered Jesus [in the Eucharist] and now I can see him in every aspect of the world, not just the ones that are comfortable or convenient for me, that fit into my pre-conceived ideologies and notions.” †


Read more from our Evangelization & Catechesis Supplement

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!