November 4, 2022

2022 Vocations Awareness Supplement

‘The pearl of Catholic life’: The Eucharist stands at the heart of the lives of archdiocesan priests

Father Juan Valdes, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis, elevates a chalice on Oct. 19 during a Mass in his parish’s church. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father Juan Valdes, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis, elevates a chalice on Oct. 19 during a Mass in his parish’s church. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

The Second Vatican Council, which began its first session 60 years ago last month, taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the life of the Church.

If this is true for the Church as a whole, it is also true for its priests who, by the grace of their ordination and the power of the Holy Spirit, make the Eucharist possible for the faithful day-in and day-out.

The Eucharist is at the heart of the vocation to the priesthood. So, as the Church in the U.S. takes part in a three-year National Eucharistic Revival, The Criterion spoke with archdiocesan priests across central and southern Indiana about how the Eucharist is central to their priestly lives and ministry.

‘It’s been the center of my life’

Father Juan Valdes, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis, was ordained a priest in 1991 for the Archdiocese of Guadalajara, Mexico.

He began ministry in the Church in central and southern Indiana in 2006 and became a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in 2019.

Father Valdes has experienced the variations of the way the Eucharist is celebrated and valued in Mexico and in the U.S.

He noted that in Mexico, “eucharistic adoration will involve a lot of singing, praising and reciting of psalms,” whereas Catholics in the U.S. ordinarily pray in silence before the Blessed Sacrament.

Father Valdes, however, knows in his own life and ministry as a priest that there is value in both approaches.

“Everything is needed,” he said. “There is richness in the difference. People pray in praising and singing, but you also need silence. You need to allow Jesus to teach you. You need to sit at the feet of the teacher and ask him to teach you to listen to him, to accompany him and be with him.”

Through his decades of parish ministry, Father Valdes has found fulfillment in his vocation in bringing his parishioners closer to Christ in the Eucharist, especially through the sacrament of penance.

“It was all about that relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist, living in the grace of God,” he said. “You serve the community. People come to you for confession. It helps them to receive the Eucharist and to be in union with God.

“Doing that ministry brings me joy, peace and satisfaction.”

Whether in Mexico or in the U.S., the Eucharist remains at the heart of Father Valdes’ life as a priest.

“It’s been the center of my life,” he said. “I try to pray every day before the Blessed Sacrament. It has helped me to persevere. It’s strengthened me in my vocation.”

Holy Communion for ‘holy communion’

Father Anthony Hollowell, pastor of St. Paul Parish in Tell City and St. Mark Parish in Perry County, has found in his six years of priestly ministry that praying a daily holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament is key to his being continually drawn close to Christ.

“You can’t be conformed to Christ without spending time with Christ and being with Christ,” he said. “And he comes in many ways. He comes in the people we serve. He comes in the duties and tasks that are asked of us. He comes in the liturgy.

“But he also comes in that privileged place of silence, which is what happens in that holy hour. As we become conformed to Christ and in our priestly formation, the holy hour for me allowed me to be conformed to Christ in the silence.”

This practice started for him when he was in priestly formation, and the daily schedule of the seminary made it easy to find an hour to spend in prayer. Finding time each day for an hour of prayer has been challenging since ordination, and especially in his last four years as a pastor of two parishes.

But Father Hollowell is so convinced of the importance of his holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament that he makes it a priority, no matter how busy his days of ministry become.

“It’s physically rejuvenating just to slow down, slow your heart rate, not run around, put the phone off to the side for a little,” he said. “Spiritually, it’s the only space in which the day that is about to occur or that has just occurred makes sense. It’s the only place where I learn how to interpret and be at peace with the kind of cacophony of unpredicted and confusing events that have happened. It’s where I learn to be ready early in the morning for what is about to happen.”

Father Hollowell also sees the hour he spends each day by himself before the Blessed Sacrament as vital to drawing him closer to the parishioners he serves.

He describes this as a “holy communion,” the same term used, of course, to describe the Eucharist.

“It’s a real tie, that communion that we share as sheep and shepherd, pastor and parishioners,” Father Hollowell said. “I believe it starts in the Eucharist and it culminates in our liturgical celebration. And even when we’re separate physically, that bond remains. It’s always deepening.

“The holy hour is time with holy Communion. And when we’re gathered together in the Sunday liturgy, I would say it’s almost holier communion. We’re all together. We’re all finding purpose in God.”

‘It’s the pearl of Catholic life’

When Msgr. Joseph Schaedel was a student at Holy Name of Jesus School in Beech Grove, a Franciscan sister serving there asked him and a friend to be altar servers during Benediction. They politely declined.

“She said, ‘If you only knew the graces that come from Benediction, you would come,’ ” he recalled. “We didn’t come, but I figured out later what she was talking about.”

That lesson especially hit home for him when he was a seminarian years later at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad. On many occasions, he saw the seminary’s rector, then-Benedictine Father Daniel Buechlein, the future shepherd of the archdiocese, spend time before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer.

That example led Msgr. Schaedel to make that practice his own while in seminary.

This special connection to the Eucharist had a historic effect on the archdiocese after he was ordained in 1982.

In 1989, he was serving as president of Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis when he and other priests ministering in the Indianapolis West Deanery approached then-Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara about starting a perpetual adoration chapel in a convent on Cardinal Ritter’s grounds.

The idea of such a chapel had been the brainchild of Sister Mary Ann Schuman, a consecrated virgin in the archdiocese at the time.

Archbishop O’Meara’s response to the request was memorable for Msgr. Schaedel.

“I’ll never forget it,” Msgr. Schaedel recalled. “He said, ‘How could I say no? It’d be like being against mothers and apple pie.’ ”

The first perpetual adoration chapel in the archdiocese was inaugurated on Sept. 14, 1989. There are now 14 such chapels spread across central and southern Indiana.

St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, which Msgr. Schaedel has led since 2011, inaugurated its adoration chapel 25 years ago on Sept. 28, 1997.

“It’s a source of edification,” he said. “When I go in there, there’s other people praying. If I get up in the middle of the night at the rectory and look out the window, I’ll see one or two cars over at the parish. And I know that somebody is praying in our adoration chapel.”

Although he could pray in lots of different places, Msgr. Schaedel said he always gravitates toward the adoration chapel at St. Luke.

“What better place to pray?” he asked. “Jesus is just as present here as he was in the manger at Bethlehem, as he was when he was preaching in Capernaum, or as he was at the Last Supper. He is really present here. It adds a focus to our prayer.”

And praying before the Blessed Sacrament is a reminder to Msgr. Schaedel of just how important the Eucharist is for him and for all the faithful.

“If we don’t have the Eucharist, we don’t have the Church,” he said. “The Church didn’t invent the Eucharist. It’s the treasure. It’s the gem. It’s the pearl of Catholic life.”

‘Blessed Sacrament is the heart of the Church’

If the Eucharist is the source and summit of the life of the Church, then it should guide and strengthen Catholics toward the goal of their life’s journey: spending eternity with God in heaven.

Father George Plaster has aided Catholics in the last steps of that journey in his 23 years of ministry as a hospital chaplain.

There have been countless times when Father Plaster has given Communion to the sick and dying in his chaplaincy ministry in Indianapolis, first at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital and for the past 10 years at Franciscan Health.

He recalled giving Communion to a woman named Mary, who was close to death.

“She was anointed, … received holy Communion and then I, along with her family, prayed the commendation for the dying prayers,” Father Plaster recalled. “When we said the last invocation, she looked at us, took her last breath, and expired.

“Everyone present would never forget this very sacred moment of Mary’s death. During this pastoral visit, Mary began mentally alert here on Earth and ended entering into eternal life.”

Most of the patients to whom he has given Communion later went home from the hospital. But their time there changed them spiritually, Father Plaster said. He’s seen it in their gratitude for receiving Communion there and in the spiritual healing they receive through it.

“In holy Communion, the Divine Physician, Jesus Christ, is received, offering healing in the recovery process,” Father Plaster said.

His journey to the priesthood began early in life and followed a path through the Eucharist.

“At a young age, I came to my earliest appreciation of the divine presence of Christ in holy Communion,” Father Plaster said. “This appreciation developed as I grew into adulthood, and I eventually felt called by God through the divine presence to the priesthood.”

The faith of the Catholics he’s served in hospitals and parishes have strengthened him in his ministry and love for the Eucharist.

“God and faithful Catholics have continually formed me into the priest I am today,” Father Plaster said. “Most people probably have no idea the impact they have in continually forming their priests.

“Those who sincerely believe in the holy Eucharist remain faithful Catholics for life. Despite ongoing changes in the world, in their lives, and in the Church, and despite scandals, their faith in the eternal truths and teachings have not been threatened. Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the heart of the Church and the heart of my life as a priest.”
 

(For information on a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit HearGodsCall.com.) †


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