Almost every year, I take part in the annual international pilgrimage to Lourdes sponsored by the Order of Malta and, God willing, this year will be no exception. Each spring, Knights and Dames of Malta from many different countries converge on Lourdes, bringing with them malades, people of all ages with serious illnesses. Members of the Order transport them to Mary's grotto to pray for strength, hope, and, if God wills it, a cure. God's grace is all around.
There are many documented physical cures but also abundant spiritual healing, as through Mary's prayers, pilgrims open their hearts to the Lord Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament and in the Sacrament of Penance.
Every Lourdes pilgrimage is memorable, but one in particular from the early 1990's vividly lingers in my heart. As priest-secretary, I accompanied Cardinal Hickey, the former Archbishop of Washington, to Lourdes. A few days after our arrival in Lourdes, Cardinal Hickey was asked to preside at Eucharistic devotions. Because the weather in Lourdes that day was exceptionally chilly and rainy, the pilgrims were crowded in the large underground church. Cardinal Hickey carried the monstrance containing the Body of Christ through that throng of pilgrims and, as his assistant, I was privileged to walk at his side.
Etched in my memory are the faces of the malades gazing with faith and love at the Blessed Sacrament. Indeed, in my mind's eye, I can still see the features of individual faces I saw that day. They hailed from many countries and spoke many languages. But at that moment, they spoke a single language of faith, hope, and Eucharistic amazement. They looked upon the Lord, and His heart spoke to theirs.
Last October, Pope John Paul II opened the Year of the Eucharist. It is a loving invitation from our Holy Father to focus anew on the gift and mystery of the Eucharist. This is not a request to reflect on a thing. It is an urgent invitation to reflect on a Person - the Person of Jesus Christ who is personally and powerfully present in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the Blessed Sacrament reserved. Our Holy Father is urging us - from the depth of his pastoral love - to contemplate the face of Jesus Christ who gives Himself to us in the Eucharist and then to be amazed and overjoyed at the abiding Presence of Christ in our lives. As Pope John Paul II has written, "The Year of the Eucharist has its source in the amazement with which the Church contemplates this great Mystery. It is amazement which I myself constantly experience . . ." (Mane Nobiscum, 29). Clearly, Pope John Paul II wants each one of us to share in that same amazement - a foretaste of the indescribable amazement all of us hope to experience for all eternity as with the saints we behold the Triune God face to face!
Allow me to make a suggestion. The Season of Lent is upon us. It will begin in just a few days, on Ash Wednesday, February 9. Now is the time for you and me to consider how we will make good use of this season of conversion and grace.
I believe with all my heart and soul that you and I should make as our goal this Lent the rekindling of Eucharistic amazement - like the amazement inscribed on the hearts and faces of those malades I saw in Lourdes. If, during these 40 days, we truly encounter Jesus in the Eucharist with wonder and awe, I can guarantee we will be prepared as never before to celebrate glory of the Resurrection!
What a wonderful goal! But how can it happen? Here are some important pointers:
Check your priorities. What is the goal of your life? When it's all over, what are you hoping for? The truth is that God has a goal for our lives: intimacy with Himself, intimacy with the Trinity. Through the Eucharist, we, as individuals and a community, are closely joined in the power of the Holy Spirit to Christ, who leads us to the Father. Can anything be better for us and more important? In that light, ask yourself: Am I going to Mass each Sunday? If not, why not? In an age when many people have risked imprisonment and death to access the Eucharist, what excuse do I have for staying away? In Fairfield County, Mass could not be more accessible on the weekends and weekdays! (Mass schedules for all 87 parishes can also be found on the diocesan website, www.bridgeportdiocese.com) Just a few days ago, the pope said this: "Participation in Sunday Mass is not only an important obligation, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes quite clear (no. 1389), but, above all, a profound need of each individual faithful. It is not possible to experience faith without participating regularly in Sunday Mass: the sacrifice of redemption, the shared banquet of the Word of God and of the Bread of the Eucharist, heart of the Christian life."
Refresh your understanding of the Eucharist. If something is important, we want to know all about it. Nothing is more important than God's gift of self in Christ in the Eucharist. All that God revealed about Himself in the course of history and all that God did to save us in Christ come alive every time the Mass is offered. As Catholics we need to understand what the Church believes and teaches about the Mass. May I suggest that you read numbers 1322-1419 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church or a pamphlet published by the U.S. Bishops called "The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist" (for a copy in English or Spanish, visit www.usccb.org/dpp/realpresence.htm, or call 800-235-8722).
Prayerfully meditate on the depth, power, and beauty of the Eucharist. Most of the time we speak of "going to Mass." What we often fail to remember is that in the Eucharist, Jesus comes to us. The Eucharist is Jesus' gift of self to us as individuals and as a community of faith gathered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus Himself speaks to us when the Scriptures are proclaimed. His sacrifice of love - His saving death and resurrection - are truly present as the bread and wine are offered and become His Body and Blood, given to us as our spiritual nourishment.
Spend time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. According to M. Scott Peck, "the principal form that the work of love takes is attention." We cannot really experience loving amazement over Jesus' personal presence in the Blessed Sacrament unless we pay attention to the gift and mystery of the Eucharist. Throughout the diocese there are many opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration. A schedule is published on page 9, and is maintained on www.bridgeportdiocese.com. During Lent, get in the habit of adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament reserved.
Give your children a good example. In Catholic schools and religious education programs, young people are taught the truth about the Eucharist and our solemn obligation to participate in it. But if Mom and Dad stay away from Mass, they cannot expect their children to take their religious formation seriously; they cannot expect them to know, love, and follow Jesus Christ who is truly present in the Eucharist! We rightfully show our children many things for their own good - but all of them are of far less value than Christ's gift of self.
In his letter announcing the Year of the Eucharist, the Holy Father speaks of a beautiful Russian icon by Rublev. It depicts the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together with the Eucharist at the heart of the divine life they share. That is as it should be. The Eucharist is the principal way the Triune God continues to give Himself to us. The Eucharist is at the heart of God's life. The Eucharist is the heart of the Church's life. Can it be any different for us?
This column is credited to Fairfield County Catholic monthly magazine.
back to top | home