Like many converts, Scott Adler takes his Catholic faith seriously.
He attends a weekly Gospel reflection with friends and organizes study circles on papal encyclicals in his home. At work, he puts into practice what he learns about his faith. At 39, married, with three children, Scott considers his faith the most important reality in his life.
Also like many converts, Scott has been surprised to find that most cradle Catholics are not quite so enthusiastic about their faith. Indifference, apathy and a dry sense of duty characterize the attitude of many lifelong Catholics. What do converts like Scott have that many cradle Catholics lack?
I asked Scott what keeps him interested and engaged in his faith. He responded without hesitating: “the Eucharist.” As a convert myself to the Catholic faith, I know exactly what he means. Scott is not just referring to a theoretical belief in the Real Presence, which most Catholics have, but a lifestyle imbued with a eucharistic spirituality — a dimension of our faith which all Catholics should renew each Holy Thursday, anniversary of Christ's institution of the Eucharist.
Some say, “Being Catholic means going to Mass on Sunday.” Others have replied, “It means keeping the rules of God and the Church.” Few I've talked to have said that being a Catholic means living a life of faith, hope and charity centered on Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. As a priest and a convert, I believe it is precisely this “eucharistic lifestyle” that can turn a passive Catholic into an active apostle.
And what does a eucharistic lifestyle consist of?
It all begins by realizing that our faith is more than a doctrine to be believed or an ethical code of conduct to be lived; it is, above all, a person — Jesus Christ. When our faith becomes a response to the person of Jesus Christ, then belief and practice become personal convictions of truth and not just mere obligations. To respond to Christ's love for us, we need to know him and experience him in our daily life. Where may the crucified and risen Lord be encountered as a living person, not just as an idea?
Primarily in the eucharistic celebration of the Holy Mass.
Encountering Christ in the eucharistic celebration means more than not missing Mass; it means living the Mass. The difference between passively attending Mass and actively living it is the difference between hearing about Christ and actually getting to know him.
How can a Catholic live the Mass? I suggest the following:
For starters, do your best to approach the eucharistic celebration with the conviction that it is the focal point of your entire life, the summit to which every activity of your life as a Christian is directed. Live the opening rite of the Mass acknowledging your limitations and sins before God and asking for the graces to be a more authentic Christian. Then prepare yourself with faith to listen to the Liturgy of the Word.
This is the moment when Christ speaks to our hearts through Sacred Scripture. Afterwards, during the presentation of the gifts of bread and wine, place all your sacrifices and daily efforts on the priest's paten for Christ to transform them into graces of personal holiness. This prepares us for the sacred moment of the consecration. Live the consecration with sentiments of adoration, thanksgiving and gratitude. Try to make the sentiments of Christ, who is immolating himself for our salvation, your own.
After the consecration, prepare yourself to receive the Body of Christ in an attitude of faith, charity, humility and compunction of heart. Be aware of the love Our Lord offers you in himself. Holy Communion is the moment to say Yes to Christ's sacrifice and to unite our own Yes to his. When receiving the Eucharist, nothing in our life should be in disagreement with the life of Christ. Fervent thanksgiving should follow Communion. This is a very personal moment to speak with Christ, to share with him your needs, your hopes, your sorrows and your joys. Take time to savor this part of the Mass.
In the concluding rite, Christ gives us his blessing to go out and live — at home, at work and with friends — what we have received in the Eucharist by evangelizing others. But this raises yet another question for many Catholics: What do we receive in the Eucharist that equips us to bring Christ to others?
Faith is the first gift of the Eucharist. To walk in life by faith means to believe, to trust and to confide in the Christ we encounter in the Eucharist. A eucharistic faith empowers us to live life with direction and assurance. It moves us to serve others. To work for the good of others authenticates our faith in Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist; it makes our Christian witness credible.
No one doubted the sincerity of Mother Teresa of Calcutta because her works proved her faith in Christ. And her faith in Christ was firmly focused on his Real Presence in the Eucharist.
If the Eucharist moves us to love Christ ever more deeply, then it also moves us to hope in Christ ever more fervently. Hope, that most overlooked of the theological virtues, asserts victory in Christ. The Eucharist makes us beacons of hope for those seeking hope.
And that's the very essence of the eucharistic lifestyle. Just ask Scott Adler: He's been living it for 15 years now. Isn't Holy Thursday a good time to follow suit?
Father Andrew McNair teaches at Mater Ecclesiae International Center of Studies in Greenville, Rhode Island.