Lord, To Whom Shall We Go?
“I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth.”
On Monday of last week this headline sat atop my hometown newspaper: “Priests urge Catholics not to leave church.” Why would, assuming the headline is accurate, priests of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston find it necessary to “urge Catholics not to leave church”? Because on Sunday the diocese released a list of 42 priests accused of sexual abuse in recent decades. So much for the New Evangelization; it seems we are barely holding our own at this point.
Is this a pretty distressing sign of the times? Yes. Do these acts, and the subsequent headlines and anger, increase the difficulty of evangelization in contemporary culture? Yes. Should we pray for the victims and for their families? Yes. Should we pray for those who committed these acts and those who participated in covering up crimes? Yes. Should we also pray for the priests and bishops who were not involved with these hideous acts and are now serving Christ by faithfully tending to the scattered and confused flock? Yes.
Is this enough? No. Now do we hold fast in our fortress Church until these evil times have passed? No.
Lest we forget whence we came let us spend some time in the Gospel of John. In John 6 our Lord feeds the 5,000, starting with only five barley loaves and two fish. A miracle! The people were amazed, at least momentarily. The people said: “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14)
Soon after they questioned him as they wished for more “signs,” new miracles. Jesus then explains to them that he is “the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” He goes on to say:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. (John 6:53-57)
Are they inspired? Transformed?
No. They find this is too much, too difficult to accept, even among those who had been part of the 5,000 fed by five barley loaves and two fishes. What do they do? “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.” (RSVCE John 6:66 — yes, really 6:66!)
This is all very interesting but what has it to do with the New Evangelization? Is the Holy Eucharist the “source and summit of the New Evangelization?” St. John Paul II writes in Ecclesia de Eucharistia:
The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church… The Second Vatican Council rightly proclaimed that the Eucharistic sacrifice is “the source and summit of the Christian life… For the most holy Eucharist contains the Church's entire spiritual wealth: Christ himself, our Passover and living bread. Through his own flesh, now made living and life-giving by the Holy Spirit, he offers life to men.” Consequently the gaze of the Church is constantly turned to her Lord, present in the Sacrament of the Altar, in which she discovers the full manifestation of his boundless love.
What about the newspaper headlines? Should priests across the country be urging “Catholics not to leave church”? How can we seriously advocate a New Evangelization in light of the tragedy striking at the heart of believers today? Well, let us begin with Saint John Paul II and his statement that: “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist.”
In John 6:67 (yes, immediately following the faithlessness of John 6:66), Jesus said to the twelve, “Will you also go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Lord, to whom shall we go? Thank you Simon Peter. Thank you for asking the question that matters most. To whom shall we go?
The Catholic novelist Walker Percy wrote:
This life is much too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then be asked what you make of it and have to answer, ‘Scientific humanism.’ That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore, I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and infinite delight; i.e., God.
Yes. This is what Simon Peter was saying and Walker Percy affirmed: We must turn to our Lord; there are no easier answers, no better answers.
The heart of the Church is our Eucharistic Lord. The source and summit of the Christian life is our Eucharistic Lord. St. John Paul II called all Catholics to “a commitment not to a re-evangelization but to a new evangelization — new in ardor, methods and expression…” Where do we begin?
In the New Evangelization all Catholics are asked to develop a deeper awareness of our calling to serve our Lord and his Church by sharing the fullness of the truth with all we encounter. This will be demonstrated in our words and in our deeds. Jesus explains that one way we will show this is that “all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). May we begin by showing our love for one another even in these trying times?
Is there the possibility of evangelizing the unbelievers, the fallen away, the indifferent in a culture that idolizes consumerism, scientism, progressivism and materialism? No. Unless… we are on fire with faith, hope and love. Yes, if we are in love with our Trinitarian Lord, and in love with his Church, and his Blessed Mother. How do we find this fire, this love, this hope? Where is our faith to be fulfilled?
In answer to this question St. Pope John Paul II called us to the Eucharistic life, and as a consequence to be missionaries in the New Evangelization. In Ecclesia de Eucharistia he shows us this new path:
To contemplate the face of Christ, and to contemplate it with Mary, is the ‘program’ which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium, summoning her to put out into the deep on the sea of history with the enthusiasm of the new evangelization.
Put out into the deep on the sea of history? We are to take our little, leaky, wobbly boats out into the deep sea? What about the scandals? What about materialism? How are we to share our faith, inspire others to conversion, to grow in holiness in times such as these? Isn’t this too much to ask? We should remember that this Saint had seen difficult times. St. John Paul II, and his powerful faith, survived the Nazis and the Communists.
How did St. John Paul II expect us to thrive as evangelists, to join in a powerful New Evangelization? Certainly he was not expecting us to do this on our own. He shows us the way — he shows us the Way:
To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize him wherever he manifests himself, in his many forms of presence, but above all in the living sacrament of his body and his blood. The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; by him she is fed and by him she is enlightened. The Eucharist is both a mystery of faith and a ‘mystery of light.’ Whenever the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the faithful can in some way relive the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: ‘their eyes were opened and they recognized him.’ (Luke 24:31)
We live in a time that often celebrates the culture of material success while denigrating the culture of life centered upon our Eucharistic Lord. This is a time of malaise, restlessness and spiritual lethargy. It seems in many ways similar to the early years of the Church. Catholics often encounter “progressive” warriors who wish to drive us from the public square. They seem to wish to limit our faithfulness to the privacy of our homes and parishes and exclude our “intolerant” worldview from school, colleges and workplaces.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said that we live in an age when the “deepest poverty is the inability of joy, the tediousness of a life considered absurd and contradictory. This poverty is widespread today, in very different forms in the materially rich as well as the poor countries.” Catholics should not be surprised at this. We should be acutely aware that as Christendom diminishes, modernity faces the joylessness of a culture centered in materialism and nihilism. St. Augustine declared that dissatisfaction is the fate of all who fail to see that: “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.”
How is the faithful Catholic to respond to the disturbing signs of the time? What is the “solution” to the problem of reigniting lukewarm Catholics and stoking the fires of those who wish to dedicate their lives to Christ and his Church? Pope Benedict XVI said “we are in need of a new evangelization—if the art of living remains an unknown, nothing else works… this art can only be communicated by [one] who has life—he who is the Gospel personified.” We must rely upon Christ, the one who has life.
Here we may return to St. John Paul II who once again shows us the Way. In Ecclesia de Eucharistia he reminds us:
The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift — however precious — among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work… the Eucharist thus appears as both the source and the summit of all evangelization…
We must look to the Eucharist — for unless we are renewed, how is it possible to believe that we may lead others to the Creator?
St. John Paul II goes on to quote Saint Ephrem, who writes, “He called the bread his living body and he filled it with himself and his Spirit... He who eats it with faith, eats Fire and Spirit...” This is what we must have, must share, must live to serve our Lord. If we live a Eucharistic life we live with fire and spirit. Those who live with fire and spirit will be part of the New Evangelization as they will be inspired to share our Lord in unity with St. John Paul II’s call for an evangelization “new in ardor, methods and expression…”
Of course we must be in dialogue with the culture as it is today. We should endeavor to understand the worldview, the language, and the values of those we wish to inspire to come to love Jesus Christ. Our Lord is reaching out to all people, calling them to communion. We serve a loving and merciful God so in love we reach out to all so that they may join his community of faith.
The Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith, of our hope, and our love. Thus it is required that it be the “source and summit of the New Evangelization.” St. John Paul II shares these inspiring words so that we may listen to the heart of our faith:
With discerning faith a distinguished writer of the Byzantine tradition voiced this truth: in the Eucharist ‘unlike any other sacrament, the mystery [of communion] is so perfect that it brings us to the heights of every good thing: here is the ultimate goal of every human desire, because here we attain God and God joins himself to us in the most perfect union.’ Precisely for this reason it is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Thus our aspiration, and our hope, is to cultivate “a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist.” As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his son Michael: “I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth.” Amen.
If we are aflame with desire for our Eucharistic Lord, if we unite ourselves with him, then we may burn brightly and be a light for others. In this way we will serve our Lord, and his Church, in the New Evangelization.
I believe this prayer of thanksgiving (from the Book of Divine Worship) perfectly offers our gratitude for the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist:
Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom, by the merits of the most precious death and Passion of thy dear Son. And we humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory, world without end.