God Is Still Very Much With Us: The Eucharistic Meta-Narrative of 2023

COMMENTARY: As we turn the corner into 2024, it is important for Catholics to commit to making it a true year of the Lord, which means to make it a truly Eucharistic year.

On Oct. 10, during rush hour, more than 5,000 Catholics adore Our Lord in the heart of Manhattan.
On Oct. 10, during rush hour, more than 5,000 Catholics adore Our Lord in the heart of Manhattan. (photo: Jeffrey Bruno)

When Jesus was born in a cave in Bethlehem, the vast majority did not deem it newsworthy, including most of those around Herod. And his death, even when coupled with the stories of the disappearance of his body from its tomb — would not have made the story of the year in Jerusalem or Rome. 

Yet we know as Christians that those events were the stories not just of the century or millennium, but the most consequential events in history. 

When we do a “Year in Review” for 2023, it’s right and proper for us to focus internationally on the wars in Gaza, Ukraine, Yemen and Myanmar, the catastrophic earthquakes in Syria, Turkey, Morocco and Afghanistan, the continued troubles in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Cameroon and Hong Kong, the electoral revolutions in sundry countries, China and its spy balloons and more. 

It’s natural to turn our attention nationally to the chaos in the House of Representatives, the drama of the incipient campaign for the White House and its two senescent front-runners, the acrimony over the indictments and trials of one of them and of the other’s son, the pro-Hamas lunacy on college campuses, the catastrophe at the border, the hottest summer on record, the Hollywood strikes, the wins and losses of the post-Dobbs pro-life movement, the effects of high interest rates, the Maui wildfires, 557 Mass shootings and counting, the regional banking crisis, the continued advocacy as well as the backlash against gender ideology, the Ozempic revolution, the CRISPR remedy for sickle cell anemia and the startling speed of AI improvements. And let’s not overlook Taylor Swift and her “Eras Tour,” as if that were possible. 

Ecclesiastically, we can succumb to the temptation to think that the story of the year was the Synod on Synodality, the Vatican financial trial, the Rupnik scandals, the funeral of Benedict XVI, the many new cardinals and archbishops appointed, the bishops fired or punished, papal health, interviews and diplomacy, or the dubia responses, declarations and decisions of the new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

Those are big stories, and they should be covered, to be sure. Looking at 2023 with the lens of faith, however, the biggest story is that God himself has been with us through it all. Despite its cataclysms and crises, 2023 was a year of Our Lord because it was a year in which the Lord was truly and substantially in the midst of the world he created and redeemed. 

Much like few would have thought his birth and death were stories of the years in which they occurred, few will deem God’s providential accompaniment throughout 2023 significant in comparison with the normal headlines on secular and religious news sites. Nevertheless, God-with-us was and is still very much with us. 

This is a realization that the Eucharistic Revival taking place in the United States is meant to help revivify. 

The biggest news that takes place any given day is that the Son of God, Son of David, and Son of Mary — the Redeemer of the World, Prince of Peace, and King of the Universe — is here among us, waiting for us in the tabernacle, feeding us with himself, accompanying us throughout life. 

Just as Jesus’ incarnation, birth, work, public ministry, passion, death and resurrection are the biggest events in world history — so great in fact that they led to the recalibration of all of history as before and after Christ’s birth — so Jesus’ continuous sacramental presence with us each day at Mass and in the monstrance ought to calibrate our approach to the events of each day. 

The meta-narrative not just of 2023 but of all of human life and history, the deepest context for every major news story, is that God is with us through all the ups and downs. That truth helps us to gain perspective with regard to each of them. 

God is with us as we witness atrocities, do reparation for them and pray for their victims together with him at the altar. 

He’s with us as we face big political decisions, reminding us each day through prayer and Scripture of our summons to be salt, light and leaven, lest we or others be manipulated by the Sauls of the age. 

He’s with us daily as we try to remain faithful to him even as other voices inside and outside the Church call us to worship contemporary idols and live according to the flesh rather than the Spirit. He’s with us, in short, in calamity and celebration, in poverty and prosperity, striving to help us unite everything to him and his kingdom, as he strives to draw grace from grace, good out of evil and greater good out of good. 

The big challenge of history, however, including each year, is whether we will cooperate with God to make his kingdom come amid our worldly affairs. 

Many Catholics are content to have the Eucharistic Lord on the periphery of their life and of history. The revolution he sought to bring into the world at his incarnation hasn’t failed out of utopian naivete, but, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, still hasn’t really been tried. 

As we turn the corner into 2024, it is important for Catholics to commit to making it a true year of the Lord, which means to make it a truly Eucharistic year. 

For those in the United States, as a presidential election year threatens to siphon social oxygen and polarize the populace, we have four nationwide Eucharistic Pilgrimages and the first national Eucharistic Congress in 83 years to pray for our country and to serve as a sign and means of much-needed communion. 

As war continues to rage even in the most sacred places on earth, and we feel powerless to stop it, we turn in humble prayer to the One who has many times in the past demonstrated his power to turn swords into plowshares and to have lions befriend lambs. 

As we worry about some troublesome trends in the Church, from decreasing sacramental participation to attacks on the deposit of faith arising in Germany and elsewhere, we huddle before the altar to unite ourselves to Christ’s prayer from the Upper Room and from Calvary for his Bride and Body. 

We approach him who remains with us sacramentally until the end of time with loving praise for who he is, thanksgiving for all the graces of the past year, sorrow and reparation for the evils that have taken place, intercession for the many areas that are in greatest need, and petition for what he knows we need to be the yeast that can raise the whole dough. 

The Eucharistic Revival is meant to help us keep our eyes focused on Christ as we brave the stormy seas of time, for he tells us, “Do not be afraid. It is I” (Matthew 14:27). It helps us to build our life on him who is an eternal rock (Isaiah 26:4). It helps us to find Light from Light in the darkness and hope in even the most desperate circumstances.

Living as we are at such a fast-paced time in which even things that happened 12 months ago can seem like distant history, it is even more important for us to traverse time together with Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). 

Jesus Christ has not left us orphans, and just as he has in 2023, so in 2024 he will come to walk with us on the journey of life and make possible that what we do will have eternal, not ephemeral, meaning.