Year of the Eucharist, Family Style

Pope John Paul II never tires of reminding us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. But in this, the Year of the Eucharist — October 2004 through October 2005 — he's asking us to respond with special awe to Jesus coming to us in the flesh: body, blood, soul and divinity.

That means not just in our thoughts, but in our actions, too. And that means, first and foremost, more frequent reception of Communion — set up by monthly trips to the confessional and regular visits to the Blessed Sacrament for Eucharistic adoration.

“That's a heavenly appeal coming to us through our Holy Father,” observes Linda Bracy, director of the Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament in Plattsburgh, N.Y. “This year is a mighty move of the Holy Spirit, and the laity must become actively engaged in the evangelization of the Church and the world.”

With such tall orders, where do families begin?

“The first thing,” says Congregation of St. John Father Antoine Thomas in Peoria, Ill., “is for parents to gather their children and ask them the question, ‘What would you like to do outside of Sunday Mass to show Jesus that you truly thank him for his Eucharistic presence among us?’”

Father Thomas is a founder and international promoter of Eucharistic adoration for children at www.childrenofhope.org.

The priest says a family visit to the Blessed Sacrament every week is a perfect way to get started. For example, moms picking up their children at school might stop to visit the nearest tabernacle — or the exposed Host, if adoration is within driving distance — before heading home.

Father Thomas points out that, since most children leave school just before 3 p.m., the Hour of Divine Mercy, and Jesus is asking us to be merciful to one another, “the visit to the Eucharist should be followed by a concerted discussion on the part of all the family members to find an opportunity every day to give that Eucharistic love to another person.”

He adds: “We can focus on the Eucharist, but why does Jesus give his Eucharistic presence? It is to help us love one another with his divine love. And the fruit of this will be more Communion, more unity within the family. And then the family becomes evangelizers by the very fact of this increased love for one another.”

Really Present

Bracy notes that St. Thérèse of Lisieux's parents took her on a daily visit to church. “That little custom, that little 15-minute visit, has given us a great saint — the patroness of missions and a doctor of the church,” she says.

Families can do simple things to plant seeds. “It might be passing out a prayer card about the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist,” says Bracy.

She well remembers her own first prayer card. It featured a picture of the baby Jesus. “I put it up on a wall and felt comforted by it,” she recalls. “Little things like that instill faith and devotion and give children something to hold onto.”

At St. Maria Goretti Church in Arlington, Texas, Franciscan Father Jim Gigliotti has things well under way for the Year of the Eucharist. His parish already had daily adoration.

Because the Holy Father asked for the sacrament of reconciliation to be more readily available this year, Father Gigliotti has added confessions every first Wednesday evening, followed by Benediction. He suggests that families go together to accentuate family and married life.

And he's encouraging a family rosary at least one night a week throughout this special year.

“To get to the source and the summit, like any mountain climber, you have to prepare yourself for the climb,” he says. “To prepare the family for the climb to reach that source and summit, the encounter with Christ, we should be relying on the devotions to anchor children to our tradition. In critical times, these devotions will lead us to the Eucharist — and the Eucharist will send us out, especially to our family and the marketplace.”

St. Maria Goretti parishioners Rob and Gina Emrich try to say the rosary with their five children every night. “It's amazing what it does to your family,” says Gina.

The Emrichs are excited that their 7-year-old son, Mac, will make his first Communion in the Year of the Eucharist. The preparation is making positive ripples into the whole family. For example, because Mac has to learn the act of contrition, the family has been saying that together, as well.

Meanwhile the Emrichs are adding a morning offering and prayers for vocations because, they tell the children, “only priests can turn the bread and wine into Jesus.”

And that prayer's words, says Gina, help the children understand that, when you pray the Church's prayers, “you're joining your prayers with the Masses said around the world.”

Early and Often

The St. Maria Goretti parish also started a program for men called “That Man Is You.” Father Gigliotti encouraged parishioners to do this in honor of the Year of the Eucharist “so they can be leaders in their families and marriages and learn what it is to be the head of the household actively committed to Christ, especially in the Eucharist.”

That can mean having the family attend Mass together more than once a week this year.

“Saturday morning is a wonderful time,” Bracy suggests. “Or at least on First Saturday. That would be a real opportunity to introduce children to the scapular and First Saturday devotions. How about First Friday? Or both?”

These days bring the opportunity to talk about devotion to Jesus’ sacred heart and to join Mary with her son in the Eucharist.

Whatever the demands on their time, families should consider this simple suggestion:

“I would recommend to make the decision to arrive 10 minutes ahead of time at Sunday Mass and to make it a time of silent prayer to prepare for Mass,” Father Thomas advises. “And take five minutes of thanksgiving after Mass instead of leaving the church right away.”

You can bet the Emrichs will take that advice to heart. Even before the Holy Father declared this a Year of the Eucharist, the couple had begun instilling a love and reverence for the Blessed Sacrament — even in their 2-year-old twins. “At the time of consecration, I tell them the bread is Jesus,” says Gina. And she tells them: “Say ‘I love you, Jesus.’”

It's never too soon to start practicing that kind of childlike faith in the Eucharist. And, during the Year of the Eucharist, it's never too late, either.

Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.