February 3, 2016
With Jesus in the Eucharist
Last week I was in Cebu, the Philippines, for the International Eucharistic Congress, an event that occurs in the Church every four years.
I was happy to go, especially with sixty pilgrims, mostly Filipinos, to join a quarter-million other faithful for the event. We are so blessed here in the archdiocese with the presence of our Filipino-Americans, who bring such a deep, joyful, warm Catholic faith. It was my honor as well to give one of the major talks at the congress.
But let me tell you the two features of the Eucharistic Congress that most moved me. One was to behold thousands, more like tens of thousands, on their knees, in complete silence, before our Lord, really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, exposed in the monstrance for adoration.
How often do we notice this in the Gospels: people simply with Jesus, in His company, listening to Him, resting with Him, on a journey with Him, watching Him, just being with Him!
That’s the invitation of Eucharistic Adoration. I saw it last week in Cebu; sure, there were colorful events, enlightening talks, good music, wonderful company. But nothing rivaled being with others just keeping company with Jesus there, really and truly, in the Holy Eucharist.
And, I see it here in our parishes: when I sneak over to Our Lady’s Chapel in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and see God’s People in humble prayer before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament; I find it when I stop in at parishes throughout the archdiocese where they have adoration.
Pope St. John Paul II remarked that Eucharistic Adoration allows us to look upon the face of Christ. Pope Francis tells us he starts each day with an hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and will not go to bed without a visit to the Holy Eucharist.
The second moving sight at the congress was to see the long line of people awaiting the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I was one of them, as I approached confession; and I was one of the hundreds of priests hearing confessions.
These people in line for the sacrament reminded me of the poor man in the back corner of the Temple who simply whispered, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner!” and so won the Heart of Christ.
Once again, Pope St. John Paul noted that renewal of the individual and of the entire Church would not come until there was a revival of the Sacrament of Penance and Pope Francis speaks about it so frequently, and sets a good example by approaching confession weekly.
These two uplifting experiences of last week’s Eucharistic Congress in the Philippines—Eucharistic Adoration and the Sacrament of Penance—are particularly appropriate as we anticipate the start of Lent next week, Ash Wednesday.
Not long ago, I was listening to a highly regarded theologian and commentator on Catholic life in America. This person is usually considered a “liberal,” which made his comments even more startling. He observed that, in his mind, the most harmful features of Catholicism in the United States the last half-century (since the close of the Second Vatican Council) were the decline in regular Sunday Mass attendance (from 78% in 1965 to about 25% now); the grave neglect of the Sacrament of Confession; and the lack of emphasis on self-denial and penance, evident in the loss of Friday abstinence and the trivialization of Lent! (He added as well the dramatic decline in sisters, the real backbone of the pre-1965 Church.)
The Eucharist; the Sacrament of Penance; Lent. The three are aligned.
It’s the Year of Mercy, folks, so let Lent take on an enhanced urgency. Two effective ways to do it: Make Sunday Eucharist the anchor of your week; make a humble, sincere confession. Then follow through with prayer, charity, and acts of penance and self-denial.
It was warm and sunny in the Philippines! There can be a radiance and light within us this Lent!