BY BISHOP LOUIS F. KIHNEMAN III
Bishop of Biloxi
My fifth and final column in the series on The Year of the Eucharist in the Parish focuses on “Missionary Sending.”
The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar says, “The beautiful stops the viewer in his tracks and then plants within him a desire to speak to others of what he has seen.” What is more beautiful than the love proven to us by the Father in sending His only beloved Son, Jesus, to save us while we were still sinners? Jesus crucified, buried, risen and ascended! Jesus who gave us His body and His blood as a perpetual sacrifice so that we too can participate in His sacrifice and in His resurrection. When we begin to feel this unending, unconditional, transformative love, it should stop us in our tracks and compel us to share the beauty we are experiencing! It should make it easy to, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
The word “Evangelization” was not heard often by Catholics in years past. I grew up in a time when most of those in our communities and places of work were predominantly Christian, especially in the South. That time of “Christendom” has elapsed. The times we live in now are of “Apostolic Mission,” meaning we are once again living in a world similar to the times of the Apostles where Christians are the minority and the secular world is hostile to our faith.
Where do we begin when it comes to Evangelization? If you have been following my homilies, columns, or have read Missio Nostra you know the answer to this one! We begin by growing and strengthening our own faith so that as St. Peter tells us in his first letter to Christians on the difficulty of living the Christian life in a hostile secular world that has different values, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your con-science clear…” (1 Peter 3:15-16). (1 Peter 2:11-4:11 is written for “The Christian in a Hostile World” and are good to read, pray with, and contemplate.)
Be able to tell YOUR story of faith ~ to give your reason for your hope in Christ. This can sometimes seem easier for converts to the faith that have that “Eureka!” moment and are able to articulate when they realized who Jesus is and what He did for all of us that set off their journey. For many cradle Catholics, it may be the story of faith “that has always been there” nurtured by our families, that grew as we did and we claim it as our own at Confirmation, or sometimes it is later when we realize that our faith is our own journey and not just something our parents expect of us. And for many of us, our stories fall somewhere in between.
Take a few moments to recall when you received the Sacraments of Initiation and call to mind and heart what your Baptism, receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit mean to you. Think about the people, spiritual retreats, life events, along the way that drew you closer to Christ or led you to encounter Christ. Think about what your faith has been to you in the joys and struggles of living and getting through the sorrows that come our way. This is a place to begin your faith story. Pray that the Holy Spirit will help you to share it. As we grow in faith, our faith story will grow as well.
When it comes to sharing our faith in the Eucharist, that during the Mass that Jesus becomes present to us body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the appearance of bread and wine can be difficult to explain, especially to those who do not yet believe. Even some of Jesus’s disciples had a hard time accepting Jesus’ teaching in the Bread of Life Discourse in John’s gospel, and they questioned who could accept it. The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” (John 6:52).
Then many of His disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that His disciples were murmuring about this, He said to them, “Does this shock you?” (John 6:60-61).
Some of His disciples left Him and returned to their previous way of life. Thanks be to God that the Apostles continued to have faith in Him, and this teaching became tangible at the Last Supper!
As a result of this, many [of] His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:66-69).
Fast forward to a 2019 Pew study, which found that only one-third of Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Many of us are experiencing this in our own families; family members drifting away from the Eucharist, drifting away from Mass, or even turning away from the faith. This is one of the reasons the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops launched the National Eucharistic Revival, to restore understanding and devotion to the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of the Christian life (Lumen Gentium, #11).
It is often harder to share our faith with family than it is to share it with a stranger. We can face disinterest or even hostility from friends and family members. Persevere! Lift the unbeliever in prayer to our Lord and ask Him to reveal Himself to them. Also, pray the Holy Spirit to reveal to you anyone you are meant to accompany in faith. Sometimes your passionate witness is needed, and sometimes a gentle call that engages their curiosity will move them forward.
St. Angela of Foligno said, “If we but paused for a moment to consider attentively what takes place in this Sacrament, I am sure that the thought of Christ’s love for us would transform the coldness of our hearts into a fire of love and gratitude.”
How do we give proper thanks to God for the gift of His son in the Eucharist? The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the “Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, His brethren.” (CC 1397)
The Corporal Works of Mercy are based on Christ’s teachings and are the perfect expression of Eucharistic love and gratitude.
• Feed the hungry. • Give drink to the thirsty. • Clothe the naked. • Visit the imprisoned. • Shelter the homeless. • Visit the sick. • Bury the dead.
All of these actions are rooted in Eucharistic love and gratitude. It is that same love and gratitude that has inspired countless holy men and women in action because of their love and devotion to the Eucharist. One of the greatest examples is St. Teresa of Calcutta, who ministered to the poorest of the poor. She said, “The Eucharist and the poor are inseparable. This is not anything new for the Church, for we can clearly see it in the Gospels. The One who said, ‘This is my body’ is the same one who said, ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat’” (cf. Matthew 26:26; 25:35).
St. Damien de Veuster, SS.CC., who ministered to lepers on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, drew his strength from the Eucharist. In a letter to his brother, Damien, wrote, “Without the constant presence of our Divine Master, I would never be able to cast my lot with that of the lepers.”
We see that same type of love carried out here on a local level through the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and by those who volunteer at their churches or neighborhood soup kitchens to feed the hungry and provide clothing and other vital resources. We are our Lord’s hands and feet, and these days our witness may be the only opportunity many have to experience Jesus alive in another person.
I know of one individual who used to eat three meals a day. However, after listening to his parish priest preach on the Gospel story on the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, was left with a feeling of emptiness and an urge to do something to help those who were less fortunate. As a result, he decided to skip lunch once a week and spend his lunch hour volunteering at a local soup kitchen that catered primarily to the homeless. Then, he decided that he could do more and began to seek out some of those same people from the soup kitchen in the places where they hung out in the com-munity. He would bring them food and drink, clothing, toiletries. He would also take these individuals to places where they could shower and would assist them if they needed medical service. He did it because he was grateful for what Jesus did for Him and for us by His suffering, death, Resurrection and Ascension into heaven and because of the great gift that He has given to each of us, His Body and Blood, soul and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. He made his faith visible in his ministry to others in their need.
There are many wonderful opportunities in our parishes and communities to reveal to the world our faith in and love of Jesus Christ and His presence with us. When we are serving others and reflecting God’s mercy, we have a wonderful opportunity to ask, “May I pray for you?” and if the answer is, “Yes.” Then with joy and confidence in Jesus’ mercy and love for each of us, offer a simple prayer of gratitude for the person who God has placed in your path and ask for God’s blessing for them and their loved ones. You can also ask them if there is something or someone they would like you to pray for. And if someone asks you for “a reason for your hope,” you will be ready to share your faith story that may be the spark that sets them on their journey to faith in Christ.
As we continue the Year of the Eucharist in the Parish, I echo this prayer of Pope Francis:
“Let us therefore call upon the Lord, that He may always makes His Church capable of this holy service, and that each one of us may be an instrument of communion in our family, at work, in the parish and in groups to which we belong, as a visible sign of God’s mercy that does not want to leave anyone alone and in need, so that communion and peace may descend among men, and communion of men with God, for this communion is life for all.” (General Audience – August 17, 2016)