From Father Mike's Desk
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We have entered into Advent in this wonderful Year of the Eucharist! The Church calls us in Advent to prepare for the Lord's second coming at the end of time even as we remember His first coming in history as our Savior, born of the Virgin Mary. Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has called us in a special way to "set out into the deep" of faith - especially the faith that seeks to "contemplate the face of Christ" with Mary in "Eucharistic amazement". These are some of the striking phrases the Pope has used in leading us into this New Millennium and now in this Year of the Eucharist!
In this newsletter, we want to respond to this call from our Holy Father, and you'll be able to read a number of faith-filled personal witnesses about the great gift of the Holy Eucharist touching lives. As a preface to these, I'd like to share more from John Paul II's recent writings, so we can again hear the Lord speaking to us through him.
In Novo Millennia Ineunte, the Holy Father called us to be people of deep prayer and holiness, saying: "By contemplating with greater perseverance the Face of the Incarnate Word, truly present in the Sacrament, [the faithful] will train themselves in the art of prayer (#32) and undertake that high standard of Christian living (#31) which is the indispensable condition to develop in an effective manner the new evangelization for the third millennium." To evangelize effectively, we need to become holy, and to become holy, we need to spend time in deep prayer, gazing upon the Holy One... Who is present in the Eucharist. You can't give what you don't have, it is well said!
More recently, in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, John Paul II takes us further: "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. 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." (#6)
To contemplate the face of Christ, above all in the Eucharist, we as the Church are in an amazing way coming to the foot of the Cross, as "the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice... The Mass makes present the sacrifice of the Cross." (#12, Ecclesia de Eucharistia) We are in an amazing way coming as the Bride to love and unite with our Bridegroom in the wedding banquet that anticipates heaven! As "one Body" we are formed in communion with Christ and one another in order to serve in charity and evangelize by the way that we live in Christ's love and truth.
Flowing from the Mass, our amazement in prayer and worship should draw us to continued adoration of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Pope John Paul II tells us: "The worship of the Eucharist outside of Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church. This worship is strictly linked to the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice... It is the responsibility of pastors to encourage, also by their personal witness, the practice of Eucharistic adoration, and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in particular." He gives his own beautiful witness: "It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple (cf. Jn 13:25) and to feel the infinite love present in his heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the 'art of prayer,' how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament? How often, dear brothers and sisters, I have experienced this, and drawn from it strength, consolation and support!" (#25)
Our Holy Father's witness rings true in my own heart, as well! Over the years, the Lord has drawn me especially closer to His Sacred Heart, and I experience this most deeply in celebrating the Mass and in quiet Eucharistic adoration. My own daily Holy Hour is almost always in the presence of Our Lord in the tabernacle, and there is a very special kind of peace, strength, and encouragement that I find just being there before Him. Even if I find myself dry or distracted, He is there... I know His faithfulness and love more and more as I come to know my own need and poverty, discovering again and again the Lord who is "rich in mercy," and Who says, ""abide in me"... (Jn. 15:4)
In his latest apostolic letter for the Year of the Eucharist, Mane Nobiscum Domine (Stay With Us, Lord), John Paul II expands more on this call deeper in Eucharistic faith and life. He calls us to participate in Mass with deeper faith, awareness, reverence. "The Eucharist is a great mystery! And it is one which above all must be well celebrated. Holy Mass needs to be set at the centre of the Christian life and celebrated in a dignified manner by every community, in accordance with established norms, with the participation of the assembly, with the presence of ministers who carry out their assigned tasks, and with a serious concern that singing and liturgical music be suitably 'sacred:" (#17) How wonderful when we join in deep, prayerful, reverent worship! How sad, confusing, and scandalous when we see the opposite...
Pope John Paul II calls us to give witness to the truth of Christ's real presence in the Holy Eucharist. "There is a particular need to cultivate a lively awareness of Christ's real presence, both in the celebration of Mass and in the worship of the Eucharist out-side of Mass. Care should be taken to show that awareness through tone of voice, gestures, posture, and bearing... the way that the ministers and the faithful treat the Eucharist should be marked by profound respect. The presence of Jesus in the tabernacle must be a kind of magnetic pole attracting an ever greater number of souls enamored of him, ready to wait patiently to hear his voice and, as it were, to sense the beating of his heart." (#18) This Advent season calls us to this prayerful waiting upon the Lord, and how great to think of His presence with us as a kind of 'magnetic pole' to which many can be drawn, as we are drawn to find light, healing, hope and peace.
Eucharistic adoration outside Mass should become a particular commitment for individual parish and religious communities. Let us take time to kneel before Jesus present in the Eucharist, in order to make reparation by our faith and love for the acts of carelessness and neglect, and even the insults which our Savior must endure in many parts of the world." (#18) I am so blessed to serve as pastor of a parish where we have Eucharistic adoration two days a week - following the morning Mass until midnight. Once a month we have a 24 hr. period of adoration on the third Thursday of the month, when we especially pray also for vocations to priesthood, religious life and diaconate. It is that beautiful Eucharistic devotion among people of our parish and our whole Escanaba area that has been stirring a good number of folks to "set out into the deep." We have been sensing a call from the Lord to endeavor to establish perpetual Eucharistic adoration here in Escanaba, as has been done in Marquette, Iron Mountain, and Marinette, WI. Much prayer, discernment, planning has been going on, and with our Bishop's approval step by step, we are hoping to move forward in the special graces of this Year of the Eucharist! Please pray for us to follow the Lord's will completely...
The Eucharist unites us to Christ and to every member of His Body, and empowers us to go forth as His servants and witnesses to the world. Pope John Paul II reminds us of the missionary aspect of every Mass in saying: "The dismissal at the end of each Mass is a charge given to Christians, inviting them to work for the spread of the Gospel and the imbuing of society with Christian values. (#24) The Eucharist not only provides the interior strength needed for this mission, but is also - in some sense - its plan. For the Eucharist is a mode of being, which passes from Jesus into each Christian, through whose testimony it is meant to spread throughout society and culture." (#25)
We as the Church are to be in a special sense like Mary, bearing Jesus in her womb to the world in the mystery of the Visitation! In Ecclesia de Eucharistia, John Paul II had looked with Eucharistic faith on this mystery: "When, at the Visitation, she bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a 'tabernacle'- the first 'tabernacle in history- in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed himself to be adored by Elizabeth..." (#55) You and I are invited to similarly be little 'tabernacles' or little 'monstrances' bearing the presence of Jesus - "temples of the Holy Spirit", as St. Paul has said (I Cor. 3:16). What an amazing, humbling, joyful vocation! As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, our Holy Father helps us meditate further: "Is not the enraptured gaze of Mary as she contemplated the face of the newborn Christ and cradled him in her arms that unparalleled model of love which should inspire us every time we receive Eucharistic communion?" (#55) Indeed, we come to learn from Mary how to cherish Jesus in Holy Communion, how to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament, joining her as at Bethlehem, and how to serve Him in the poor and all we meet. May we sing with deeper love, faith, and "Eucharistic amazement" that fine Christmas refrain: "Oh, come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!" God bless you and yours most deeply this Advent and Christmas...and this Year of the Eucharist!
In the hearts of Jesus and Mary,