Eucharistic Spirituality

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I owe my vocation, and my perseverance in this vocation, to the daily Eucharist. My parents inculcated in me a special love for Jesus in the Eucharist, and I have drawn personal nourishment and inspiration from it for my personal life, as well as enjoyed teaching about and celebrating it during the 29 years of my priesthood. Part of the perks of working 8 years in Rome was the enriching privilege of concelebrating several times with Pope John Paul II in his private chapel and in St. Peter's Basilica, during which some of his deep faith hopefully brushed off onto me! Also, I have led the Eucharist for small and large (even mammoth) congregations in over 80 countries at Leaders' programs and retreats, during which again we mutually communicated our faith to each other. I can happily say that in all of my 60 years, I have never come away from the Eucharist sad or discouraged, no matter what may have been my sentiments before entering into the celebration.

The Eucharist is intimately connected with vocations. Some years ago, the Pope asked the International Theological Commission to describe what distinguished Christians from other people. Their insightful answer was: "What gives Christians their identity and makes them different from other people is their remembrance and expectation of Jesus Christ. The memories and hopes of the pilgrim people of God in time and space give them their own unique identity and special character, protecting them always and everywhere from the dangers of dissolution and loss of identity. Through its shared memory and expectation of Jesus Christ, the people of God knows by faith, truths and realities that other peoples neither know, nor can ever know about the meaning of existence and human history." This excellent formulation expresses well the meaning and power of the Eucharist, for in it all the "memories and hopes" of the Christian people are perfectly and completely summed up. "All the treasures of Christianity are contained in the Eucharist" (Vatican II).

Therefore, many and good vocations can come from a true Eucharistic spirituality, but vocations will be deterred by a shallow or false Eucharistic spirituality. For example, Catholics sometimes speak and act as though the Eucharist has meaning in isolation from the rest of life - as though participation in it guarantees growth in grace independently of the manner in which the participants live their lives in the world. Such Catholics may participate reverently and frequently in the Eucharist, but they then act very selfishly during the day/week, or prefer the pleasure of a serene private life untroubled by the annoyance of social justice issues. This is surely an aberration!

Instead, Christians who let the Eucharist transform their inner attitudes become very good material for vocations. To be nourished by Jesus as "the bread of life" means to come to share in his life, and his life is "to be for others" in the most concrete and exigent way. Jesus' "sacrifice" which is commemorated in the Eucharist does not mean only his death and resurrection but his whole life, for every moment of it was "consecrated", and his every thought, word and deed was "holy". This has important ethical implications for the Christian participant in the Eucharist, namely, that his/her own life (before and after the time spent in the individual Eucharists) must likewise be a "sacrifice" or "something holy", he/she must live a life "consecrated" to God and to the coming of God's reign. The imitation of Christ is not only for a few "martyrs" whose deaths are offered in union with Christ's, but for all Christians whose lives are offered in union with Christ's. The Eucharist empowers and mandates them for such a sacrifice. Consequently, they can more readily heed the call of a vocation.

"By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity" (Prayer during the Offertory). The intent of the exchange is spiritual-ethical: that those drawn into the circle of God's self-giving boldly dare to follow and witness that same way of love in their lives. Having received the gift of Christ in the sacrament of communion, an authentic Eucharistic spirituality will lead one to make a return-gift of oneself to God in and through one's active membership in the Body of Christ. "That we might live no longer for ourselves but for him, he sent the Holy Spirit as his first gift upon his disciples, to complete his work on earth and bring us the fullness of grace" (4th Eucharistic Prayer). To sum up, in the measure that we practice and foster an authentic Eucharistic spirituality, our Vocations Sundays will be richly blessed.

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