Recently, on a number of occasions, Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of the Eucharist as the center of our lives in the Church. This is significant for us in the United States as we continue with our program of Eucharistic Revival as called for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. On June 19, the pope met with Bishop Andrew Cozzens and the members of the committee preparing for the forthcoming National Eucharistic Congress, thanking them and offering his support for their work. He expressed, “I encourage you to continue your efforts to a revival of faith in, and love for, the Holy Eucharist, the ‘source and summit of the Christian life’” (Lumen Gentium, 11).
As Pope Francis addressed the committee, he made reference to the account of the multiplication of the loaves and fish in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John. Here, after performing the miracle of the multiplication, Jesus begins to open the mystery of the greatest miracle which He would give us at the Last Supper, one that would transform the world. To the crowd of 5,000 present before Him, who had been satisfied with the loaves and fish, Jesus teaches that they should not be looking for perishable food but for food that remains for life eternal, which he would give them. He says, “I myself am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in me shall thirst again” (Jn 6:35). He also assures them, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6: 48–51). When some of His listeners object that this teaching is hard to accept and turn from the Lord, He does not in any way change or soften His teaching. In fact, He turns to His apostles and asks them if they want to leave as well. So central is the teaching of Jesus on the Eucharist that it is what will define a follower of Him. It is Peter, the leader of the apostles, who answers, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:68-69). Pope Francis indicated that he had reflected upon this Gospel passage when he was celebrating Mass on the same morning that he spoke to the Eucharistic committee.
The prayer intention of the Holy Father for the month of July is that there will be a greater dedication to the Eucharist. He asks that the Eucharist be placed at the center of our lives. He urges us not to understand the celebration of the Eucharist as an obligation but as a true encounter with the Risen Lord. The Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus, and through our encounter with Him we are profoundly transformed. In his message, the pope explains that the Eucharist “gives us the courage to encounter others, to go outside of ourselves, and to open ourselves to others with love.” The pope begins his message by saying, “If you are the same at the end of Mass, as you were at the beginning, something is wrong.” We need to be attentive to the Eucharistic celebration as we receive the Real Presence of Jesus Christ.
In his words to the Committee for the National Eucharistic Congress, the Holy Father makes reference to those among the Catholic faithful who, sadly, believe the Eucharist is more of a symbol than the reality of Christ’s Real Presence. He reflects, “It is my hope, then, that the Eucharistic Congress will inspire Catholics throughout the country to discover a new sense of wonder in awe at the Lord’s great gift of Himself and to spend time with Him in the celebration of the Holy Mass and in personal prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. I believe we have lost this sense of adoration in our day. We must rediscover the sense of adoration in silence. It is a form of prayer we have lost. Too few people know what it is.” The more we take time in the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist, the more we are reminded of His love and the very purpose of our lives. The celebration of the Eucharist and Eucharistic adoration are the center of our personal spiritual lives and of the life of the Church.
The current Eucharistic Revival is a great time for us to reflect upon the centrality of the Eucharist as followers of Jesus Christ. It is the Eucharist that is able to transform our lives and unite us more to Christ in the joys and sufferings of everyday life. Nothing else has the power of the Eucharist to help us experience God’s love. The Eucharist is a gift for everyone, and it is only those who are open to receiving it who experience joy. Jesus let people walk away from His teaching on the Eucharist because He knew He could not bestow joy upon them in any other way. As we reflect upon the account of the multiplication of the loaves and fish in the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel during this Eucharistic Revival, may we reflect in amazement upon the great gift which God has given to us. As Pope Francis has urged us, “Let us renew this amazement. Let us do so as we adore the Bread of Life, because adoration fills life with amazement.”
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
July 14, 2023