In his excellent essay in the November issue of Commonweal magazine, Father Robert Imbelli argues persuasively that to challenge the frightening reality that only 31% of American Catholics believe in the Real Presence and also the disappointing truth that large numbers of Catholics no longer celebrate Sunday Eucharistic celebrations, we need what he refers to as a Eucharistic strategy.
This strategy should involve all the members of the Mystical Body, bishops, priests, religious and laity. The strategy needs to be the product of creative reflection and very carefully implemented. The problems are serious and the strategy will require many minds and cooperation throughout the Church. Father Imbelli writes the following: “Hence the need to create ‘a Eucharistic culture of affiliation” that moves beyond liturgical worship to embrace the entirety of the believer’s life, personal, social and political.
Moreover, an examination of conscience regarding Eucharistic coherence is incumbent not only on the individual believer, but upon parish and diocese as well. Eucharistic celebration and Eucharistic reception are not private, but public and corporate: the privileged manifestation of the Body of Christ.
I fully endorse all these principles. Indeed , over the years I have maintained that, as a constitutive dimension of Christian faith, one can and must become, with God’s grace, a ‘Eucharistic self’: one who embraces a Eucharistic consciousness and practice”(p.10)
I love the expression ‘a Eucharistic self’ even as I find it very challenging. What can I do to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as I try to become a Eucharistic self? This question has been on my mind since I read Imbelli’s essay. The first resolution that comes to my consciousness and my conscience is to be a better celebrant and a better homilist at Sunday liturgies. I think I almost always in a Sunday homily link the theme of the readings to the meaning of the Real Presence but I believe I can do that better.
In daily centering prayer I am going to use the word “Eucharist” as the word that should lead me to an awarenes of the presence of God at the center of my being. My suspicion and hope is that more and more opportunities will arise in my life helping me to contribute to the formation of the Church as a Eucharistic Body. The task is formidable but I think that even attempting to contribute will be an act of faith and love. Reading Imbelli’s essay has been very challenging to me but also I think has strengthened my hope.
Once the pandemic is over and parish life returns to normal, I may try to encourage some discussion groups to focus on the meaning of the Eucharist. What topic could be more important? There are many books and essays that might stimulate discussion. It may be my academic background that makes me so optimistic about what can be accomplished through discussion groups.
As I have reported previously in this column, when I was a young parish priest I was involved with more than twenty discussion groups. It was one of the great experiences I had as a parish priest. At times I thought I could observe people growing in their faith. Recalling many of those meetings I believe the success was due to the presence of the Holy Spirit .That should happen in any discussion group that devotes itself to reflection on the Eucharist. To use Imbelli’s phrase, ‘Eucharistic selves” might be formed through such groups.
Near the end of his essay Imbelli refers to Pope Francis‘ teaching in his encyclical “Laudato si” that the Eucharist is the living center of the universe, the overflowing core of inexhaustible love and life. What a marvelous truth of faith that is: the Eucharist is the living center of the universe!
Imagining the renewal that has to take place in a parish and in a diocese, I am wondering how that might happen in parish schools, high schools, colleges and universities. I remember how shocked I was when a friend who had taught in more than one Catholic high school in the 1960’s confessed to me that very little Catholic dogma was taught in some of the schools he worked in. He claimed that there was little substance being taught.
Each year the curriculum for the classes in Catholic dogma changed. One year the curriculum was based on the Beatles’ music, the next year on films, the next year on science fiction. The main point he insisted upon was that the courses were superficial and contained little if any Catholic dogma. Of course nothing like that could be permitted if a Eucharistic renewal is to take place.
The future looks challenging. Is not that how a Catholic’s future should always look?
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.