Theme of the day: Exploring and Celebrating the Communion of Marriage and Family
50th International Eucharistic Congress (Ireland)
June 12, 2012 3:00pm
Our Lord told us with extraordinary clarity about the centrality of the Eucharist: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”1
Our Church teaches that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of Christian life.2 And so, our Congress is really about life—about life with the Eucharist, and about the absence of life without it.
It is also about imparting the gift of natural life, and laying the groundwork for eternal life in our families.
Of course, those who do not receive the Eucharist still live in one sense. So we have to ask ourselves, what is different about life with the Eucharist; what is different about a Eucharistic life?
The Eucharist affects our entire life. It is the source that enables us to live Christ’s great commandment—that we love God completely and our neighbor as our self. The Eucharist brings us into deeper communion with God and with our neighbor.
In his beautiful Exhortation on the Eucharist, Pope Benedict described the nexus between Eucharistic Communion and the Communion of Persons that is our families. He wrote:
Communion always and inseparably has both a vertical and a horizontal sense: it is communion with God and communion with our brothers and sisters. Both dimensions mysteriously converge in the gift of the Eucharist. "Wherever communion with God, which is communion with the Father, with the Son and with the Holy Spirit, is destroyed, the root and source of our communion with one another is destroyed. And wherever we do not live communion among ourselves, communion with the Triune God is not alive and true either."3
In these words, the pope defined the relationship that makes up the theme of today’s conference.
The horizontal dimension of the Eucharist is the reason why we can have today’s theme of Eucharistic marriage and family. It is easy to see that the Eucharist is central to the life of priest. But it is no less central and vital to the life of a lay person. Without the Eucharist, our communion with others is cut off from what sanctifies it, for “it is through the Eucharist that Christ guides our lives and builds our communities of love, understanding and mercy.”4
For this reason, Pope John Paul II challenged lay persons to see the Eucharist, not our works, as the “ultimate criterion” of our life of faith. Pointing beyond individuals, Blessed John Paul II proposed what might seem like a radical test for judging the life of our society.
He said, “The real test of the Christian vitality of the village, the parish, the diocese and the nation is found in the answer to the question: What place does the Holy Eucharist have in your lives? For it is through sharing in the Paschal Mystery of his Death and Resurrection that Jesus makes us effective collaborators in spreading his Kingdom on earth.”
At the headquarters of the Knights of Columbus—the Catholic fraternal and charitable organization I lead—we have a very physical reminder of the Eucharist as the source of life. In the middle of our office building is a chapel where daily Mass is offered.
On the doors of the tabernacle are two Greek words—Ho Awn—meaning “The Being”, or “The One Who Is,” the “I am who am” of the Old Testament, incarnated in the New Covenant.
The source and summit of our faith, of our lives, and of our families and communities is thus defined.
The chapel is filled with mosaics by Fr. Marco Rupnik, whose icons grace also the Redemptoris Mater chapel in the papal apartments, as well as at the Basilica at Lourdes as well as that of San Giovanni Rotundo.
The mosaics in our chapel depict four mysteries of the rosary, each of which is Eucharistic and depicts a connection between the Eucharist and the communion of the family, through which the laity live out the Gospel of Love, the Gospel of Life, and the Gospel of Work.
These Eucharistic mysteries also represent some of the important ways the Eucharist dramatically impacts our lives as Catholic laity—as spouse, parent, and laborer—encouraging us in our work of building “communities of love, understanding and mercy.”
The Resurrection—Discovery of man and his works
When you walk into the Knights of Columbus Chapel, through doors flanked by Angels, it is as if you are walking out of the worldly tomb.
Outside the chapel, in the world, there lingers the taste of a great void—of the temptation to live without Christ. But inside the chapel, the Lord is present in the Blessed Sacrament. We are in the home of the resurrected Christ, whom we meet on the altar in what Blessed John Paul II called “the supreme gift of God's love in his plan of redemption.”5
When one leaves Mass, the angels inside the chapel by the door beckon us, like they did to the apostles, to step outside and discover signs of the Lord’s resurrection in the world. Like the early apostles, we will discover signs of his life and actions. We will see his face in the faces of those we meet. We will discover the transformative power of Christ’s life-giving love, and becoming people of hope, we will “live differently”.6
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta often told us to “Take time to love Jesus in the poor.” She was able to do this so powerfully because of the hours she and her Missionaries of Charity spend loving Jesus in the Eucharist.
Rediscovery is a part of the plan of redemption, Pope John Paul reminded us in his reflections on his priesthood. He said,
In these fifty years of priestly life, I have come to realize that the Redemption, the price which had to be paid for sin, entails a renewed discovery, a kind of a “new creation” of the whole created order: “the rediscovery of man as a person, of man created by God as male and female, [and] a rediscovery of the deepest truth about all man’s works, his culture and civilization, about all his achievements and creative abilities.7
This “new creation” expresses the different life of Christians, built upon the rediscovery of man and man’s works. The Eucharist is central to this discovery; it enables and clarifies in our hearts those truths about who we are as men and women and what it is we are to do. This rediscovery takes a lifetime as we enter ever more deeply into what our Holy Father has recently called the “sacrament of the charity of Christ.”
Every vocation has a unique role in the new created order of redemption. In marriage and family, the closeness of family members means we are caught up together in a common journey of redemption. We learn our roles from one another, because the mere presence of another person proposes a relationship that advances us on that journey. A clear example is when parents bring home their newborn child—the child’s mere presence awakens a new part of them.
Parents care for their child, but the child guides his or her parents to draw deeper from the well of humanity—parents draw closer to the child and to each other. The child teaches the parents the extraordinary meaning of the gift of self in the transmission and sustaining of human life.
And the child leads the parents to realize something more—that reality expressed so beautifully since the time of St. Augustine: “the measure of love is to love without measure.”8
The child teaches the parents that to live in the authentic mystery of life one has to draw more and more from God himself. Only God’s love, God’s perseverance, God’s compassion, God’s truth—God’s gift of himself to us is what alone can satisfy us.
The Nativity: Revealing Man to Himself
As momentous as this rediscovery is, it is but a shadow of the one depicted in the Knights’ chapel. Along the pews, is a nearly life-sized mosaic of what we might call the beginning of the rediscovery of humanity: the Incarnation.
In this nativity scene, there is tenderness among the holy family, as well as adoration—a gaze of love as Mary looks upon a mystery that is beginning to unfold before them.
Christ is a child—and yet his magnificence is undeniable. And for Mary and Joseph, the presence of this divine child has revealed more than just parenthood; it has revealed the truth of their humanity, and of all humanity.
No one but God made man could reveal this truth to them.
Only in Christ becoming man do we encounter an adequate explanation for who we are. Because he alone reveals that we are not only able to love, but that we are made out of love and made for love.
Our eyes are opened by the child in a new way to the horizon of love. But are we able to follow where this horizon leads?
In Gaudium et Spes, we read that it is the Incarnation who reveals man to himself and makes his calling clear.
It is not simply a question of revelation—of the gift of what Jesus taught. It is rather the revelation of Jesus himself—the gift of himself to us.9
As Gaudium et Spes tells us, when “the Lord Jesus…prayed to the Father 'that all may be one ... as we are one' (Jn 17: 21-22), [he] opened up vistas closed to human reason. For he implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons and the union of God's children in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for its own sake, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self".10
We might say that the sincere gift of self is the interpretive key to understanding our lives. We are each called to the sincere gift of self, which alone is an adequate expression of our humanity. But what is the true dimension of this gift? In what way is it authentic? How may it be in some sense adequate?
It is only in the sincere gift of self of God’s love expressed in the Incarnation and present in the gift of the Eucharist that we begin to understand our own calling as persons created in the image and likeness of God.
By drawing us into a wholly new relationship with the Lord, the Eucharist reveals what it means to be made in the image of the God who is Love. As we learn in Evangelium Vitae: “Christ’s blood reveals to man that his greatness, and therefore his vocation, consists in the sincere gift of self.”11
More than that, the Eucharist imparts the grace to live out the vocation he reveals to us, the vocation to love. “Whoever in the Sacrament of the Eucharist drinks this blood and abides in Jesus is drawn into the dynamism of his love and gift of life, in order to bring to its fullness the original vocation to love which belongs to everyone.”12
Here we see that the true presence of Christ has its first physical manifestation within the family—first the Holy Family, and then the Church family. Christ has descended to our world, but has located himself within a loving family.
The Crucifixion: The Gift of Self
Surrounding the tabernacle in the Chapel is a mosaic of the crucifixion, in which Mary and John are prominent in their place beneath the crucified Jesus. Both are holding on to the Cross with such force that in places, they themselves merge with the cross.
Once again, we witness the Lord’s love of the family from the cross—his Eucharistic sacrifice expresses its connection with the communion of persons that makes up a family.
Even as Christ conquers death through his death on the cross, he cares not only for humanity, whom he redeems in this moment, but for his family in particular. Christ’s words turn to his mother. He gives John to Mary as her son, and Mary he gives to John – and to all of us – as mother. As he secures the possibility of eternal life for each of us, he turns to her earthly needs as well.
Completing that mosaic is an image of the founder of the Knights of Columbus, Father Michael McGivney, who holds a chalice and a loaf of bread, symbols of the celebration of the Eucharist and a reminder to us of our responsibility to protect the family and to aid those in need.
And yet we might ask, why does Christ reveal himself in families?
In a way, marriage and family is the primordial expression of the gift of self. The family witnesses to the need for love while providing a concrete expression of this total gift of self in the transmission, nurture and care of human life.
The family is also the primordial school of love, but the lessons of love which it teaches may only be authentic when arising from the authentic expression of the sincere gift of self.
Perhaps for this reason, marriage and family are losing recognition within so many societies today. Without sanctification, the family’s gift of self become reduced to a mere consensual agreement or as one American law school textbook on family law described marriage as being better understood today as “a joint venture for profit” between the spouses.13
Too often the cultural commentary about marriage—especially found in defense of divorce—suggests marriage and family is risky because one’s commitment and contribution may not “pay off”—that there may not be an adequate return on one’s investment in the marriage.
And yet, our sacrifices are put in perspective at every Mass when we say: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.”
What a dramatic expression of Christ’s love for us! He daily gives himself to those unworthy of him, and yet he continues to offer himself to us, regardless of our worthiness.
As a young priest, one of John Paul’s most loved saints was Brother Albert of Poland, who himself struggled against the dehumanizing ideologies of his time. Brother Albert would often tell his religious brothers, “you must be as good as bread, which for everyone rests on the table and from which everyone, if hungry, may cut himself a piece for nourishment.”14
To be Eucharistic spouses and parents, we must too “be as good as bread,” willing to leave ourselves behind, like Christ, to nourish others.
In many cases, couples’ fears about having children are really fears about this gift of self—fears that one might lose their identity in the gift of self, or fears that one will not be able to give oneself. It is what Pope Benedict called “the drama of our time”—it is the drama of whether we will say “Yes or No to love.”
It is here that the Church presents a great “yes” to every person. The Church is the only voice that tells us today marriage, family, and even celibate single-life are compatible with the vocation of the human person.
The Church says, Do not be afraid of the vocations of love. You were created out of love, for love, and you are sustained by the God who is Love.
Married Catholics especially need to realize that, whether they intend to or not, people are looking to them as models of Christian marriage and family. Society is looking to them for an authentic witness of human love.
Families are uniquely able to declare as well the beautiful dignity of each person, from conception until death. As Familiaris Consortio reminds us that this, too, is a gift: “The newborn child gives itself to its parents by the very fact of its coming into existence. Its existence is already a gift, the first gift of the Creator to the creature.”15
The Wedding at Cana: Transformation of Human works
This is the real marvel of transformation: not only does the Eucharist transform us, but Christ transforms also what we do in communion with others, and for communion with others.
The last mosaic in our chapel shows this clearly. It is the wedding feast at Cana. Mary, Jesus and the newly married couple are all depicted, as is the miracle in which Christ at the behest of his mother, changes water into wine, prefiguring the Eucharist.
A type of transubstantiation – from water to wine – prefigures the transubstantiation that nourishes us in Eucharistic communion. But Christ performs this miracle for his mother – within the communion of his own family – and for the wellbeing a new communion of persons in the form of the married couple.
This is what John Paul meant by becoming a new creation. Not only are humans transformed, but everything that is human is also transformed. And it is transformed especially within the family, through the family, and for the family.
This transformation is not simply about a new agreement or arrangement, there now exists a new status and a new unity which in its most profound meaning is indissoluble.
The family can be a new school of love because it is a community that has been transformed precisely at the level of the heart. As Pope John Paul wrote, “In this sacrament of bread and wine, of food and drink, everything that is human really undergoes a singular transformation and elevation. Eucharistic worship is … is also the merciful and redeeming transformation of the world in the human heart.”16
Every area of our lives is redefined with new brilliance and clarity, new meaning and capacity through the Eucharist.
Although lay persons are not priests, the celebration of the Eucharist is also the culmination of the layman’s work: it is the moment when the world is consecrated to God.
The Second Vatican Council described this very well: “For their work, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labor, their mental and physical relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life if patiently borne-all of these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pt 2:5). During the celebration of the Eucharist these sacrifices are most lovingly offered to the Father along with the Lord's body. Thus as worshipers whose every deed is holy, the lay faithful consecrate the world itself to God."17
Looking at the effect of the Eucharist in our lives, we can only confirm that no mere symbol of Christ’s love has the power to change our lives—and the world—this much.
We experience in the Eucharist a “‘new creation’ in our lives and of “the whole created order.” Because of this reality we can envision even a new nation infused by people in love with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, a new nation filled with Eucharistic families.
Through them, Christ can enter culture and create a new civilization—what Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict have called a “civilization of love.”
2Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, title and especially §70.
3Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, §76
4John Paul II, Address to Laity, Catechists, and Catholic Women, Kaduna, Nigeria, February 14, 1982. §10. “It is through the Eucharist that Christ guides our lives and builds our communities of love, understanding and mercy.”
5John Paul II, General Audience—Holy Week, March 26, 1997. §2.
6Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, §2.
7John Paul II, Gift and Mystery, pg. 82.
8The idea was expressed clearly in Bishop Severus’ letter to Saint Augustine. Letter 109 www.augustinus.it/latino/lettere/lettera_110_testo.htm See also Etienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Augustine, pg. 312, n.47.
9John Paul II, Gaudium et Spes, §22.
10Gaudium et Spes, 24.
11John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, §25.
12John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, §25
13Ransford Comstock Pyle, Family Law (Delmar Publishers, 1994). Pg. 206.
14Quoted in “Saint Brother Albert Chmielowski”, by the Albertine Brothers,
15John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, §11.
16John Paul II, Dominicae Cenae, §7.
17Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, §34.