I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. … Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
— The Gospel of Saint John, 6:51, 56-57
LET’S admit it: For most Filipino Catholics, the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu on January 24-31 is about as attention-grabbing as an election campaign rally by some nuisance candidate.
No matter that the IEC is the most important global gathering of the billion-strong Catholic Church, just as the Olympics is the pinnacle of world sports.
Held every 3-5 years, the Congress celebrates, contemplates, deliberates, and otherwise devotes much attention and exertion to the Mystery of the Eucharist, in which the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ is relived in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass through the offering of His Body and Blood in the form of consecrated bread and wine.
In the Eucharist, the central doctrines of the Church are sacramentally expressed and realized: that God became man in the Person of Jesus, that He suffered and died on Calvary for man’s redemption from sin, that He rose from the dead and continues to sustain and bring us to God, particularly by giving us His Grace through the Eucharist.
That’s why the IEC is arguably the most important conference in Catholicism, even greater than the Synods of bishops or the College of Cardinals electing the Pope.
Those assemblies of the hierarchy may have more apparent impact on the Church. But the Congress is a true feast of Catholicism’s spiritual core at all levels and faculties. It brings together all manner of faithful, from laymen and religious to theologians and prelates, harnessing mind, heart, body and soul, word, song and dance, to make more real and relevant Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist.
The IEC doesn’t elect the Vicar of Christ, but celebrates His own Body and Blood.
‘Open man’s heart for Jesus’
Let’s face it: Most people today, even believers, may not get all worked up over spiritual matters, even something like God reliving the redemptive sacrifice of His Second Person, and giving His Body and Blood to us in the form of bread and wine.
And if that sounds like a 21st-Century trend, it isn’t. Said Bishop Gaston de Sigur, who presided over the very first Eucharistic Congress in 1881 at the University of Lille in France 135 years ago:
“Secularization has been the watchword of the enemies of God, and their purpose has been to keep religion and the supernatural away from the hearts of men. Our purpose is to open a way to man’s heart for Jesus to enter, and this purpose can only be attained by means of the Holy Eucharist.” (from “Eucharistic Miracles”, by Joan Carroll Cruz, author of “The Incorruptibles” and other books on miracles in the Catholic Church)
The good bishop might as well have spoken about 2016. Humankind today certainly has less and less room for the heavenly amid every person’s daily crush of earthly concerns. So how can matters Eucharistic even get an iota of attention in our time?
And for those of us attending Sunday or even weekday mass and receiving communion, how much does the Real Presence of Christ matter in our own lives? And in answering that question, one may also stumble upon the key to making the Eucharist touch the people of our time.
The Eucharist must cost us
Ironically, one problem with Holy Communion these days is that it’s too easy. Sure, you need to drive or walk to church and spend 30-45 minutes at mass before receiving our Lord. But really, after years or decades, that can become routine, and what might have been a solemn spiritual experience long ago, may lose its mystery and depth.
Then the communicant may begin to wonder if the consecrated host is indeed the Body of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. And if one exerts little effort in preparing for the Eucharist, being deserving of it, and showing gratitude for this divine gift, is one truly giving God’s Body and Blood rightful significance and value? Does one really believe that one is receiving the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity?
That’s one reason for prescribing certain dress codes at mass. It’s not just for modesty and propriety, but as rightful preparation before coming face to face with the Lord and King of heaven and earth, Who deserves infinitely more than the sprucing up most people would spend hours on before meeting some celebrity or public figure.
So in making the Real Presence of Christ more, well, real for us, maybe we should bleed a little for the Lord, so to speak. Not just fasting an hour before communion, but doing an act of mercy, saying the Rosary, pondering the mass readings, or even just spending ten minutes in silence before a crucifix or the Blessed Sacrament with nothing occupying our mind, heart and soul but Him.
And after He comes to us to fill us with His grace and bring our beings closer to His divine love and perfection, surely that deserves even more effort on our part to show our immense gratitude. And our deepest thanks are best shown in sharing God’s love with others, especially those we don’t usually show caring for, or those we may have hurt in our home or workplace.
And if, by chance, the objects of our charity should wonder why you have shown kindness, don’t hesitate to say that you did it in gratitude for having received Christ. Then they would know that the Eucharist is far more than just a piece of bread. Amen.