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The Eucharist: Center of the Universe

This week I have been thinking about Corpus Christi Sunday – the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ – which we will be celebrating on June 18. On this feast, which the Church has been celebrating since the 13th Century, we worship Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and reaffirm his centrality in our lives. We offer our lives to the Father with Jesus, as we share in his one sacrifice made present at every Mass.

The Catechism describes the Eucharist as the “source and summit” of our faith. It is the greatest gift we have and the sacrament toward which all the other sacraments are oriented. Archbishop Fulton Sheen was once asked shortly before his death about his commitment to adoring the Blessed Sacrament for an hour each day and what inspired him to keep up that practice. His answer is worth sharing.

In 1900 when nationalists surged to power in China, they arrived at a town where they arrested the parish priest and took over the local church. A group of soldiers was commanded to open the tabernacle and stomp on the Blessed Sacrament, which they promptly did. Meanwhile, the priest was imprisoned in the church’s coal bin, which allowed him to see part of the sanctuary. He lost track of the time, but for days he saw an 11-year-old girl carefully sneak into the sanctuary, bow before the hosts scattered on the ground, use her tongue to reverently pick up and consume one of them, and then pray in silence before departing. One fateful day, the priest saw the little girl begin her ritual only to be surprised by a guard who burst through the church door and shot her. She crawled forward just enough to consume one of the hosts before dying.

Although Archbishop Sheen began his practice of daily adoration a year before he was ordained a priest, it was an 11-year-old Chinese girl who inspired him to commit to it for the rest of his life. The Chinese girl’s faith, reverence, respect and desire to receive the Eucharist, even at the risk of her life, inspired him to more deeply love Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Hundreds of books have been written about the Eucharist, but as we approach the Feast of Corpus Christi, I want to focus on how the Blessed Sacrament must be at center of every authentic disciple’s life, just as it was for the little Chinese girl and Archbishop Sheen.

This past January, Pope Francis asked the faithful gathered for daily Mass at the Vatican: “Is Jesus Christ at the center of my life?” To answer this question, the Holy Father said that we must do three things: know Jesus, worship him and follow him. Knowing Jesus begins with recognizing him, which is possible through reading the Scriptures, prayer and receptivity to the Holy Spirit, who shows us Jesus. Knowing Jesus means receiving his love for me and falling in love with him. We are called to develop a true friendship with our Lord and Savior.

One way we worship Jesus is by receiving the Eucharist in a state of grace. This means going to Confession before Communion to, in the words of Pope Francis, “remove from our hearts other things we adore and that capture our interest.” Once these obstacles are removed, our hearts, minds and souls can become more receptive to Jesus and conformed to him. This meeting with Christ becomes more profound when we adequately prepare ourselves for Mass and actively participate in the prayers of the Mass. One should prepare by fasting for an hour before Communion, reading the Mass readings ahead of time, committing to daily personal prayer and spending time in Eucharistic adoration.

When we arrive at Mass we should enter into a silent, reverent conversation with the Lord to prepare ourselves to encounter him and to offer our lives to the Father. Instead of having conversation with others or greeting neighbors before Mass, we should greet the one we are there to worship and prepare ourselves for the one we love. After Mass is over, we can visit with our fellow parishioners, thus placing God first.

Lastly, we place Christ at the center of our lives by following him. This means orienting all our decisions, the order of each day, and our interactions with others around the Father’s will and seeking his plan for our lives. It means being a disciple at the feet of the Master, learning and imitating his habits, virtues and desires.

As we prepare to celebrate the solemn feast of Corpus Christi, I urge all the faithful of the archdiocese to ask, “Is Jesus at the center of my life?” and to take steps to more intensely know, worship and follow him. May our love for the Eucharistic Lord be as strong as the love of that Chinese girl, who to this day continues to give witness to the true presence of Christ by her example!

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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