When evil appears to win, turn to the Eucharist

Archbishop Aquila

This week I want to share with you two important themes that have come to me in prayer: the need for prayer and reparation for the atrocity of abortion, and the way that Christ sustains and builds our faith through the Eucharist.

Every person of good will has been shocked by the revelations that Planned Parenthood has been selling body parts from aborted children to biotech companies. The findings are horrific, and the fact that people can speak so cavalierly about the selling of body parts of aborted children while eating lunch and sipping wine demonstrates how deadened the consciences of many people have become.

One day, everyone who has promoted or supported abortion in any way will have to answer for his or her actions before the judgment throne of God. This is where prayer comes in, as we must pray that the conscience of every person will be awakened to the evil of abortion. We must bring before the Lord those whose deadened and erroneous consciences support abortion and Planned Parenthood. We must pray that they will encounter Christ’s mercy and love, and that their consciences will be enlightened with the truth.

There will be three opportunities for prayer in the Archdiocese of Denver. The first is a weeklong prayer campaign organized by Priests for Life that runs Aug. 22-29. Details can be found at PrayerCampaign.org. On Aug. 22, a peaceful protest sponsored by 40 Days for Life and the Pro-Life Action League will be held from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. at the main Planned Parenthood of the Rockies clinic, located at 7155 E. 38th Ave. in Denver. And finally, my fellow bishops and I have called for a statewide day of fasting, prayer, and reparation on Friday, Aug. 28. I encourage you to mark all the dates on your calendar and plan now how you will pray for the conversion of those who participate in abortion.

This brings me to the second point, and that is the gift of the Eucharist, which has been a part of my prayer recently. It has been on my mind and heart because it is through the Eucharist that Jesus nourishes us and helps us engage in prayer during times of trial, when evil seems to be winning.

Every three years the Church reads from the Gospel of Mark, the shortest of the four Gospels. But for five weeks of that cycle, the Church inserts the sixth chapter of John for the Gospel reading. We are presently in the final week of hearing from John’s Eucharistic chapter before returning to Mark.

John 6 provides the deepest teaching we have from our Lord on the Eucharist, and I would like to take this opportunity to explain how God sustains and strengthens us with Scripture and the Eucharist.

I encourage you to begin by taking 20 minutes of time this week to sit down with this chapter, either by yourself or as a family. Begin with a prayer to the Holy Spirit asking him to help you be attentive and listen to the Lord. Read the entire chapter out loud. Then take 5-7 minutes in quiet prayer to see where the Lord speaks to your heart. If you do this alone, simply enter into prayer, speaking heart-to-heart with Jesus about where the passage speaks to you personally. If you do it as a family, let each person speak about what word or passage spoke to their heart. Simply listen to one another. To close, lift up your heart in gratitude to the Lord for the Eucharist and this teaching!

John 6 begins with the invitation to faith from the Lord and concludes with a statement of faith, and it is our faith that Christ wants to strengthen with his Word. Allow me to share some of the reflections that came to me in prayer and strengthened me.

The chapter begins with the miracle of the multiplication of the bread and fish, after which the people want to make Jesus king, but he disappears. Then, he walks on water, which is followed by his teaching on how he is the true bread from heaven. The miracle of the loaves and fish and Jesus walking on the water demonstrate that he is true God and true man. His power and authority over the material world reveal his divinity.

The people only want earthly bread, but Jesus begins to reveal to them that it is the gift of his body and blood in the Eucharist. His teaching causes division and there are those who leave because of it. But Jesus never backs off from the reality and truth of his flesh being true food and his blood true drink. Instead, he issues an invitation to faith that he gives to us today, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Jesus invites them and us to put our faith, confidence and trust in him. He identifies himself as “the true bread” that the Father gives from heaven so that the world may have eternal life.

When the people murmur and dispute among themselves about his teaching, Jesus makes clear that the Eucharist is not a simple sign or symbol, but truly his body and blood. He invites them to a deeper faith, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes has eternal life … the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Jesus teaches us that at every Mass his one sacrifice on the Cross is made present and we participate in it by offering our lives with Jesus to the Father.

He states further, “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Jesus speaks of the intimate communion we have with him when we receive his body and blood at Mass. The Eucharist nourishes us and sustains us as authentic disciples of Jesus. That is why we go to Mass every Sunday, we keep holy the Sabbath, so that with Jesus we may worship the Father and abide with him. The Eucharist strengthens us to give witness to Christ in the world, to intercede for others—including our enemies—and to invite others to encounter him.

At the conclusion of the sixth chapter we learn that many of his disciples found this a “hard teaching” and “withdrew” from him. Jesus turns to the twelve and asks an all-important question that is addressed to us today, “Will you also go away?” Peter answers for the 12 with a statement of faith, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

May our love for the Eucharist grow each time we attend Mass, and may we always give witness to the dignity of every human life from conception until natural death!

 

COMING UP: The priesthood is more than just a job

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In October, the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region will be held at the Vatican. On the agenda: a discussion on the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood in that region, due to a particularly dire lack of vocations. The news has reawakened discussion on priestly celibacy in general, and whether the time has come to relax the requirement on a wider level. And so, I figured it was time to revisit the subject here, as well.

To set the tone, I’d like to begin my discussion with a very short quiz:

Q: Why does the Roman Catholic Church require lifelong celibacy for ordained priests?

  1. Because sex is bad, dirty and evil, and our priests should not defile themselves;
  2. Because we don’t want to have to support priests’ families out of collection funds;
  3. None of the above; or
  4. Both of the above.

The correct answer would be C, none of the above.

So why, then? Why on earth would these men have to give up the possibility of marriage and children, just because they want to serve God as priests?

Priestly celibacy is a discipline of the Church, not a doctrine. It could change. The rule has already been relaxed in relation to married Episcopalian priests who convert to Catholicism. In this era of widespread priest shortages, and even wider-spread scandals, should we consider expanding that exemption, and remove the requirement of priestly celibacy entirely? Wouldn’t a married priesthood encourage more men, and perhaps healthier men, to respond to the call of God?

Perhaps. But at what cost?

Discussions about the elimination of priestly celibacy are not new. They’ve been around as long as priestly celibacy itself. One of the periods of particularly spirited discussion on the subject was in the late 1960’s. In response, Pope Paul VI wrote an encyclical entitled Sacerdotalis Caelibatus. In it, he explained the reasons for the Church’s long history of priestly celibacy, and he enumerated three “significances,” or reasons, for the tradition:

Christological: The priesthood isn’t just a job. It is a state of being. It encompasses his entire existence. It places a mark on his soul — a mark that will follow him into eternity. The priest is ordained by a bishop, who was ordained by a bishop, who was ordained by another bishop, in an unbroken chain that goes clear back to the apostles. And through that sacramental ordination, and the power and grace it conveys, the priest stands in persona Christi —  in the person of Christ. He has the power to consecrate the Eucharist — to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. He can forgive sins.  And so, standing in the person of Christ, the priest seeks to be like him in all things. He imitates Christ’s life, which includes Christ’s celibacy.

But, you say, Christ also had a beard. Does the priest have to imitate that, too? How far do we have to take this whole imitation thing? Well, the question we must ask is: What was integral to Christ’s ministry? Was celibacy integral? What would it look like if Christ had married and had children? He would have had to work to support them. He would have had to provide them a home.  No iterate preaching, moving from town to town. Jesus was not going to be an absentee husband and father. It was the freedom of celibacy that allowed him to give himself totally to the service of the Father and the Father’s children. So yes, I’d say it was integral. The beard, not so much.

Ecclesiological:  This basically means it is about the Church. Our understanding of a priest is not that he’s a single guy, a bachelor. He, like Christ, is in fact “married” to the Church. You’ve heard all that talk about how the Church is the “bride of Christ.” We really believe that. And the priest, standing in persona Christi, likewise becomes the Bridegroom, giving his life for the Church, and especially for the part of the Church he serves. He doesn’t just offer his “workday” to us, the flock.  He offers his life. He serves us as a husband serves his wife. (And we the faithful, as good “wives”, should likewise be going out of our way to love and care for our priests.)  His attention and affections are not divided between his bride, the Church, and an earthly bride and family. He has far greater freedom than a married man — freedom to not only serve his flock, but to pray and meditate and to grow closer to the Christ whom he represents on this earth. Which then prepares him for further service to the flock.

Eschatological: This means it’s about the next life. Remember my last column, about the Poor Clare Sisters who make the radical choice to live this life as if were already eternal life, focusing only on Christ? Well, priests participate in that too. Scripture says that, in Heaven, we will neither marry nor be given in marriage. (Mt 22:30) Priests and consecrated religious foreshadow that here, reminding us that everything that happens in this life is just a prelude to the life to come.

And so, for all of these reasons, I oppose the wholesale elimination of the requirement of priestly celibacy. I realize that we already have exceptions. I know several of those “exceptions,” and I think they are wonderful people and wonderful priests. But I think they would acknowledge the difference between the exception and the rule, and that the loss of priestly celibacy would change our understanding of the character and charism of the priesthood. The priesthood would be increasingly perceived as just another career choice — one to be entered and left at will.

And whatever the priesthood may be, it is definitely not just another job.

Featured image by Josh Applegate on Unsplash