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: Why stay in the Church?

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

There are many people who have either left the Church or are currently considering leaving because of the scandals of recent decades. We have felt pain and righteous anger at our leaders and have suffered scandal from their betrayal. For some, the grand jury reports and lack of accountability for bishops have been the last straw. It’s hard to blame people for feeling this way, but we have to ask with Peter, “to whom, Lord, shall we go?” (John 6:68).

Significantly, this question comes after many disciples walked out on Jesus for his teaching on the Eucharist, and it is the Eucharist that should be at the center of any response to the crisis. Peter answers his own question: “you have the words of everlasting life” (John 6:68). The Church is Jesus’ own body in the world, and we are members of his mystical body, given eternal life by consuming his own flesh at Mass. Without the Eucharist, Jesus’ presence in the flesh, the very heart of the Church, where would we be?

Bishop Robert Barron echoes Peter’s question in a recent pamphlet-style book, with over a million copies in print, Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis (Word on Fire, 2019). He turns to the Bible and Church history to look for perspective on the crisis. Because of the centrality of the Eucharist in the Church, the betrayal of some of our priests and bishops takes on greater significance. They act in persona Christi at Mass, offering the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross to the Father, and we depend on them for our sacramental life.

Fortunately, the validity of the sacraments does not depend upon the sinlessness of priests, but rather the holiness of God. Barron points out, however, that priests will not get off easy, given the extremely harsh words that Jesus offers to those who lead children astray: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,  it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!” (Mt 18:7-9). Barron also references the punishment of Eli, in 1 Samuel 2-4, who as priest and judge of Israel watched his own sons, who were also priests, abuse the people. Barron argues that this scene gives us the best example of God’s retribution for allowing abuse to happen and not correcting it.

Barron also looks at the tumultuous story of Church history for context on the current crisis. Although the Church is the mystical body of Christ, he references St. Paul assertion that we bear our treasure in earthen vessels, as evidenced by the human weakness of Christians throughout history. In fact, this weakness manifests the Lord’s grace guiding and preserving the Church in spite of us. Barron quotes Belloc that a proof of the Church’s divine foundation “might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight” (43). Heresies, sinful popes, and sexual perversity have not fundamentally destroyed the Lord’s work, even if they have turned many people away. God has promised to remain with his Church and his providence will guide us especially through dark moments.

The crisis challenges us and raises the question of why we are Catholic. Most of us have been born Catholic and may take our faith for granted as something we’ve inherited from our parents. We may view belonging to the Church like membership in a voluntary organization. Rather, our life as members of Christ’s Body is a gift from God that changes our identity and unites us to God and our fellow Christians. As we experience challenges to faith, it is an opportunity to embrace this identity even more strongly — not as something that depends upon myself or anyone else in the Church, but on God. We go to Church to honor and thank him and to receive his grace, not to be a part of a human organization.

The Church is a family, called together by God, but, like any family, we experience pain from our own and each other’s sinfulness. As family, we can’t give up on each other, but have to “stay and fight” as Barron exhorts us, helping each other to be faithful to the mission that Jesus gave us: to love one another as he has loved us and to share the Good News of his salvation.

Featured Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash