Thursday, August 18, 2005—Second Catechesis

Animator Brian Casey, St. Paul-Minneapolis, USA


"Meeting Christ in the Eucharist"


My dear young friends—


Today’s catechesis in all the World Youth Day sites is entitled “Meeting Jesus in the Eucharist”.


It will focus on how Jesus reveals his glory today in a veiled way, in our experiences, in the Word of God and, above all, in the Eucharist.  Pope John Paul II, founder of WYD encouraged us in this Year of the Eucharist to be ever more profoundly amazed by Jesus' Eucharistic presence to us for adoration.


But first I want to tell you about two young people who have been named “Blessed” by the Church: a young man and a young woman, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha and Blessed Pier-Giorgio Frassati.


This year, in Canada and the United States, we are celebrating a double jubilee of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha: 325 years since she died in 1680 and 25 years since Pope John Paul II beatified her in 1980.

Born In 1655 near Auriesville in New York State, the place of the martyrdom of St. Isaac Jogues, she would become the first person born in North America to be beatified.

When Kateri was four, her mother a Christian Algonquin and her father, a chief died in a smallpox epidemic that left her disfigured and half blind. Her uncle succeeded her father as chief and adopted her.

Though moved by the instruction of the black robes that lodged with her uncle, she was afraid of her uncle’s reaction. She decided not to marry a Mohawk brave proposed for her and at nineteen found the courage to take the step of converting, being baptized with the name of Catherine on Easter Sunday.

Her life in grace grew rapidly; she told a missionary that she prayed often on the great dignity of being baptized.  In her meditations the knowledge of God’s love for human beings and the inherent dignity of each member of her tribe moved her deeply.

In danger because her conversion and holy life stirred up opposition, she took the advice of a priest and stole away one night, embarking on a 300-kilometer journey on foot to the Christian Indian village of Kahnawake outside Montreal.

Over the next three years, under the direction of a priest and an older Iroquois woman, she grew in holiness, giving herself totally to God in long hours of prayer, charity and strenuous penance. Her dedication to the idea of virginity was instinctive: her love for Christ left room for no one else. 

So at the age of 23, she took a vow of virginity, an unprecedented act for an Indian woman, whose future depended on being married. She found a place in the woods where she could pray an hour a day—and was accused of meeting a man there!

Until she visited Montreal she knew nothing of religious life for women. As soon as she learned about it, she and two friends wanted to start a community but they were dissuaded from following this path. So she humbly accepted to live ordinary life in an extraordinary way, practicing severe fasts as a penance to convert sinners. She died the afternoon on Wednesday of Holy Week, the day before the Church celebrates the institution of the Holy Eucharist. Witnesses of her death said that her emaciated face changed color and became like that of a healthy child; even the pockmarks from her bout with smallpox disappeared and the touch of a smile came upon her lips.


Recently the bishops of the United States asked American Catholics to pray through her intercession with God for healings—and the miracle attributable to her intercession that would permit her canonization.  It is a request with which I gladly associate myself, as we have a Catholic Native community—they call themselves Mi’kmaq—at Indian Brook, Nova Scotia whose honour would be increased by the canonization of a Native North American.  We could also pray that God be glorified more and more through her being raised to the altars as a saint who can serve as an example for all the Native Peoples of the Americas.

Blessed Pier-Giorgio Frassati might look as different from Blessed Kateri as one could get.  Born in Turin, Italy on April 6, 1901, the son of a newspaper publisher with a socialist bent and striving to acquire the best university education possible in his time, he lived the life of those born with a silver spoon in their mouths.  But as God did in the case of Blessed Kateri, the heart of Pier-Giorgio was ravished by love of Jesus Christ such that though, on the outside he might have appeared to be the very image of an engaged and socially conscious up-and-coming societal leader, he carried on a secret love affair with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and Christ hidden in the poor of his home city.


An extrovert who loved mountain-climbing, dances, smoking a pipe and being fashionable, his personality was governed rather by the teaching of Jesus than any other vision, so much so that John Paul II could describe him as the man of the “eight beatitudes” that we find in Matthew’s gospels: the one who was poor in spirit and meek, hungering for righteousness to be realized in our world and gentle; a peace-maker and someone who mourned with those who mourned and rejoiced with those who rejoiced; merciful and righteous.  We can sum up his zest and thirst for life by quoting a letter he wrote to a friend six months before his death at the age of twenty-four on July 4, 1925: “To live without faith, without a patrimony to defend, without continuing to struggle to sustain the truth, that’s not living but vegetating.  We must never vegetate but live.”  So, here was some one young and vibrant; delighting in his friends, in song and theatre; never more thrilled than on a mountain peak; active socially, politically and culturally; one whose many gifts were brought to their fulfillment in his knowledge and love of Jesus hidden in the tabernacle and hidden in the poor whom he served without anyone but the poor noticing it.  In the last months of his life, he suffered terribly, but he accepted it all with the same trust in the God of his life as he had accepted all the thrills of being a fully alive young man.


Pope John Paul II tells us that he was personally moved as a youth by the inspiring example of Pier-Giorgio. That is why the example of his life has been held up as an example at the WYDs of Denver, Rome and Toronto.


In a way, Pier-Giorgio anticipates the John Paul II Generation, those born after he became pope in 1978. The qualities of the JPII Generation is to be positive, youth desiring to say “yes” to life; “yes” to commitment; “yes” to and “yes” to…. 


What Pier-Giorgio and other saints offer us is the model of being fully alive in Jesus! And it is our privilege as Catholic Christians to have been given a wonderful gift, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ as food to strengthen us in our resolve on the path to eternal life with God.  Not only does Jesus give Himself to us in Holy Communion but also he rejoices that we worship Him outside Mass in Eucharistic adoration.  He wants this so that we can be regularly “astounded” by His great gift of making Himself—the Word of God made flesh—small and readily accessible to us for our growth in personal holiness. 


Contemplating Jesus in the reserved Blessed Sacrament, we are graced with the capacity to see him where he is also in the daily experiences of our life and hidden particularly in his brothers and sisters in need.


Why did Pope John Paul II declare October 2004-October 2005 the “Year of the Eucharist” and why are we focusing on this theme on this second day of catechesis at WYD 2005?  Pope John Paul had already pointed us to Christ from the first days of his papacy and, it seems to me, that as he grew in weakness and contemplated what his legacy to the Church might be, he saw the need for the whole church to become more profoundly rooted in this central mystery of our faith, Holy Communion as the culmination of our weekly Sunday Eucharist.


The fact that this need does exist in our church may be noted in the large number of seminars, books and articles that have come in abundance to our Catholic community this year.  There are also many outside our faith community who are being attracted to Catholicism precisely because of their appreciation of the Eucharist.


Though I had heard and read of Scott Hahn the Presbyterian minister who had become a Catholic and was writing beautiful books and wise scholarly articles, I did not have the pleasure of meeting him for sustained conversation until last summer when the Catholic Biblical Association of America held its annual meeting at St. Mary’s University in Halifax.  Since then we have had the opportunity to participate in a colloquy on Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and a seminar in Applied Biblical Studies at Franciscan University of Steubenville. 


Recently, I have had the joy of listening to him recount his conversion, rooted entirely on the meaning of the “Supper of the Lamb” in the Book of Revelation and how this future reality takes place in mystery every time we celebrate Mass.


What motivated Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha to steal away in the woods to pray, Pier-Giorgio Frassati to spend vigils of prayer before our Eucharistic Lord, the real bodily presence of the Risen Lord Jesus under the appearances of a wafer of bread is, as Dr. Hahn would put it, the key to all of human history and the anticipation of our meeting with him at the end of time.  If we truly grasped this mystery of Jesus Christ, the Lord of history, we would be guided, as the Magi were by the Star to worship at the crib in Bethlehem and as countless Christians throughout history have been drawn to adore and glorify the humility of God hidden under the appearance of bread.


Dr. Hahn said that every Bible study program he had undertaken always seemed to begin with a study of the Apocalypse.  But he began to wonder at the differences in interpretations and to ponder whether echoes of the heavenly liturgy were to be found in Christian worship here on earth.  While he was a graduate student in Scripture at Marquette University, he was moved to attend Mass celebrated each day on campus. 


He discovered that all he had come to know over the years, God’s plan to bring to completion His saving work on earth, was already being realized in a hidden way—under veiled forms—in the Eucharistic mystery celebrated in millions of Catholic churches in the world every day!  From the moment of that realization, he tried to attend Mass every day, even before he was received into the Church and could receive Holy Communion.  Later, his wife and family joined him as members of the Catholic communion.


And Dr. Hahn resolved to write a book for Catholics on what happens at Mass since many seem not to understand the mystery of Calvary and Easter, what we refer to as the paschal mystery of the death of Jesus to take away the sins of the world and Jesus’ resurrection to anew and totally transformed life with God that we began to share in baptism and have renewed in us whenever we participate with full and active participation in the sacred liturgy.  The Supper of the Lamb has sold over 200,000 copies, indicating that it has filled a need Catholics have to know what does indeed take place at Mass.


I don’t know whether or not you think that our Mass here on earth mirrors the worship that will be given to God for all eternity in heaven.  The Apocalypse, which means “unveiling” tells us that in heaven all sorts of musical instruments and shouts and acclamations to God find their proper place.  As do prostrations and adoration and praise—the characteristic of a lot of the youth liturgies I have been privileged to celebrate over the years.


Scholars tell us that among the important things that we may not always attend to are the sacrifice of the Lamb which is the core of what we are about and the Parousia of Christ at the end of time that happens in a hidden way in Mass.


Sacrifice in the Scriptures and Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  The paschal mystery is one we participate in.


“Parousia” is a term that dictionaries may tell you is the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time.  And it is used that way in St. Paul’s writings and in the Book of Revelation.  But it’s basic meaning is “presence” or “appearance” and referred at times to the coming of the emperor or other highly placed dignity to visit their subjects and to grant some gifts and benefits on those who participated in the “Parousia” (an example might be the reception given by the Mayor of Dusseldorf yesterday to the bishops here for WYD or our welcome to Pope Benedict this afternoon).


Jesus comes and is present—just as he will be at the end of time or at the end of our lives—in Holy Communion.  The last day of history is anticipated every time we receive Holy Communion!  We get to know him as we get to know our pastors or our bishops or civic leaders, so as not to be afraid by to stand confidently before Him as we will one day.


May we grow in our understanding that we are at Mass joining in the Communion of the Saints and offer praise and worship to God in gladness and thanksgiving.  I trust that this will be true for you today, when Jesus comes in Word and Sacrament, on Sunday when we will be privileged to have Pope Benedict as our celebrant, and every other time you celebrate Mass back home!