Living and speaking about the Eucharist today
A leap in quality in the story of humanity
During their annual congress at the end of December, which had the Eucharist as its theme, a group of seminarians who live the spirituality of unity had a moment of dialogue with Jesús Morán focolarino priest and co-president of the Focolare Movement since 2014. In a spontaneous and fraternal atmosphere they reflected on a few topical questions that were representative of the whole group. Two questions came from Brazil, two from Kenya and one from Cuba. We report back on the main points of their conversation.
Each of our stories, has much to do with our personal relationship with the Eucharist, and our understanding of such a great mystery of faith. Can you tell us, in just a few words, how it was for you?
To tell you the truth, I have had a deep love for the Eucharist since I was very young. I think it was because I was born near Avila, the city of Saint Teresa and St John of the Cross. Then my family moved to Madrid and our house was right opposite the church. I used to serve at Mass every morning before school. By the time I went to Secondary School it was the last few years of General Franco's dictatorship and there were many changes happening in Spanish society. All of us, even those in Catholic schools and colleges, were caught up in this climate of change and we wanted to be involved. We fought for democracy. There was a great sense of demand for social and political change. I was very involved and to some extent I dropped the daily practices of my faith.
I chose to study philosophy because it seemed like a very good way to achieve the change of mentality we were all striving for. It was at that time that I met the Focolare, in particular the young people or 'gen' as they were called, which stands for ' new generation', so even the name had a sense of mission about it! For me, it meant discovering a true Christian Revolution and the chance to live in such a way as to bring about social change by starting with myself and taking the Gospel seriously. In the meantime, many of my Christian friends were joining Marxist groups. Being with the gen helped me to remain faithful to a Christian vision of things. And it led me to rediscover the Eucharist. No one told me to go to Mass every day, but as I began to live the Ideal of unity, it became spontaneous for me to receive Communion every day.
What is the best way to talk about the Eucharist today?
In a world where hostilities, terrorism and wars seem to be multiplying, how should we speak about the Eucharist, especially to those who don't believe in it, or at least don't come any more?
The Eucharist is a high point in the history of humanity, a point of no-return, eschatological, definitive. If we look at the history of religion, it’s none other than the constant search for a relationship with God. All religious experience, including the paradigmatic story of the people of Israel, is about finding oneself before God, forging an alliance, deepening one's union with the Divine. Before Jesus, we did not so much hear the word unity, to describe the relationship between human creatures and their God, but union. We find it in various different expressions, for example, in Buddhism, Hinduism, and the religious traditions of Africa. It is true that Yahweh establishes an alliance with his chosen people that is very profound, but if we look closely, it still unfolds in the context of 'union', meaning relationship, closeness, collaboration....
With Jesus, for the first time, union becomes unity. Unity signifies: being one, living in the other. At the Eucharistic table, the relationship that is established is much more than an alliance; we become Jesus, His body. This is a huge leap in the religious history of humanity and a reality that’s not meant only for the individual but something to be lived together. For a long time, however, we understood the Eucharist as predominantly something personal, forgetting the collective dimension that existed in the experience of the people of Israel with Yahweh, their God. It is essential that we regain this dimension of the Eucharist as Jesus intended it.
The Eucharist is a mystery of incorporation, a decisive moment, through which we become the Body of Jesus. In no other religion, not even Judaism can we speak of the 'deification' of the human person. With Jesus, we become God by participation and we become one: christified, deified, God-like.
So, what can we say about the Eucharist to today's world? I would speak about it as a great human event. Because of the Eucharist, we experience a leap in quality, parallel to that moment, when, at an indeterminate point in time and place on the planet, that intelligence which is distinct to the human species emerged for the first time. From that moment the human being is a person, whose fulfilment lies in becoming God. This is how I would present the Eucharist today to a lay person!
Throughout history, humanity has constantly searched for 'something more'. Jesus - who is man - now makes it possible for our intelligence, that which makes us a person, to have a universal and infinite dimension, by letting us 'become God'.
We need to give the Eucharist its true human meaning. It is not something private, personal or purely devotional. To approach the Eucharist is to perform an act of the highest relevance, for with it, humanity takes a huge leap in quality. It is all part of the Incarnation; God took on human 'flesh', grew up as a human being and gave us his body so that we might become Him.
Becoming the gift
At times, we detect a lack of warmth in the celebration of the Eucharist. How can we take full advantage of its effects in which the presence of Jesus is truly felt and the community shines like the Body of Christ? And how can we continue to feel its effects throughout the rest of the day , in all our activities, cultural and social?
When Chiara Lubich wrote her theme on Jesus in the Eucharist, composed of four talks, she wished to highlight above all, the sacrament of unity. Only with the Eucharist can we reach, with all our being, a unity that is complete. Even those who do not receive communion, I believe, are part of this immense reality in some way, because it derives from that moment of the Last Supper of Jesus, when the world and the history of humanity were transformed for ever.
The spirituality of unity, particularly highlights the commandment of mutual love (Jn 13, 34 and 15, 12) and the presence of Jesus in the community united in his name (Mt 18,20). If we celebrate Mass as though it were an empty ritual, and remain indifferent to one another, or even divided by arguments and differences, it is not the same as celebrating it when we are united in mutual love. If we love one another, the Risen One manifests himself amongst us, and we experience the effects of the Eucharist much more fully. If we are not united, the presence of the Risen One will not be manifest, but Jesus in the Eucharist will make us one. Therefore, there is a very close link between Jesus in the community and the Eucharist.
With the Eucharist we become Jesus, and in Jesus we become God; that is, we experience in all their fullness the words of Scripture echoed by Jesus 'You are gods' (Jn 10, 34; cf Sl 81, 6). And our dignity is complete because 'we are all His children' (Acts 17,29), 'sharing in the divine nature' (2 Pt 1,4). Enlightened by these and other passages from Scripture, the mystery of deification is clearly proclaimed by the Fathers of Church and later deepened by St Thomas and other Doctors of the Church. In this mystery lies the basis of unity amongst us and the presence of the Risen One in the community. The Eucharist, which places itself at the service of this Presence, is the sacrament of unity.
And the spirituality of unity, brought to us by Chiara Lubich, brings about the realization of this mystery; that is, it 'renders active something that already exists'.
I have not said anything new, but the Holy Spirit, through the spirituality of unity, is offering us ways to bring this mystery to life; helping us to grasp more deeply the conditions which make it possible for us to experience this mystery with all its fruits, and to extend it to all aspects of our life. All of Chiara's spirituality has the aim of making this happen, not only at the moment in which we celebrate the Eucharist, but beyond this moment, into whole of human existence. Nourishing ourselves on the Eucharist, we become one, and then living the Ideal of unity, we continue to be one throughout the day; we bring this reality as much as we can into all the relationships and areas of our life, and in this way help to bring about a profound renewal of society. This is why we sometimes refer to the Eucharist as the "school of sociality", because it helps us to realize all the positive and constructive potential that exists in human sociability, as designed by God.
Distributing the Body of Christ and distributing oneself
Is it possible to sum up in a few words the relationship that exists between the ministry to which we feel called and the Eucharist? In what way can the charism of unity help priests to make of their life an extension of the Eucharistic celebration?
I think that the charism of unity make us more conscious of what is taking place when we celebrate the Eucharist, bringing a more profound, more full and integral meaning to the ministry. At least, this has been my experience since becoming a priest. When I said my first Mass, I was trembling at the thought that as I celebrated the Eucharist, this small piece of bread was going to become the Body of Christ, and that this bread, when distributed to everyone present, would not only make us Jesus and one amongst ourselves, but that with him we would also be taken into the bosom of the Father and become God by participation.
However, it’s not enough to be conscious of this as we celebrate Mass. What counts is to be Eucharistic people: to be "bread" that is distributed, to be of service permanently; to distribute at Mass the Body of Christ and then, like another Jesus, to "distribute" ourselves by loving everyone we meet throughout the day.
Here too, the spirituality of unity, simply brings to life all that is already present in our faith. We understand the priesthood as Jesus intended it, as service and, therefore, we don’t see the priest so much as someone with a certain influence or presiding over a particular territory, - these are secondary aspects - but as a person who makes themselves Eucharist for everyone, who is at the service of everyone, starting with the least, someone who brings unity, who creates unity.
If for a priest the celebration of Mass is the most important moment of the day and if what he is celebrating is the mystery of unity, then surely he must spend the rest of the day living out that mystery. So, if I carry out my ministry in the parish and if, in celebrating the Eucharist, the bread and the wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, and through this grace the community then becomes the Body of Christ, what am I supposed to do with the rest of my day? I must help this Body of Christ to remain intact. Therefore, I must check to see whether this community truly is the Body of Christ, or if there are any problems, such as differences between rich and poor, anyone who is hungry, or sick? In other words I must look for and live St Paul's motto "rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep".
If I then meet together with other priests, in order to share this way of living, and if we assure each other of our unity, then it will be easier to keep this up. Seminaries must become "workshops' or 'training ground" for training ourselves in this reality. It’s central to our formation. How can we generate a reality within the community if we haven’t profoundly experienced it ourselves?
The practice of mercy
What can we say to priests who find themselves in crisis, in their vocation or in some form of existential crisis, and who are thinking of leaving the priesthood?
It often happens that the first thing a priest does when he finds himself in crisis is to stop celebrating the Eucharist. But this is precisely what he should not do because the greatest source of healing in that situation is to live the Eucharist. Jesus incorporates us into himself. If it’s true that he enters into us, it’s even more true that we enter into him, he incorporates us. So, to become the Body of Christ does not mean being saints already. Jesus takes us as we are.
Consequently, a priest or seminarian who is going through a difficult moment, must not look at himself or feel blocked by his own sense of unworthiness. It’s written in the Gospel and we repeat it every day: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof", which means "I am not worthy that you should enter me". But if we try to turn this round and think instead that it is "we who enter him", we realize that it is he who welcomes us, as we are, as sinners; we are all sinners, none of us is truly worthy.
Therefore, I think that the best way we can help a priest who is in crisis is to show him the mystery of the Eucharist. But we must offer him the living Eucharist, in the atmosphere of fraternity amongst us as priests. The Eucharist is an immense mystery of mercy. Of course, we have the sacrament of penance, of reconciliation, and we should definitely receive this sacrament, but it is precisely when, dazzled by the presence and light of God, we approach the Eucharist with a profound sense of our wretchedness, with our conscience pierced by the awareness of our sinfulness, that we experience the full impact of the transformation that lies within the Eucharist. In that moment, Jesus takes me to himself with the words: " do not look at yourself, look at me, I will transform you into me! it does not matter what you are, only I matter. I know what you are". Jesus does want us to be "better" than we are, he wants us as we are, to help us become always more as God would like us to be. Otherwise, it would be like saying that in order to celebrate the Eucharist we needed a special type of host, made in a certain way,that is perfect. Instead, just an ordinary host is enough, it is Jesus who transforms it.
"A marian priesthood": so that people may see the Church as the Body of Christ
To conclude, what word can you give to those of us who are preparing to follow Jesus in the priesthood?
Considering what the Eucharist is, I think that we should fall in love again with this ministry! But always think of it in this way - from the perspective of unity; this is the key. You are called to be servants of that mystery of unity that is the Eucharist; and you must give this dimension in all its truth and the depth. To live the priesthood in the light of the Marian profile of the Church means to place yourselves at the service of everyone so that the Church may truly be the Body of Christ, always more beautiful and holy - as Chiara used to say - because it is more one.