“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14).
Those farewell words from Jesus to the apostles gathered for their Last Supper with their Lord are preserved for us not only as a memory but in the living reality of the Eucharist. Jesus continues to fill us with His love, the sacrificial gift of His life laid down for us on the Cross made present across place and time. And then, always, we are sent from Mass to do what He commands us: to love with that same kind of self-giving love that is not mere sentiment but becomes flesh and blood in our daily experiences.
It reveals a great deal about the Eucharist that any Catholic can say something about the Living Bread come down from heaven, but no Catholic can say everything about it. It is an infinite Gift beyond our words and ideas, but not beyond our sharing. As St. Augustine once put it:
“In the Eucharist, God has given us everything. Although God is all-powerful, He is unable to give more; though supremely wise, He knows not how to give more; though vastly rich, He has not more to give.” As you know from Bishop Kettler’s letter and other coverage, at their June meeting the U.S. Bishops voted to prepare a document inviting all of us to renew our faith and commitment to Catholic life through the Eucharist, accompanied by a “National Eucharistic Revival” in every diocese (details to be developed). The proposed three-part outline of the effort builds on themes from St. John Paul II: the Eucharist as a mystery to be believed, to be celebrated, and to be lived. Research shows a declining faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, that Jesus truly gives us His Body and Blood in Communion and our lives are made one in His love.
The first part will invite us to ponder what we believe about this “inestimable gift,” as St. John Paul said. Long before COVID, attendance at Mass has been decreasing. The second part will reflect on the centrality of the Eucharistic liturgy as the heart of our belonging and service in the Church and in the world. As Jesus’ words to the apostles tell us, the Eucharist cannot be compartmentalized; it is never a private act of devotion but is meant to transform everything we say and do. The third part will clarify that to receive Communion is to make a public profession that we are in fact in communion – united in faith and practice with Christ our Head and with the Church, His Body. The theme of “Eucharistic consistency” (or “coherence”) is not new. Pope Emeritus Benedict put it eloquently in his 2011 Corpus Christi homily: “Those who recognize Jesus in the sacred Host, recognize him in their suffering brother or sister, in those who hunger and thirst, who are strangers, naked, sick or in prison; and they are attentive to every person, they work in practice for all who are in need.” In our unsettled times, Archbishop Gomez has asked all of us to pray for the bishops as they prepare this Eucharistic teaching. Please join me in doing so, that we may all grow in our friendship with Jesus.