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The Source of All Joy

In a time of uncertainty, a deeper relationship with Christ in his eucharistic presence brings great joy and peace.

Amid the darkness and insanity of our modern culture, there is much goodness, because Christ is joyfully with us in this world. He promised he would not abandon us, and he fulfills that promise every day, countless times, in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  

He is the Christ, the son of the living God. When we remember that, when we pray before him, the world has changed. Our world, and then our family’s world, and then our community’s world, and then our town’s world—it just keeps expanding. Never doubt that reality. 

We all know what Pope St. John Paul II repeated many times throughout his papacy: “Be not afraid.” We can’t be afraid, because we know the Christ, the son of the living God. What I encourage us all to do is to come to know him more deeply. 

Personality or person?

It was in January 2019, after the tragic summer of 2018 when the Cardinal McCarrick scandal broke open, that Pope Francis instructed the U.S. bishops, probably for the first time in history, “Go on retreat.” It was a wise call. 

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household since 1980, gave us the retreat in Mundelein, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He asked a question of all of us—not just of bishops, not just of priests, but of all of us baptized in Christ: “In your life, is Jesus Christ a personality or a person?” 

Think of the personalities you know: movie stars, sports figures, businesspeople, people who are in the public eye but whom you’ve never met. You’ve never talked to them. You’ve never shared the same air. A personality is only a phantasm of who that child of God really is. 

There’s a huge difference when we know them as persons. We may still have strong disagreements with what they say or what they stand for, but there’s an intimacy that cuts through so much that we deal with in the world today.  

As Christians, as members of the body of Christ, we must know Christ as a person and not just a personality. If you read this and admit, “I need to get to know him better,” I’d say, absolutely, you do. I do. We all do. 

Christ longs for each of us. He longs for your parish priest. Pray for your priests to know Jesus more deeply as the person of love and joy and grace in their lives. We all are aware of the theological concept of the priest being an alter Christus, “another Christ” But if a priest doesn’t know Jesus as a personal Lord and Savior—believe me, it’s tough to be another Christ if you don’t know the true Christ.  

To all of you who are married, your beloved spouse is not a person to whom you would ever say, “Well, we made it to fifty years. We don’t need to talk anymore. We know each other.” You probably don’t need to talk a lot, because you do know each other, just as with the Lord. But we need to work to deepen our relationship even with those we love and know intimately. When it comes to Christ, that means spending time in his mysterious eucharistic presence.  

There’s a famous story about St. John Vianney: someone came to him as he sat before the Blessed Sacrament and asked, “What do you do all day with this?” The saint answered, “Nothing. I just look at him, and he looks at me.”  That’s what happens in intimate, personal relationships. You who are married know this much better than I do, but as a priest, I’m learning to do this with the Lord.  

I’m thankful to say that I have a hunger to be in his eucharistic presence—just like you have a hunger, when you’re out of town or on a business trip, to return to your spouse, your beloved. That’s where marriage and Eucharist begin to meld together as sacraments.  

The code of Jesus

I want to share with you one of my favorite paragraphs from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and this one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ” (134). I think part of my love for that is rooted in the Bible Belt where I grew up, where people will take the word of God and say, “This is all we need.” True, we need God’s word; but we also need him, the incarnate word of God. 

The Bible is like the code of Jesus. It tells his story, from the very first verse of the book of Genesis: 

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:1-2).

Now listen to the very last verse of Sacred Scripture from the book of Revelation: “’Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 33:20). 

Everything between these two passages is the code message of who Jesus is. The Catholic Church collated the New Testament in the early centuries and embraced the Old Testament, determining which books were divinely inspired, so the Bible is our book. The Bible is Christ. 

We need to have the strength and the knowledge and the truth, the revealed truth that is Christ, to help us through this darkness. Obviously, there is confusion about the Eucharist, and the national bishops’ conference is writing a document on the subject. But we’ve got glorious encyclicals from centuries stretching through the ages. We need to mind those. We need to develop ways for people to know the truth of the Eucharist, the Real Presence—body, blood, soul, and divinity.  

Look at the saints of old. How many of them died for him? Some of them were murdered rather than deny his eucharistic presence. We all must be ready for that, ready to die for him as he died for us. 

I want to allude to four of my favorite mysteries of the rosary, one from each of the four sets of mysteries. It’s all eucharistic for me. I’ve prayed to be a eucharistic apostle because we all need to be. What did Christ tell the apostles to do at the end of Matthew’s Gospel? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).  

I know living in these times can be overwhelming. You worry about your children, your grandchildren, your world, your community, your parish, your priest. I have a sign at my front door: “Pray more, worry less.” We need to pray and trust and be joyful in all that the Lord is about, because he is about wondrous things. 

The Annunciation

The first mystery I want to reflect on is the Annunciation. In an age when too many, including too many Catholics, don’t value life from conception, this announcement that the Lord is to be conceived in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary should be a great inspiration to us. As I pray in the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist, I remind myself that for mothers who have carried children in their wombs, at least in the initial stages, that child was unknown to you. Maybe you had an intuition, maybe you had a feeling, but you didn’t know for sure that it was there. And yet it was very much there, growing and developing.  

I like to relate that to the mystery of the Eucharist. The bread that we gaze on in eucharistic adoration and the precious blood that the wine has become don’t look different. But we know they are profoundly changed. We need to hold tight to that faith, and it nurtures it for me to relate it to the mystery that the son of God had arrived in the world incarnate in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary for many weeks as she and Jesus go to visit Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist. 

The world didn’t know; Elizabeth and Mary were beginning to know; but John and Jesus, children in the womb, they knew the truth more profoundly than the rest of the world. We need to let that resonate. What is wisdom? What is truth? What is knowledge? It is knowing the mystery of God, which is the unborn boy, Jesus, in in the womb of His mother. The unborn John knew, and he leaped for joy. 

That’s what we need to do in the presence of the Lord. I offer you that first mystery, the joyful mystery of the rosary, as eucharistic. You may not have thought of it in those terms, but March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, needs to be a big deal because that is the moment of incarnation when God became flesh among us. 

I believe the more we as Catholics, who know the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, can embrace that and celebrate that and let it joyfully ring out, the more souls who are lost will come to that simple but profound realization: life is there. It’s a new person, and in the case of the Annunciation, that person is the son of God. 

The Transfiguration

This is one of my favorite luminous mysteries. I like its eucharistic tone. I like to imagine Peter, James, probably tired and hot, toiling up a mountain. Many of us have been to the Holy Land. It can be hot and dusty. The disciples probably thought, “Jesus, where are we going? You’re trudging us up another mountain.” Jesus was certainly their Lord, and they were beginning to understand the mystery; but on the mountain there was a theophany, and it shone brightly in ways that the Gospel writers really can’t describe—so white it was unimaginable, so full of light. 

Let that transfiguration resonate through our hearts and minds as we kneel before what appears to be a simple host in a monstrance. However glorious the monstrance is, it pales to the glory of the presence of the Lord. Let us allow him to touch us with a glimpse of his glory in the Eucharist.  

The Crucifixion

The third one is one of the sorrowful mysteries. It isn’t explicitly mentioned in the mysteries, but it’s when Christ’s sacred heart stops beating. I love the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and I reflect on that frequently. As Jesus died on the cross, and the soldier’s lance pierced his side, blood and water flowed out. We know from the earliest days of the Church that the Fathers believed that blood and water is the sacramental life—the very life of the Lord. 

As we pray before his eucharistic presence, or as we’re approaching the altar to receive him at Mass, let us be aware that we’re receiving that life blood that the Lord poured out for us. For each of us individually, it’s unfathomable to believe, but it is the truth: that blood and water gush forth for you and for me and for every person, for all of time in the wonder of the sacrifice of the Lord. 

The Resurrection

I love the movie The Passion of the Christ. I often watch it during Holy Week. I’ll confess, probably every time I watch it, at some place in the story I weep, because it captures the reality of the God-Man, fully God, fully man, who suffered immeasurably and died. But then he rose. His eucharistic presence is that resurrected Lord that he offered for the first time literally hours before he died. 

Let us allow that truth to resonate in our hearts and minds. Let it strengthen us. Let it rekindle the joy, no matter the darkness we face. No matter what the government or a Church authority says, we know the Christ, the Son of the living God, and he is there to nurture us, to be our Lord present and to strengthen us in his love.  

As with any love story, the lover needs to know the object of his love. We must long to know Christ more deeply—and he longs to know us more deeply. Believe that. Know deep in your being, in the marrow of your bones, that the Lord loves you beyond imagining and he longs to love you more. It is up to each of us to allow him to do so. 

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