In the Heart of the Church - Hearts of Prayer

Reflections on the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI
Sacramentum Caritatis

Eucharist makes the 'impossible' a reality
by Ivan Cardinal Diaz
Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples

Eucharist and mission are inseparable realities. In Vietnam, for example, 80 percent of the faithful go to Mass every Sunday and 15 percent also on weekdays. Then at Christmas and Easter the number soars to 95 percent. It is thanks to the Eucharist that people improve their moral conduct, take part in community life and show solidarity to the needy.

In India, the Bishop of Shillong has said that numerous non-Christians often come to Sunday Mass but stay at the back of the church. "The Eucharist succeeds in attracting many to the church, and helps the communities to be more missionary", he observed.

In Burundi, a Country overwhelmed by ethnic massacres in recent years but which is 60 percent Catholic, a catechist said: "At the end of the tribal conflicts the only churches left standing were those in which people would gather for adoration of the Eucharist regardless of their ethnic origin".

A heroic testimony comes from Somalia. On 5 October 2003, after 35 years on mission, Dr. Annalena Tonelli was shot a few of steps from the small hospital she had founded for tuberculosis patients.

Franciscan Bishop Giorgio Bertin said: "In 1971 she had already obtained from a Kenyan Bishop the privilege of keeping the Eucharist with her, since she lived alone in a Muslim region. Later, Bishop Colombo, who was assassinated in 1989, granted her the same privilege; so did I when a little later I succeeded Bishop Colombo in Mogadiscio. I celebrated the last Mass with Annalena in August 2003 in Borama.

"At the end we were alone I replaced the consecrated Host and left part of the large Host I had used for the celebration in a pyx for her".

And he added, "That Host was found by my Vicar General a week after Annalena's murder. After a careful search, he found it in her study in a small, soft leather pouch, together with a Franciscan Cross. Inside a pyx was half the consecrated Host, precisely the part that I had given to her.

"The Eucharist restored her peace of mind and prompted her to say: 'He is in it. His voice never leaves me. I now know it well for it is recorded in my heart. Nothing is more important than my recollection before him. I know his voice better than my own and better than my thoughts. It fills me with the certainty of Heaven and an irrepressible eagerness to stay with him, together with my uneasiness for the world's suffering and the Lord's command to me to enter it'.

"Annalena, who liked to say of herself, 'I am nobody', had understood everything", Bishop Bertin concluded.

Eucharist and mission, an invincible pair

The Eucharist is the driving force of ecclesial life. It came into being in the Upper Room and from there dynamized the mission to the whole world.

The reciprocity and dependence between Eucharist and mission surface in various parts of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis of Pope Benedict XVI, especially where "the causal connection between Christ's sacrifice, the Eucharist and the Church" is highlighted (n. 14).

Indeed, the text says: "There is a causal influence of the Eucharist at the Church's very origins" (ibid.).

Thus, the Church, "by her very nature missionary" (Ad Gentes, n. 2), finds her source and nourishment in the Eucharist. It is then from the Eucharist that the missionary Church draws the nourishment for Gospel messengers and so gives them the courage to face martyrdom.

In the Eucharist the Church lives the universality of her mission, to the point that every "Ite missa est" is perceived as an "Ite missio est".

The Church cannot survive without the Eucharist. She "draws her life from the Eucharist", as Servant of God John Paul II wrote in the incipit of his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia.

"Ever since Pentecost", the late Pontiff noted, "when the Church, the People of the New Covenant, began her pilgrim journey towards her heavenly homeland, the Divine Sacrament has continued to mark the passing of her days, filling them with confident hope" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 1).

In the Eucharist the Church finds the reason for her life itself, the source of her holiness, the bond of communion, the impulse of her vitality, the principle of her missionary task, the source of her charity and the energy for human promotion.

The Apostle Paul confirmed that the Eucharist is the soul of mission: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (I Cor 11:26).

"No one eats that flesh without first adoring it", we read in n. 66 of Sacramentum Caritatis. Gathered in adoration of the Body of the Lord, the Church understands her own missionary vocation and decides to go forth "ad Gentes".

The love that flows from the Eucharist cannot be stemmed. By its nature it asks to be communicated. And humanity needs to experience God's love, made visible in Jesus Christ.

"By sharing in the sacrifice of the Cross, the Christian partakes of Christ's self-giving love and is equipped and committed to live this same charity in all his thoughts and deeds" (Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 82).

A Eucharist that is not manifested in the concrete practice of love is effectively hindered. For this reason the disciple leaves the land of his birth and sets out on the highways of the world, impelled by Eucharistic devotion.

Missionary zeal will flow from true holiness of life, nourished by love for the Eucharist" (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 13).

Proclamation confirmed with blood

"In the Eucharist Jesus does not give us a 'thing', but himself; he offers his own Body and pours out his own Blood. He thus gives us the totality of his life and reveals the ultimate origin of this love" (Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 7).

"The Word was made flesh", St. Augustine wrote, "to be able to die for us" (Sermon 23, 3).

And St. John Chrysostom added: "The Eucharist is the Sacrament of God's descent to man, of his approach to all that is human. It is the Sacrament of the divine "condescendence" (In Gen., 3, 8, Homily XXVIII).

The strength to witness and to love to the very end comes from the Eucharist. This can be inferred from the narrative of the Last Supper: "He took the cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:27-28).

And the Church repeats down the centuries the mystery of the gift of her Lord, reliving it in her martyrs.

The Church has a debt of gratitude to those disciples priests, Religious, missionaries and lay faithful who were meek but daring Gospel witnesses. The persecutions suffered by the Church in the third century A.D. (from Nero to Diocletian) were in accordance with the dictate "Christianos esse non licet". In that period, 8,000 people gave their lives for faith in Jesus, Son of God.

However, more than 40 million Christians were killed by totalitarianism in the 20th century.

In recent years, numerous missionaries have poured out their blood for the Gospel, often mingling it with that of the poor whom they served. At a closer look, all their lives were similar.

The times and places of their extreme sacrifice were different, as were the names of their executioners; but the reasons for their death sentence were the same: hatred of the faith and of the Eucharist, which nourished the whole of the lives that they sacrificed.

Even when they were dying, they never said a word of hatred or of condemnation.

"I forgive you, I forgive you", Fr. Tullio Maruzzo, a Friar Minor martyred in Guatemala on 1 July 1981, said over and over again as he was dying, as one of his killers would relate a few days later; and Sr. Leonella Sgorbati, killed in Somalia on 13 September 2006, said: "I pardon you, pardon you, pardon you". Their spilled blood mingles with the Blood poured out by the Lord Jesus, made mysteriously alive in the Eucharist.

The martyrs took Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God who gave his life on the Cross for all humankind, extremely seriously. The disciple cannot do otherwise.

"Like grains of wheat, let us allow Jesus to scatter us wherever he pleases, to spread his savour and not our own fragrance" (Fr. Andrea Santoro, assassinated in Trebzon, Turkey, 5 February 2006).

The reality of the bread of sharing

"Do you wish to honour the Eucharist? The One who said: 'This is my Body', and by his word confirmed the fact also said: 'You saw that I was hungry and gave me no food. As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me'. Do honour to Christ, then, by sharing your goods with the poor" (St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Matthew, 50, 3-4).

And St. Augustine adds: "In life if there is no charity, all is empty; if there is charity, all is fullness" (On De Moribus Ecclesiae Catholicae, 1, 33, 73).

"The union with Christ brought about by the Eucharist also brings a newness to our social relations: 'this sacramental "mysticism" is social in character" (Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 89).

This echoes the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa: "With the Eucharist, Jesus Christ makes himself close and the Saviour of all, but especially of all who live in conditions of poverty. He comes for our earth, experiencing critical conditions.

"Thus, the evangelization of Africa should be centred on the encounter with the living person of Christ. He is the God who saves the African... from every form of oppression and from slavery" (cf. n. 57, propositio 4).

Moreover, the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis states: "We cannot remain passive before certain processes of globalization which not infrequently increase the gap between the rich and the poor worldwide. We must denounce those who squander the earth's riches, provoking inequalities that cry out to heaven" (n. 90).

The merciful love of the Father is as clearly present in the multiform poverty of the world as in an icon: "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me" (Mt 25:35-36).

It is a sort of final examination which focuses on well-known subjects and concludes with a "Come, O blessed of my Father" (v. 34), or a "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire" (v. 41).

Today, as never before, it is urgently necessary to give full visibility to the Gospel by illustrating Jesus' parables with practical examples, from that of the Good Samaritan to the Lost Sheep. It is essential to give a renewed emphasis to the miracles of abundance of the Messiah, who could multiply loaves and bring joy to festivities by turning water into wine. "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly", Jesus said (Jn 10:10).

Many problems darken the horizon of our time. Christian hope must shine out in this world.

For this reason, the Lord has desired to remain in the Eucharist, inscribing in his sacrificial and convivial presence the promise of a humanity renewed by his love.

For those who partake in the Eucharist, proclaiming the death of the Lord entails a commitment to transform their lives.

A transfiguration of life and the commitment to transforming the world according to the Gospel highlight the eschatological tension of the Eucharistic Celebration and of the whole of Christian life.

Thus, the Eucharist is at the same time nourishment and a message. It is the root of every activity but also the mirror in which to measure one's own availability.

In the Eucharist, in fact, is relived the sacrifice of the Cross: Christ's total gift of himself to his Church but also that of the Church to her Lord.

The Eucharist is therefore the source of all authentic pastoral charity, starting with missionary charity.

One day in the north of Kenya, in a region subjected to long periods of drought, a missionary succeeded in distributing an abundance of food. But as he was leaving the people begged him: "Father, now tell us about God".

The hunger for God and human hunger are closely linked.

Copyright L'Osservatore Romano
October 10, 2007


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