A few weeks ago, the Pew Research Center released an article titled “Just one-third of U.S. Catholics agree with their church that Eucharist is body, blood of Christ.” Immediately after the study’s release, social media erupted with reactions of disbelief, shock, and anger, as well as theories of how to “fix this,” including greater catechesis and adjustments to our general liturgical practices. Despite the immediate reaction, there is no need for panic, as Christ assures the Church that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it,” (Matthew 16:18). Furthermore, jumping to such dire conclusions after one survey is not necessarily good pastoral or catechetical practice. As the Church examines the status of belief in the Real Presence and how to cultivate a greater understanding of that reality, she is also very aware of the need to deepen our encounter with Christ. As we ponder Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, we must ask ourselves if we have truly encountered him. In his encyclical letter Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis suggests that we “look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: ‘We have found the Messiah!’ (Jn 1:41).”
In the end, how we catechize and what our liturgical practices are both require deeper reflection and greater discernment as to how God is calling us to use them as methods of ongoing conversion and evangelization. The doctrines and dogmas that we teach, how we celebrate the Mass, how we best serve our fellow man, are all likely to fall on deaf ears if they are not built on a deep and personal encounter with the Risen Christ. To examine this issue of Eucharistic belief, we should first look to chapter 4 of Christus Vivit, where Pope Francis reminds young people (and all of the people of God) that God is love, he saves us, he gives us life, and he is alive! If these four truths, which are expounded upon in good catechesis and experienced in their fullness in the Mass, are not understood deeply and intimately in the heart of every baptized Catholic, then moving forward will be extremely difficult. If I do not know Christ as the one who saves me, who walks with me through my life, as the one who gives me life, then why does it matter if it is truly his Body and Blood that I receive in its fullness at the Mass? Similarly, if we don’t understand the Kerygma—the mystery of the salvific work of God culminating in the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ—then how can we begin to understand the mystery of transubstantiation (CCC1376), especially when philosophical distinctions like matter and form aren’t in the everyday vocabulary of most Catholics? Pope Francis reminded pilgrims of this reality during a November 2017 General Audience when he said, “Every celebration of the Eucharist is a ray of light of the unsetting sun that is the Risen Jesus Christ. To participate in Mass, especially on Sunday, means entering in the victory of the Risen, being illuminated by his light, warmed by his warmth.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI famously wrote in his encyclical letter Deus Charitas Est, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” I certainly don’t have the “easy fix” answer as to how to increase belief in the real presence in the Eucharist, but I heartily believe that it begins with a renewed sense of the encounter Pope Benedict XVI was writing about. We use the word “renewed” because even those of us who profess our faith in the Risen Lord are invited “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I [Pope Francis] ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (Evangelii Gaudium). We must witness to the encounter that has given our lives “a new horizon and a decisive direction,” and share that with those whom we meet. When we accompany our brothers and sisters on their journey to know Christ more fully, we help them to encounter him in the way that the Holy Spirit guides them. If that encounter is through theological and philosophical distinctions, through service, through the liturgy, etc. then praise God, because it is through him that those are effective and not because of their own merits. As we continue to wrestle with this recent study and its implications, may we meditate on this: if we believe that the Eucharist changes us, strengthens us, heals us, then we must show it, we must witness to it authentically and humbly in all circumstances.
Over the last two weekends, in the midst of an ongoing sexual abuse scandal in the Church in the United States and throughout the world, I have had the privilege of concelebrating at three Masses of ordination of men I have known since their first month of college at The Catholic University of America due to my pastoral work there. They were also instrumental in the growth and development of the Catholic Apostolate Center in its early years. Deacon Alex Boucher of the Diocese of Portland, Deacon Joseph Hubbard of the Archdiocese of Boston, and Father Andrew St. Hilaire of the Diocese of Harrisburg, along with another Catholic University alumnus and Center colleague, Father Brett Garland of the Diocese of Columbus, who was ordained last year, are men of steadfast prayer, selfless service, and great integrity. They strive to live lives of joyful holiness.
Each of them, in their own way, has helped me to be a better priest and a better Pallottine. They and many young people who are devoted to Christ and his Church give me much hope, not only for the future, but now. I see it every day in ministry, especially with the Center team, many of whom witnessed along with me the ordinations of these men.
Pope Francis has this hope as well when he says in his Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit:
“The Lord cannot fail in his promise to provide the Church with shepherds, for without them she would not be able to live and carry out her mission. If it is true that some priests do not give good witness, that does not mean that the Lord stops calling. On the contrary, he doubles the stakes, for he never ceases to care for his beloved Church” (275).
Deacon Boucher and Deacon Hubbard will be ordained priests next year, God willing. Please keep them and Fathers Garland and St. Hilaire in your prayers as they minister to and with the People of God. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles and Mother of the Church, and St. Vincent Pallotti, zealous and faithful priest of the Diocese of Rome and Founder of the Union of Catholic Apostolate, intercede for them and for our Church!
May the Charity of Christ urge them and us on!
A little more than three years ago, I was asked to be the coordinator of my parish’s youth group. I had just begun college and taking on such a big responsibility seemed terrifying - it felt like I was trying to climb a very tall mountain and the top seemed impossible to reach. As I started this new position, I noticed that my group lacked organization, teen attendance, and the presence of trust because they did not know me as their leader.
Working to create a semblance of routine and structure to use every Friday afternoon was probably the easiest thing to do, but attendance and building trust would need more work. We had about 4 teens that were committed to attending youth group every Friday. I asked myself, “How am I going to get more teens to attend? Where do I find them?” Another important question I asked was, “What will make them want to come back next Friday?” So, I got to work and created social media accounts under the group’s name to get the word out about our meetings. I spoke to the prayer group for adults that would meet at the same time and asked them to bring their teens to our group instead of leaving them at home. With a lot of prayer and thought, I realized that what these teens were lacking was an encounter with Jesus, so I would focus my talks on God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I also focused on doing group prayers where the teens had the opportunity to speak to God. As stated in Living as Missionary Disciples, “An encounter with the Lord brings about a profound transformation in all who do not close themselves off from him” (LMD 11). I witnessed this firsthand. Many teens started to come and seemed hungry to know more about God.
Then came the third task: building trust. I noticed that these teens desperately needed someone to trust and wanted to be heard. Many times, we think that a young person has the perfect life. Most of these teens’ parents provide everything for them, including shelter, food, and clothing. It’s easy to think that all they do is go to school during the day and help around the house with a few chores. In reality, this isn’t true. I’ve come to learn that many of these teens experience peer pressure at school, have problems at home, and are constantly being bombarded with impossible standards on social media.
The teens needed someone to walk next to them and listen to them. As Living as Missionary Disciples states, “The response to this encounter with Christ needs accompaniment” (LMD 14). The teens needed someone that would not judge them but instead be there for them. They needed to be able to be themselves and feel accepted the way they are despite their past or where they are now. As Living as Missionary Disciples also says, “We are not called to make judgements about others.” (LMD 15) Three years later, I have finished this pastoral ministry journey. I learned so much from the teens, such as the importance of having a personal encounter with God and the importance of accompanying the members of your ministry.
Some tips I have for a pastoral minister include valuing the importance of constant prayer and regularly asking the Holy Spirit to come upon the ministry and give a vision of where to go and where to take the ministry. It’s also important to be able to recognize the needs of your community or within the demographic with which you are working and to be able to address those needs. There should also be a balance of “church work” and a healthy personal life. I personally lacked this balance and burned out, which led me to give so much and not take the time to give back to myself. Taking these measures will prevent the minister from burning out and help him or her be able to give more in the long run.
For more tips on self-care visit our Self-Care for Healthy Ministry resource page.
In AD 590, when a man named Gregory—the abbot of St. Andrew’s Monastery in Rome—was called upon to serve as Bishop of Rome, he responded with an open letter to the Church: "Pastoralis curae me pondera fugere" — “I have thought to flee from the burdens of pastoral care.” In essence, Gregory pleaded to be spared the heavy and awesome responsibility of the office of bishop. His letter formed the opening lines of his work Pastoral Care (Regula Pastoralis), one of our church’s greatest works of pastoral theology by one of our church’s greatest shepherds. Interestingly, we celebrate Pope St. Gregory the Great’s feast on September 3, the day he was consecrated pope — not the anniversary of the saint’s death, as per usual — perhaps as a testament to the light of personal holiness and institutional reform that he exhibited during the dark days, literally the historical “Dark Ages,” of the church when he was elected.
Though primarily addressing his soon-to-be brother bishops in Pastoral Care, St. Gregory’s words resonate with all those who exercise leadership and responsibility in ministry, especially in light of the painful days in which our church now finds herself. In times of turmoil, St. Gregory believed that God calls all the baptized faithful — laity and clergy, women and men, young and old — to the task of renewal in the apostolate.
St. Gregory did not mince words when he called out leaders “who aspire to glory and esteem by an outward show of authority within the holy Church,” and as a result, “when those who go before lose the light of knowledge, certainly those who follow are bowed down in carrying the burden of their sins” (Pastoral Care, I.1). He observed, “For no one does more harm in the Church than he, who having the title or rank of holiness, acts evilly” (Pastoral Care, I.3).
St. Gregory’s great handbook on pastoral care challenges the core values and virtues that ought to shape our Christian life and community. In aspiring to roles of leadership, Gregory makes the striking remark that “whosoever was set over the people was the first to be led to the tortures of martyrdom” (Pastoral Care, I.8). In other words, Gospel ministry in the footsteps of Jesus, especially for those serving in leadership, is a laying down of one’s life — one’s time, talent, treasures — so that the power of the crucified and risen Christ may live in us. The result is not necessarily “success,” but joy and salvation. In imitation of Jesus, true pastoral care conquers the love of power with the power of love.
In calling others to holiness, what made Gregory truly “great” was that in spite of his strengths, he never lost sight of his own weaknesses, sins, failures, and need for constant conversion. He ends his work by stating:
“I, miserable painter that I am, have painted the portrait of an ideal man; and here I have been directing others to the shore of perfection, I, who am still tossed about on the waves of sin. But in the shipwreck of this life, sustain me, I beseech you, with the plank of your prayers, so that, as my weight is sinking me down, you may uplift me with your meritorious hand.” (Pastoral Care, IV)
In short, we Christian brothers and sisters need each other more than ever. We need each other to offer joy, consolation, encouragement, and a helping hand to one another. That is what makes ministry not only possible, but even worth doing. We hold out hope that our God never ceases to call forth church leaders and Christ followers like Gregory to lead us through the Dark Ages, in whatever age they seem to be dawning.
Today ends a yearlong celebration of the Jubilee of the 200th Anniversary of the Ordination to the Priesthood of St. Vincent Pallotti. In celebrations in 54 countries around the world and beyond, Pallotti’s foundation, the Union of Catholic Apostolate, is offering thanks for his life of selfless ministry. Ordained on May 16, 1818 as a priest of the Diocese of Rome, Pallotti served his entire life in the city, especially through pastoral care of the poor, sick, prisoners, and dying, spiritual direction, education, and sacramental ministry, particularly the Eucharist and Penance.
Through reviving faith and rekindling charity as a priest always in collaboration with others, he was inspired 17 years later to found an association of lay people, religious and clergy that would assist the Church’s missionary efforts, revive the faith of Catholics, and live universal charity. He called it the Union of Catholic Apostolate. Only after almost 20 years of priestly ministry did he form a community of priests and brothers as well as a community of sisters. Both communities were small by the time of his death in 1850, but today are throughout the world.
Fr. Jacob Nampudakam, S.A.C., the Rector General of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers) in his book, The Spirit of the Priesthood according to St. Vincent Pallotti, summarizes well the way in which Pallotti went about his priestly ministry:
“Vincent Pallotti from the very beginning of his priestly life, committed himself to live out all of the implications of the ministerial priesthood and revive its evangelical spirit. He interiorized the priesthood as a following of Jesus Christ and expanded his vision and put it into practice by means of priestly activities” (9).
Pallotti in and through his priestly ministry lived the life of an apostle, a follower of Christ who is sent out into the world to share the Gospel in word and deed. As apostles, we are not alone, as Pope Francis notes:
“I entrust all of you to the protection of Mary Most Holy, whom St. Vincent Pallotti venerated especially as Queen of Apostles. Her good example of apostolic zeal and perfect charity, invites us to pray without ceasing to invoke the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles of today, so that the Gospel of her Son can be proclaimed in every part of the world.”
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
In Christ, Apostle of the Eternal Father,