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Homily by Bishop O'Connell: Developing a Deeper Understanding and Appreciation of the Holy Eucharist

MANAHAWKIN, NJ, May 29 — At an evening Mass for the faithful of the Diocese of Trenton at St. Mary of the Pines Church in Manahawkin, New Jersey, Trenton Bishop David O'Connell, CM, on the 42nd anniversary of his priestly ordination and on the liturgical observance of the Memorial of Pope St. Paul VI, preached a homily on the Real Presence of Jesus and how we are called to respond to Jesus in faith.

This is the text of Bishop O'Connell's homily:

During his last year as Pope, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus Christ that we celebrate at every Holy Mass, that is reserved in every tabernacle in all the Catholic Churches of the World, that we bring to the sick and homebound, that we carry with us in pilgrimage is inseparable from Holy Thursday’s Last Supper, in which the institution of the Holy Eucharist was first celebrated by our Blessed Lord and his apostles.  A profound and beautiful thought, important for us to keep in mind. “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.”


His successor, Pope Francis, has also preached, “We too are gathered around the Lord’s table, the table of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which He gives us once again His body, makes present the one sacrifice of the Cross. It is in listening to his Word, in nourishing ourselves with his Body and his Blood, that He makes us go from being a multitude to being a community, from [being strangers] to being [in] communion. The Eucharist is the sacrament of communion, which brings us out from individualism to live together our journey in His footsteps, our faith in Him (Pope Francis, Homily for Corpus Christi, May 30, 2013).”


In fact, every time we attend and celebrate Mass, we are drawn into that very same event of the first Holy Thursday.  We hear the words at every Mass, “this is my Body, this is my Blood.  Do this in memory of Me.”  On Holy Thursday, we recall that Jesus, looking toward his own death on the Cross, took simple elements of the earth --- common bread and wine --- and transformed them into his very own Body and Blood.  In our Eucharistic Revival, we recognize that those same elements so transformed, remain with us as his “real presence” in the tabernacle in every Church as we adore.  In other words, what Jesus did on Holy Thursday we continue to do every single time we celebrate Mass.  And what Jesus handed to his disciples in the Upper Room, the Church continues to hand to us.  Both then and now, we have the presence of Christ in our midst: on our altar, in communion and in the tabernacle.  Every Mass re-enacts the institution of the Eucharist, which we consume, which we reserve in the tabernacle, which we offer to the sick and homebound. The Body and Blood of Christ which we carry in pilgrimage during these days of Eucharistic Revival is Jesus’ own and same abiding presence.  That is why we genuflect or bow reverently every time we enter a Catholic Church --- different from other Christian Churches --- because Christ’s Body and Blood are present.  It is not or should not be simply a routine, thoughtless gesture.  It is a mark of adoration of the Lord Jesus, present here and now.


Earlier today, at Mass, I told our young people about Blessed Carlo Acutis, the young boy who had such profound love for the Holy Eucharist that he devoted as much time as he could to spending time with what he referred to as “his highway to heaven.”  Just standing in the Eucharistic presence of Jesus, he reflected “makes one holy.”  By the time of his death in 2006 at age 15, he had created a website still ion use cataloguing every Eucharistic miracle in the history of the Church. Last week Pope Francis announced that he will be canonized, the “first millennial saint.”  Young Carlo once wrote,


Throngs of people stand in interminable lines to buy tickets to rock concerts or soccer matches but I don’t see crowds of people lined up outside church waiting to see Jesus in the Eucharist. This should make us pause and reflect.”

Pause and reflect, indeed.  And that’s what the Eucharistic Revival invites us to do but we cannot stop there.  We are on a pilgrimage!  The Eucharist is leading us somewhere … into our hearts and from there into our world. 

I remember a story told by the famous Catholic preacher, Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  He lived in New York City and one day he was walking in Manhattan and saw a large crowd gathered in a long line at the Ed Sullivan Theatre there.  He asked one of those standing there what was going on and was told about a movie star who was making an appearance that day.  Continuing on his way, Archbishop Sheen stopped to say a prayer in a Catholic Church.  When he went in, he noticed there wasn’t a soul there.  He reflected, “Here lives the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and nobody is here and, yet people are standing in line all day to greet/glimpse a movie star.”  Priorities!


Perhaps there is a problem of faith at work, a sad reality.  In recent polls conducted among Catholics, it has been reported less than a third of Catholics surveyed understood or held the belief that Jesus Christ was truly, fully and really present in the Eucharist and in the tabernacle.  They described the Eucharist as a “symbol” of Jesus’ presence, some sort of reminder.  And they are wrong, dead wrong.  Our core belief as Catholics is that Jesus gave us his Body and Blood, his very flesh in the Eucharist, not some symbol or reminder.  This is my Body, he said.  This is my Blood given up for you.  Take and eat.  Do this in memory of me.


That the idea of God feeding his people is a long- and well-established fact of our life of faith.  What we do at Mass is Holy Thursday again and again and again.  And what we gather up and reserve in the tabernacle again and again and again is Christ’s very presence.  We have Jesus words.  We have Jesus actions.  And they become our own.


But there is more.  When bread and wine are transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood, and when we eat and drink this great gift, we are transformed.  We become what we eat, Christ’s own Body on earth.  Pope Benedict reminded us that “while the Eucharist unites us to Christ, we open ourselves to others making us members of one another … communion unites me to the person next to me … and to my brothers and sisters in every corner of the world.”  As St. Paul tells us, “We, though many, are one body for we all partake the one loaf (1 Corinthians 10:17).”  And we must care for one another as Christ himself cared for us to the point of dying, of giving us his own Body and Blood.

We are in the midst of a Eucharistic Revival in our country.  Sponsored by the Bishops of the United States, this “Revival” intends to bring all Catholics closer to the Lord Jesus through direct contact and encounter with him in the Eucharist. “This is not simply about good teaching but about encountering the living person of Jesus Christ, a transformational experience (Bishop Andrew Cozzens).”

It certainly is our hope that all of us in the Diocese and our guests on pilgrimage here with us will develop a deeper and more profound understanding and appreciation of the gift and mystery of the Holy Eucharist through active participation in weekly and daily Mass, through private prayer, Adoration and devotion to the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in our churches, and through a personal transformation that leads us to bring Christ’s loving presence into our communities in service to others.

Let’s recall the words of Pope St. John Paul II: “From the Eucharist comes strength to live the Christian Life and zeal to share that life with others. (Pope St. John Paul II, “To the Bishops of India, 1996)!” 

Take his words to heart!


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