From 2 to 23 October I had the privilege of representing the New Zealand Bishops Conference at the 11th General Assembly of Bishops, the theme being ‘The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church’.
It was certainly a very rich experience of the Church Universal, yet I know I missed a great deal because of the many languages spoken: Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, German, and of course, some English. Translations were provided, but at times difficult to follow. However it was an inspiring and enriching time, a prayerful and graced time.
What were the graces for me?
There were many, I share some of those with you.
There were those bishops, priests, sisters who shared what it is like to live in war torn and poverty stricken countries, former Communist countries where they were forbidden to practise their faith and yet somehow for them the Eucharist remained central to their lives.
For example in the Church of Rwanda there was genocide and unbelievable massacres which often took place in Churches. They had to face going back into those churches which had been profaned. Now they see that their Eucharistic celebrations have been enriched because in celebrating the death of the innocent Jesus they join the drama of innocent people who perished in that genocide, and they stay faithful and hopeful.
Or in the Church in Liberia where many suffered from a bloody civil war and were forced to live as refugees in subhuman conditions, and yet who in their suffering experienced the broken Christ in the Eucharist and came to see the Eucharist as their joy, hope, peace, support and courage in time of trial.
Or in Sri Lanka where the devastating [Boxing Day, 2004] Tsunami killed 40,000 people and where there has been a civil war for the last 20 years.
They are still able to say that the Eucharist reveals the meaning of life at every occasion, especially when faced with difficulties, even danger to life, and that whenever they have to suffer oppression and harassments they turn to the Eucharist.
One priest from the former Soviet Union spoke of how their sacramental life had to unfold in secrecy as he grew up in the Ural Mountains. A priest made clandestine visits to the deported families, administered First Communion to them in secrecy. They did not know when they would receive it again.
He once had to leave a consecrated host for the priest’s seriously ill grandmother, to be administered as Viaticum when she was near death. This was done but it was years before the family received Communion again.
Such stories are inspiring and were for me moments of grace as I thought about how it is so easy to take the gift of the Eucharist for granted.
Before and after each session there was Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the beautiful chapel beside the Synod Hall, providing the opportunity for those who wished to pray there. I was inspired to see the faith of those praying in silent adoration.
One day in particular it occurred to me that while there may be many differences of theological opinion and various ideas of what should be done pastorally, here were all these people with a deep faith in the presence of the Risen Lord in our midst. This was a moment of grace I am particularly grateful for.
There were inspiring statements, which helped my prayer and will continue to develop my appreciation of the great gift of the Eucharist. I hope that they help all of us.
The Eucharist is the highest icon of the beauty of God revealed in Christ, because He is in the totality of his risen presence and in the fullness of his mystery; the beauty of love that gives itself, redeems and transfigures us, reveals to us the grace of the Father that permanently creates us.
In a world marked by so many anxieties, the Eucharist is a sign and message of hope. The Christian who celebrates the Eucharist knows that the values of the current world are not those which endure forever.
One speaker reminded us that the vocation to love is the anthropological basis of Pope John Paul II’s teaching on the dignity of the human person, and went on to paraphrase the well known saying of Descartes ‘I think, therefore I am’ with ‘I love, therefore I am’ or, as he said, even better ‘I have been loved, therefore I am’. This love for which we search is of course available every day in the Lord present to us in the Eucharist.
Consider the fact that the author of the universe took human nature to himself, was born of a virgin, had (and still has) a human body, lived, died and rose again on this tiny planet we call Earth. He did all this for us and for our salvation and his presence remains with us substantially and really in the Eucharist. His mystery staggers the mind; is beyond our full comprehension. But the human heart can know it and love it and accept it in true humility in the act of conversion.
All I can do, as I reflect on these and many other statements, is proclaim: My Lord and My God!