“ The seeds of disunity, which daily experience shows to be so deeply rooted in humanity as a result of sin, are countered by the unifying power of the body of Christ. The Eucharist, precisely by building up the Church, creates human community.”
Encyclical ‘Ecclesia de Eucharistia’.
Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord,
One of the significant themes that is emerging at the beginning of this new Christian millennium is a deliberate refocus on the great treasure that Jesus left His Church – His abiding presence in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
In the Second Vatican Council the mystery of the Eucharist was a prominent theme. That Council gave both the authority and impetus to a renewal of our understanding and practice of all the Sacraments. The result, now some thirty-nine years later, is obvious. The Holy Spirit constantly guides our efforts to celebrate the mystery of the presence of our Lord “as he draws all things to himself.” (Jn 12:34) In embracing this mystery of the Incarnation we are reminded of an early encouragement from the third century theologian Origen who wrote “We see one thing and understand another. We see a man (Jesus), but we make an act of faith in God.”
This is most wonderfully expressed in the Sacrament of the Eucharist which was described in the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy of the Vatican Council as the ‘source and summit’ of the Church’s actions (Chapter III). From a personal perspective it is a progressive deepening of our Baptismal call and consecration to be even more closely united in Christ. From a community perspective it is a source of union in Christ as we recognise our oneness in the person of Jesus Christ. It is the expression of our call to share the divine life as individuals and as community into the full purpose of our being – living forever within the divine majesty – a purpose that emanates from the Divine Love.
There is always a danger that we might take one dimension of such an enormous mystery and so focus on that element that we deny ourselves the benefit and enlightenment that is contained in the totality of the full picture. In some places the community dimension of the celebration of the Eucharist was so emphasised that often it was at the expense of an increased deepening of our awareness of the personal dimension of the celebration. Both are vital to a holistic appreciation of the depth of the mystery.
For our particular Church in the Defence Community the Eucharist has particular and significant practical importance. St John Chrysostom lived in the fourth century and is known as one of the greatest saints of that time. In one of his writings he reminds us that we become totally one with Jesus when we receive Holy Communion. He points out that, in the Eucharist, Jesus is not simply present among us, but that He embraces us. We are caught up in a real union with Jesus that is so profoundly personal and total that it is a perfect union. He also reminds us that persons united together maintain their individuality but become one with and in Jesus. In a special way then, when our duty requires us to be away from each other, from family and friends, we can still experience that togetherness and union with each other through the presence of Jesus in Holy Communion. As St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us this presence of Jesus is real for those who participate in a particular time and place.
In some ways too our recognition, adoration and frequent reception of the personal presence of Jesus in the Eucharist can be a mission multiplier. By the very nature of the circumstances into which members of the ADF are deployed we are exposed to great suffering and trauma. Sometimes that is accompanied by terrible acts of inhumanity, destruction and chaos. We can become surrounded by the consequences of great evil and can even become immersed in a sense of loss, failure and hopelessness. Into such a climate we respond to our special calling and offer our ministry of hope, stability and peace. When we remember the healing and strengthening presence of Jesus in the Eucharist we can gain the necessary confidence and motivation to execute our mission. It is the person of Jesus, who we know identifies with our experience in history and in time, who provides the motivation to endure what we must endure and is our constant source of spiritual courage to persevere.
Last year the Holy Father gave us the Encyclical Letter “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” which beautifully sets out the insights of the modern age concerning the relationship between the Church and the Eucharist. Amongst other issues the Holy Father asks us to consider that it is incomplete to say either that the community makes the Eucharist or to say that the Eucharist makes the community. Both are right simultaneously and completely and must be honoured, reflected upon and prayed together. This year there will be an International Eucharistic Congress in Mexico which will celebrate the many parts of the one body in universal union. Next year the Bishops of the world will study, pray and reflect upon the Eucharist from the perspective that it is the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church. Today the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has issued a Pastoral Letter on the Wonder of the Eucharist.
On this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ in 2004 may I encourage each member of the Diocese to stop with some devotion and set aside just a few moments to reflect on the treasure of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist He is our constant companion personally. He provides a special way of celebrating our personal union and contact with others especially when we are physically separated by space and time. He is our strength and motivation in the challenge we all have to face as His ministers of stability and peace in our hearts, our homes and our work.