By Father Matthew Hawkins
Parochial vicar, St. Benedict the Moor Parish
The Church has embarked on three exciting initiatives that have tremendous potential of breathing new life into our parishes: the first is an effort to assess the Eucharistic coherence of our daily lives and the culture of our communities. The second is a greater commitment to evangelization, and the third is an effort to listen to the laity through the process of synodality. It may be tempting to think of these three great initiatives separately, but really, they reflect many facets of a process of renewal through which the Holy Spirit is leading us.
We should begin, as always, with the Eucharist. Many Catholics involved in catechesis are familiar with the disturbing surveys that report most Catholics no longer believe in “the real presence” of Christ. On the other hand, social media are awash with debates about which public figures should be denied the sacrament and whether “too many” private individuals are also receiving the sacrament unworthily. I am concerned about a much more basic and fundamental point: how can we promote a Eucharistic culture in our parishes? What are we doing to infuse our communities with a Eucharistic presence and sensibility?
The building that housed the seminary that I attended for formation for the priesthood, St. Mary’s in Baltimore, spanned an average city block. The chapel, housing the tabernacle, was at the center of that sprawling complex. It served as a reminder that no matter how busy we were with many demanding activities, the Eucharist was the center of everything. Our families, our parishes, our schools, our Bible studies, and our social action and social service organizations should have that same sensibility. The Eucharist also should be at the center of the life of our parishes. Every parish should assess what we can do to encourage this.
Next, we should consider our efforts in evangelization. Many Catholics are intimidated by the idea of evangelization because we think that it must be something that is slick and packaged and that we are being asked to “force our religion down other people’s throats.” But evangelization is a matter of being aware of our own story. What has been our journey through life and how have we encountered Christ along the way? Evangelization means that we should reflect enough on our personal journey of faith so that we can easily share it with our friends and relatives when they want to know how we find meaning in the midst of challenges. Evangelization means paying attention to our encounters with God and being willing to share our stories about these encounters. It means that other people will have a chance to know and understand us better and we will have a chance to know and understand them. Above all, it means that they will encounter Christ through us.
Lastly, we should respond to Pope Francis and Bishop Zubik’s call to synodality, which means traveling together on the journey of faith. It means dialogue within the Church and prayerfully listening to one another. It also means analysis and discernment. We should take time to share with one another the joys and frustrations of our journey. We embrace eternal truths in a world that is constantly changing, what implications does this have for living Eucharistically in the 21st century?
Our parishes will be renewed constantly so long as we are focused on these three things: the need to discover the Eucharist at the center of our daily activities, the ability to listen to one another as we express the joys and challenges of being a church, and the willingness to share the adventure of our faith and the story of our encounters with Christ. If we are open to this, the Holy Spirit will guide our endeavors.