One of the joyous pastoral aspects of the Easter Season is to witness the adult members of a parish community who for months and in some cases years have been journeying through study, prayer and reflection, to enter the Catholic Church. It has sometimes been said that the Easter Vigil without baptisms is like the proverbial apple pie without ice cream or a kiss without a hug! In other words, the fullness of the Easter experience comes home to us as a parish community when we witness and celebrate new life in our Church, the new life that baptism both expresses and realizes.
What has brought these men and women to embrace our Church? What brings them to Catholicism? Unlike some of the more traditional Christian denominations that are part of the American experience who are suffering from decreasing numbers, that certainly is not the case for Catholicism. While the secular press may wish to paint a picture of crisis, upheaval and theological dissension in our ranks, there is something that continues to powerfully attract adult men and women to this 2000 year old Christian way of life which is, as the old Latin maxim states, both ancient and ever new.
One of the questions that I inevitably ask those who are inquiring into the Catholic way of life, or those who have recently become Catholic, is the simple: What is it that attracted you to the Faith? Needless to say, there are a variety of responses such as the desire to share a common faith in one’s family or the powerful witness of a Catholic spouse - “I want what she has” or “I want what he has.” But more often than not, it is the Eucharist and the central place which this pivotal doctrine plays in our Catholic way of life that holds a powerful attraction for men and women seeking to live with integrity the Christian way of life. It is the Eucharist that for 2000 years has shaped the life of our Church. It is the Eucharist and our belief in the abiding presence of the risen Lord in our midst - body and blood, soul and divinity - that has been the anchor of our belief and the source of stability in a Church that is ever ancient and ever new.
In the 24th Chapter of the Gospel of Luke this Sunday, the disciples who had come to know and love the Lord Jesus are crestfallen, helpless and hopeless as they find themselves leaving Jerusalem after the crucifixion of the Lord. They are troubled by astonishing reports that somehow, someway, this Jesus continues to live in their midst. This is news that is just too good to be true for them. Then a stranger comes into their midst - he begins to speak to them, reminds them of the legacy of their faith enshrined in their scriptures, and then is asked to stay with them to share a meal. During the meal he takes bread, blesses and breaks it - and in that gesture so characteristic of Jesus, they recognized that it was the Lord who was in their midst - they recognized him in the breaking of bread.
That expression, “the breaking of bread” is probably the oldest term we have for what our Catholic tradition now refers to as the “Eucharist”, the “Mass”, “Holy Communion”. It is an expression that reflects an action - the sharing of a meal which has now been transformed into an experience of perpetual remembrance of the Risen and living Lord in our midst.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church articulates our unique belief in the Eucharist when it states that our gathering in faith is for no ordinary meal but rather a participation in the living remembrance of a “sacrificial” meal in which the saving effect of the Lord’s life, death and resurrection continues to transform and empower us for the work of the Gospel. Time and space cannot contain the Lord’s lasting gift to his friends. Through the proclamation of God’s Word in the Scripture - the Lord is present to us. In our gathering in faith - he lives among us. In those who minister at this Holy Table, he is present. But most of all, as is so often the case in our faith, the Lord comes to us in the ordinary and simple realities of life - in a piece of bread and a cup of wine. In these simple earthly elements, logic gives way to faith, and this food becomes a door to the sacred enabling us to proclaim with Thomas the Apostle, “My Lord and my God”.
My brothers and sisters, may our love and commitment to the Eucharist continue to be a hallmark of our lives as Catholics. May we recognize His presence among us in the breaking of our bread at the Holy Table. And may others come to know that the Risen Lord is present with us still through our lives broken in loving and compassionate service of others who hunger for the bread of understanding, forgiveness and healing in their lives.