'Return to Mystery of Eucharist,' Says Fr. Groeschel

FRONT ROYAL — A young Franciscan novitiate, 17 years old, entered the dark monastery chapel in the middle of the night, deciding he should pray since he couldn’t sleep. As he knelt before the altar he felt that someone else was in the room. A little frightened, the young man turned on the light and at once his eyes focused on an older priest, his abbot, praying in ecstasy before the Blessed Sacrament. He watched his superior for a few moments and then, embarrassed, he turned off the light and left. That was 50 years ago and the young novitiate, Father Benedict Groeschel (pictured above), says in those few moments, "he saw the presence of Christ reflected in the face of a holy man" and he’ll never forget it as long as he lives. Father Groeschel told this story during his lecture at the 13th annual Summer Institute at Christendom College in Front Royal July 13-15. The story illustrated his point that people need to feel close to Christ and in order to do that, they must embrace the Blessed Sacrament. More than 425 people from as far away as Holland, gathered in Front Royal to hear Father Groeschel; EWTN talk-show host Jeff Cavins; Christendom College President Dr. Timothy O’Donnell; Christendom professor Dr. William Marshner; Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College (NDGS) professor Tim Gray; HERALD columnist and NDGS Dean Father William Saunders; and NDGS professor Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist Sister Timothy Prokes. O’Donnell was excited about the conference, noting that it is a natural extension of the college’s mission. "Hosting the institute is part of the apostolic outreach to deepen the faith of the participants and draw them ever closer to Jesus Christ, which is affected through the sacraments," he said. Gray opened the conference Friday evening with an explanation of the theme for the weekend "2001: A Spiritual Odyssey — A Journey Home through the Sacraments." Gray, author of Mission of the Messiah and co-author of Boys to Men and Catholic for a Reason, noted that the sacraments, together with the liturgy, are the second of the four pillars of the Catechism. He said it is important to have a good understanding of the sacraments because the first pillar is the creed, or "the summary salvation history," and the sacraments allow the faithful to participate in that history. "Through the sacraments and liturgy, we are grafted into the story," said Gray. "We are not a religion of the book or of the past — through the sacraments the past is made present." Father Groeschel gave the opening lecture on "The Eucharist: Sacrifice, Sacrament and Presence." Author of more than 15 books, professor at St. Joseph Seminary in New York, director of St. Francis Center for the poor, frequent guest on EWTN and director of spiritual development for the New York Archdiocese, Father Groeschel gave an overview of the role of the Blessed Sacrament from the early Church Fathers through the Protestant Reformation and to the resurgence of eucharistic adoration and devotions in the present day. He cited the recent Time-Life Poll which showed that only 49 percent of Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, a figure which, he says, is not surprising. "They don’t believe because they don’t know," he said. "This truth is not preached from the altar because it’s a mystery and people can’t deal with mystery." He focused on the idea of mystery and how it is essential to the highest truths and a notion that today’s culture has virtually lost. "Today’s culture cannot deal with mystery, but all sacraments are mysteries," he said. "Christianity is a religion of mystery, all respectable world religions have a sense of mystery. How pathetic is a religion without mystery — it’s a discussion club." He said that the Greek word for sacrament is "mysterion," which means "to close your eyes." The element of mystery, according to Father Groeschel, is so important because it requires submission and faith. He said that even some of the world’s great scientists, including Albert Einstein, have been fascinated with the Eucharist because of the mystery that surrounds It. Father Groeschel recounted the story of a young priest who knocked on Einstein’s door without an appointment, just to pay a visit to the great professor. Einstein welcomed the priest stranger and insisted he tell him everything he knew about the Eucharist. Einstein was known to ask several priests to recommend all the books they could on the Eucharist, because of his fascination and respect for such an immense mystery. Father Groeschel urged institute participants to get to know the writings of the early Church Fathers including Sts. Ignatius, Justin the Martyr and Ireneas, who constantly refer to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He noted that problems in believing in the real presence began when people tried to strip it of its mystery, which is what happened during the Protestant Reformation. "Once you depart from the mystery given by Christ and interpreted by the early Fathers, you are out on a sea without a compass or a map," he said. Father Groeschel said that if people can return to accepting the Eucharist as a mystery, belief in the sacrament can be restored, something he thinks is already happening. He mentioned the huge crowds of teenagers who gather around the country at Youth 2000 eucharistic conferences, many of whom go into the weekend not knowing the Eucharist is anything more than a symbol and emerging with not only a firm belief, but a "sense of the mystery." "The sacrament for the reform of the Church at this time is the Eucharist," Father Groeschel said. He said he has also noticed that adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is becoming more popular, especially perpetual adoration, which is one of the ways people can be close to God. "I’m glad to see it coming back," he said. "How can anyone be opposed to praying and kneeling before the presence of the Son of God?"

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2001