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Saturday, July 30, 2005
The Eucharist: The Core of the Catholic Church
Date: Saturday, July 30, 2005
(The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the 25th Anniversary of Vows of Sister Mary Elizabeth of Our Lady at Poor Clares’ Monastery in Alexandria on May 29.)
A two-fold spirit of thanksgiving envelops us as we gather in this holy place, so dear to each of us and to our entire diocesan church. On this Solemnity of Corpus Christi, we give profound thanks to the Lord for the inestimable gift and great treasure He gives us in the Eucharist, both Sacrament and Sacrifice. Moreover, on this Silver Jubilee of Sister Mary Elizabeth of Our Lady, we likewise give joy-filled thanks to the Lord for having called her to be a Poor Clare through the profession of the vows of obedience, poverty, chastity and the observance of enclosure, which vows she shall renew in our midst following this homily. How filling it is that Sister Mary Elizabeth will renew her vows on this Solemnity of Corpus Christi because Jesus in the Eucharist is for her, as for each of us, our very life.
Yes, as the opening sentence of the Encyclical Letter "Ecclesia De Eucharistia" so beautifully reminds us, "The Church draws her life from the Eucharist" (No. 1). In a similar manner, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "The Eucharist is ‘the source and the summit of the Christian life.’ The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and oriented towards it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch" (No. 1324).
Yes, the Catholic Church is truly a Eucharistic church. Some years ago, at the end of a presentation on a college campus whose focus was living as a Catholic in the world, a student posed this question to the speaker: "Why are you a Catholic?" The speaker responded: "Because of the Resurrection." "No," the student said, "that tells me why you are a Christian. I asked why are you a Catholic." The speaker paused and then replied: "Because of the Eucharist."
There is absolutely no doubt that at the core of who we are as the Church, Christ’s Body, lies the ineffable Mystery of the Holy Eucharist. Indeed, the Eucharist builds up the Church. We are members of the Church, nourished and strengthened by the Eucharistic Christ. In Christ, we find our food and our very life. The Lord Jesus comes to us under the signs of bread and wine, signs of nourishment. Today’s first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy reminds us that our spiritual ancestors, who journeyed for 40 years in the desert, were fed with manna, a food previously unknown to them, a food which came to them from heaven, prefiguring the heavenly food which Jesus gives us, His very own self. Today’s Gospel account narrates for us Jesus’ own words: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world … . Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever." Moreover, we find in the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist the source of our unity. So reminds us St. Paul in today’s second reading from his First Letter to the Corinthians: "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf."
If, then, every disciple of the Lord finds his or her very life in the Eucharistic Jesus, all the more do those disciples who are living the consecrated life as members of religious congregations and institutes — and even more those among them who are living the contemplative life within the cloister.
Today, we rejoice with Sister Mary Elizabeth of Our Lady, who was the first to enter the new community of Poor Clares being formed for the proposed foundation here in our diocese, in this place called Alexandria. Sister Mary Elizabeth comes from Baltimore and went to the Poor Clares’ monastery in Roswell in January 1978 to begin her formation. Sister Mary Elizabeth made her first profession in the Monastery’s temporary chapel in 1980 and on May 31, 1984, she made her solemn profession in this chapel in the presence of both my Episcopal predecessors: Bishop Thomas J. Walsh and Bishop John R. Keating.
For these 25 years, since 1980, Christ has been her very life as a professed Poor Clare. In the Eucharist, Sister Mary Elizabeth has been strengthened by Christ’s Real Presence as she welcomes Him into the home of her heart in Holy Communion and adores Him present in the Tabernacle. After all, the Poor Clares, the spiritual daughters of St. Francis of Assisi and of St. Clare, are deeply rooted in the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist. They are dedicated to a life of worshipful love, whereby their daily life is centered on Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, enriched by daily participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy and rooted in the Divine Office. The Constitutions for the Poor Clares Federation of Mary Immaculate in the United States of America states so beautifully the centrality of the Eucharist in the lives of these nuns. "We shall gratefully acknowledge our sacred heritage from St. Francis and St. Clare of outstanding devotedness to the Holy Eucharist by focusing our lives on the tabernacle and manifesting ‘every reverence and honor to the Body and Blood of our Lord’"(Art. 25).
Dear Sister Mary Elizabeth, we rejoice with you on this grace-filled day as you observe in our midst and before the Lord your Silver Jubilee and profess again with renewed mind and heart those vows you first made 25 years ago. We thank God with you for calling you to the contemplative life of a Poor Clare and we thank you for saying "yes" to His call and for persevering in this vocation. Our prayer for you is that you will continue to grow in ever-deepening intimacy with your Spouse, the Lord Jesus Christ. May you find in Him your hope and your love — your very life! Pray for us, dear Sister, who likewise draw our life and strength from the One Who is your Beloved. With Mother Abbess and all your sisters here in this Monastery of Mary Mother of the Church, please continue to sustain all of us who form the Church of Arlington and especially me, appointed her shepherd in God’s divine providence. May we be faithful to our individual vocations even as you are to yours. Together, may we reflect a Church bright with the Light of Christ and aflame with His Love, a Church centered in the Eucharist, because Jesus truly present in the Eucharist remains our very life — now and unto eternity. Amen.