Why have a Eucharis­tic Con­gress?

This arti­cle first appeared in the One Voice.“…through the Eucharist!” These words are spo­ken often by Bish­op Bak­er about the upcom­ing Eucharis­tic Con­gress. Any idea, any plan, any theme that has been men­tioned is fol­lowed up with these words. While the Church is engag­ing in con­ver­sa­tions about becom­ing bet­ter dis­ci­ples, or how to bet­ter be mis­sion­ar­ies to peo­ple who are mar­gin­al­ized or “on the fringes,” Bish­op Bak­er has con­stant­ly remind­ed us that all the good that we wish to do in the world must begin and end with the Eucharist. This is why His Excel­len­cy has cho­sen the theme “The Eucharist and Mis­sion­ary Dis­ci­ple­ship” for the 2019 Dioce­san Eucharis­tic Con­gress. The Eucharist is what trans­forms us into the like­ness of Jesus, mak­ing us true dis­ci­ples. The Eucharist strength­ens and embold­ens us to fol­low Jesus’ Great Com­mis­sion to be mis­sion­ar­ies who bring dis­ci­ples to Him.

In this prepara­to­ry year, it is no acci­dent that Bish­op has ded­i­cat­ed this year to Mary, the “pro­to-dis­ci­ple.” At the Annun­ci­a­tion, as Gabriel pro­claimed to her God’s plan for sal­va­tion, by the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it the Divine and human natures of Jesus became phys­i­cal­ly man­i­fest in her body. In a sim­i­lar way, at each Holy Mass the priest prays the prayers of con­se­cra­tion, and by the pow­er of the same Spir­it, Jesus true natures become phys­i­cal­ly present for us to receive into our bod­ies. We fol­low the mod­el of the Blessed Moth­er. Then Mary brings that phys­i­cal pres­ence of Jesus to the house of Eliz­a­beth and Zechari­ah where she announces the joy­ful news to them, and even the unborn John the Bap­tist reacts. In the same way, each of us is called to leave the Eucharis­tic feast bring­ing the pres­ence of Jesus with­in us to oth­ers. And our joy­ful procla­ma­tion of sal­va­tion is intend­ed to cause a sim­i­lar reac­tion in the hearts of those we meet. But is this usu­al­ly the case? Or is it more like­ly that we will sim­ply head off to our favorite brunch spot or get home in time for kick­off, habit­u­al­ly un-mind­ful that we are echoes of that great dis­ci­ple who laid out for us her great exam­ple of a mis­sion­ary dis­ci­ple?

This aware­ness I refer to requires ongo­ing effort. It requires a dai­ly dis­ci­pline of prayer and a lifestyle that allows us to con­tin­ue to do the same things life demands in a new way; always con­scious of the One who lives in us and who calls us to car­ry him home to oth­ers. It requires the dis­ci­plines St Paul speaks of when he com­pares a dis­ci­ple to a run­ner out to win the race or a box­er with eyes fixed on the cham­pi­onship. Like­wise, our Bish­op pro­pos­es we take the next year and a half, and con­sid­er these images St Paul gives us. That we pre­pare our­selves as though we were in spir­i­tu­al train­ing. He is ask­ing us to be vul­ner­a­ble in assess­ing our own abil­i­ties as a dis­ci­ple and mis­sion­ary. This may include get­ting our­selves a train­er, a spir­i­tu­al direc­tor or a men­tor who can help us on the way. It may include sur­round­ing our­selves with a group of sup­port­ers who will hold us account­able, like a faith shar­ing group or a Bible study. If we are to grow to be dis­ci­ples like Mary as we approach the Eucharis­tic Con­gress, we must be open to the pos­si­bil­i­ty of change. This time of prepa­ra­tion and growth will allow us to be pre­dis­posed, in imi­ta­tion of Mary, to the great graces that will come from our pub­lic dis­play of devo­tion to the Most Blessed Sacra­ment. We will be more like­ly to respond in an active and inten­tion­al way if we are in bet­ter “spir­i­tu­al shape.”

This out­lines for us the spir­i­tu­al and pas­toral moti­va­tions for why our Bish­op would con­vene this Con­gress. But the tim­ing of the event is also mean­ing­ful. June 29, 2019 will mark the 50th Anniver­sary of the estab­lish­ment of our Dio­cese of Birm­ing­ham as an inde­pen­dent dio­cese. Anniver­saries are hap­py occa­sions, but they also cause us to stop, rem­i­nisce, and take stock of our lives. This process of recom­mit­ting our­selves to a life of mis­sion­ary dis­ci­ple­ship is one of rec­ol­lec­tion and self-aware­ness. What a won­der­ful way to acknowl­edge the many sac­ri­fices and hard work of the mis­sion­ar­ies who brought the faith to Alaba­ma, and our pre­de­ces­sors who fought so hard for its sur­vival here! And then, when the big day arrives, in the pres­ence of Jesus, we can express to Him our grat­i­tude for mak­ing him­self known to us through our Holy Moth­er Church. Anniver­saries also cause us to think about where we are going next. This Eucharis­tic Con­gress will offer us a chance to inten­tion­al­ly plan a bright future for our local church; one marked with joy, hos­pi­tal­i­ty, and mis­sion­ary spir­it.

Bish­op Bak­er also con­tin­ues to remind us that this Eucharis­tic Con­gress will occur very close to his 75th birth­day. It is cus­tom­ary at that time for a bish­op to sub­mit a let­ter to the Vat­i­can indi­cat­ing that he has reached the age of retire­ment. Of course, it is up to the Papal Nun­cio and His Holi­ness the Pope whether or not they choose to accept this let­ter. But the occa­sion does call for a reminder of a new begin­ning. And this is the wish of Bish­op Bak­er: a new begin­ning at the half cen­tu­ry mark, a new begin­ning in the zeal for spread­ing the gospel as dis­ci­ples, and a new begin­ning in our imi­ta­tion of Blessed Mary as bear­ers of Christ.

Mark your Cal­en­dar: June 28–29, 2019 at the BJCC. See BHMCatholic.com in the com­ing weeks for more infor­ma­tion!

Coordinator of Discipleship & Mission at the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama.

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