by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in the first Communion liturgy for my great-niece Grace. It was beautiful to witness the excitement of Grace and her classmates for the privilege of receiving Jesus in the Eucharist.
Grace’s enthusiasm for receiving her first holy Communion was an example of the “eucharistic amazement” that Pope John Paul II desired to rekindle within the entire Catholic community.
I just completed presiding at Holy Hours of eucharistic adoration in each of our Catholic high schools. In my homily for these Holy Hours, I recalled Archbishop Justin Rigali’s response ten years ago to a question at a news conference after Pope John Paul II’s historic pastoral visit to St. Louis.
The pope had come to St. Louis from Mexico, where he had spent several days preaching and teaching about the church in America. The Holy Father was in St. Louis less than 48 hours. During that time, he presided at a youth rally with more than 20,000 young people; he celebrated Mass with more than 100,000 people; he led an interfaith and ecumenical prayer service in the cathedral basilica with leaders of other faith communities; he met with the president; he interceded successfully with the governor of Missouri to commute the sentence of a man on death row; and he prayed over some patients from a local Catholic children’s hospital.
The press wondered: How does this old, sick man do all of this?
Archbishop Rigali had worked closely with Pope John Paul II for almost 20 years in the Vatican. He had traveled with the pope on many of his pastoral visits and knew the late pope quite well. With a twinkle in his eye, the archbishop said the pope had a secret source of power. You could see the reporters got quite interested at this point. Perhaps, they thought the archbishop was going to announce a papal endorsement for some energy drink.
Archbishop Rigali related that in the morning, after the one night the pope had spent at the archbishop’s residence, our late Holy Father rose early to pray. He spent one hour and 40 minutes kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in the archbishop’s chapel. This was the pope’s practice every day, no matter where he was in the world. It was from praying before the Eucharist that Pope John Paul derived his incredible energy.
One of the first things that Pope John Paul II did after his election as the Successor of St. Peter, was to renew the Corpus Christi procession in Rome. In 1998, I was fortunate enough to be in Rome for the solemnity of Corpus Christi. Even though it was difficult for the Holy Father to walk, he dropped to his knees in adoration before the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament.
The strength, wisdom and energy that Pope John Paul II derived from the Eucharist are available to all of us. Jesus makes himself uniquely and powerfully present for all of us in the Blessed Sacrament.
When I was an auxiliary bishop in St. Louis, I became acquainted with a very successful businessman. By the time we first met, he was already in his 80s. I was seated with him at a banquet at which he and one of his sons were honored for all that they had done to help disadvantaged youth in the community.
He told me about a life-changing experience he had almost 50 years earlier. At the time, he and his wife had five young children. He owned his company which employed a couple hundred people. He felt completely overwhelmed with his responsibilities. He was concerned about his ability to be the good and loving husband and father that his wife and children needed and deserved. He was concerned about his business, realizing that not only his family, but all of the families of his employees, were relying upon his leadership of the company. He felt the burden of so many lives depending on his decisions.
In retrospect, he described himself as on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In his desperation, he found himself kneeling in church one morning praying before the Blessed Sacrament. He felt inspired at that moment to surrender his life to Jesus. By the simple act of faith, of entrusting his marriage, his family and his business to the Lord, he felt a tremendous weight being lifted from his heart.
Nothing about the externals of his life had changed. Yet, he had changed. He understood that he was not alone. He received a confidence that everything was going to be all right. He did not have any new answers to some of the pressing business and family decisions that previously had felt so overwhelming. Yet, he experienced a tremendous peace. He was no longer paralyzed by fear and worry.
Each one of us needs to have a close personal friendship with Jesus — nourished frequently by receiving holy Communion, as well as adoring the presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. When we manifest faith in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, we will experience an abiding peace, receive a remarkable energy and find more and more reasons to rejoice each and every day.
On Sunday, June 14, the solemnity of Corpus Christi, our Archdiocese is cosponsoring with the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese a eucharistic procession. The event will begin at 1 p.m. with an hour of eucharistic adoration at St. Agnes Church in Roeland Park. For those who wish to receive the sacrament of penance, several confessors will be available. At 2 p.m., the Blessed Sacrament will be carried in procession to Bishop Miege High School, where we will conclude with Benediction.
I encourage all of our recent first communicants to attend, if they wish, attired in their first Communion dress or suit. I also urge all those recently confirmed or preparing for confirmation to attend as an opportunity to give public witness to their love for Jesus in the Eucharist.
I hope that many will take advantage of this special opportunity to make a positive, public demonstration of our love for Jesus, for his church, and for the sacrament of his body and blood. May we allow the Lord to use this Corpus Christi as a time to renew within our hearts the gift of eucharistic amazement!