The Greatest Need in the World Today -
Forming the Eucharistic Faith and Love of Children
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
It is always risky to use superlatives. And most risky when, as here, the superlative applies to the whole world.
What are we saying when we say that the greatest need in the world today is to form the Eucharistic faith and love of children. What do we mean?
We mean that what the world most needs is to believe in Jesus Christ; indeed believe that Jesus Christ is on earth in the Holy Eucharist.
The world needs to love Jesus Christ, with us in the Blessed Sacrament, offering Himself for us in the Sacrifice of the Mass and present within us in Holy Communion.
In the measure that this faith and love are nurtured from the tenderest years as children, to that extent will Jesus Christ continue working the
miracles of grace He performed during His visible stay in Palestine.
My plan for this conference, therefore, is very simple:
- Briefly summarize the Churchs pedagogy of the Holy Eucharist over the centuries.
- Explain why parents and teachers should develop the Eucharistic faith and love of children from infancy to adulthood.
- Provide some guidelines to children on how to grow in their faith and love of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
The Churchs Pedagogy of the Eucharist
We know that already in the first century of the Christian era, the Church was concerned to teach the faithfulfrom the earliest yearsthe
treasure of Gods love which the Son of God gave to His followers in the Blessed Sacrament.
When errors arose as early as 100A.D. about the Real Presence, the Churchs defenders, who became martyrs, made it clear that the Holy Eucharist is Jesus Christ.
Not coincidentally, the Eastern churches gave Holy Communion to infants on the day they were baptized. When about the year 1000 A.D., heresies
cropped up which openly denied that Jesus Christ is on earth in the Blessed Sacrament, these heresies were condemned by popes and councils. Surely
symptomatic of our times, Pope Paul VI issued a historic encyclical during the Second Vatican Council, the Mystery of Faith, in which he verbally
repeated the profession of faith in the Real Presence demanded by his predecessors a thousand years before. The reason for the encyclical is
obvious. Millions of Catholics are being challenged on their Eucharistic faith in todays widespread climate of skepticism.
In the sixteenth century, the rise of a militant Protestantism challenged the Eucharistic belief on a scale never before experienced in history. Many of the
Churchs martyrs were killed for their faith in the Blessed Sacrament. Thus, the Jesuit John Ogilvie, was murdered by command of the Scottish crown for
daring to celebrate Mass. St. John Ogilvies feast is October 14.
Since the sixteenth century, the education of Catholic children has had to stress the Real Presence and the Mass as never before. Why? Because
of the penetration of so many erroneous ideas about the Eucharist that we are only now beginning to wake up to what has happened since 1517,
when Martin Luther broke with the Catholic Church. Not surprisingly, Luther denied the priestly power of transubstantiation.
We get some idea of how confused things had become once we realize what Pope St. Pius X had to do to restore the Churchs practice of
early and frequent Holy Communion. 700 hundred years before Pius X, at the Fourth Lateran Council, an ecumenical council, the Church had
prescribed First Communion on reaching the age of reason. Yet, in the height of Jansenism in the 17th century, religious women were known
to receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time on their deathbed!
Coming to our own day, the two popes, Paul VI and John Paul II have been, I would almost say militant, in the insisting on sound Eucharistic education.
The whole of Pope Paul VIs encyclical, Mysterium Fidei is a plea for charity and orthodoxy in teaching the faithful about the Real Presence.
All the liturgical progress made in the last generation will be lost, says the pope, unless Catholics from their earliest years understand that the Holy
Eucharist is the presence and sacrifice of Jesus Christ on earth in our day.
On August 12 of last year, speaking to half a million young people in Denver, Colorado, Pope John II told them:
Your pilgrimage will lead you to Christ present in the Holy Eucharist. Praying before the Blessed Sacrament exposed, you can open your hearts to
Him, but you should especially listen to what he says to each of you. Christs special words to young people are the following:
Do not be afraid. (Mt. 10:31) and Come, follow me. (Mt. 19:21). Who knows what the Lord will ask of you young
people of America, sons and daughters of Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania?
So the Churchs Eucharistic pedagogy has gone on for 2,000 years. Aimed especially at the young, it is in essence simplicity itself.
From infancy through adolescence the young people are to grow in their believing love of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
They are to be taught and trained to realize that Jesus Christ is indeed at the right hand of His heavenly Father. But Jesus Christ is also:
- completely now on earth, present in the Blessed Sacrament, offering Himself in the Sacrifice of the Mass and
received by us-His Body in our bodies in Holy Communion.
Why Develop the Eucharist Formation of the Young
We cannot even begin to answer this question Why develop the Eucharistic formation of the young? unless we assume that our nation
needs a moral conversion.
During his talks in Denver for the World Youth Day last year, Pope John Paul told the young people to Pray that America might not lose its soul.
The soul of America is Christianity. Christianity is the principle of our national life. As our nation becomes increasingly dechristianized, it loses more
and more of its source of vitality. Unless the moral disease is cured, America as the nation we still call the United States will disappear.
But there is another and deeper meaning to Americas danger of losing its soul. Individuals lose their souls when they die estranged from God.
There is such a thing as a second death, which means everlasting separation from God in what Christ calls eternal punishment. This is the awful
prospect awaiting not just single persons, but whole societies, unless they repent and return to the God from whom they have separated by their
stubborn resistance to His will.
Sin-laden America. It is remarkable what a dream world people can be living in. By all material standards, America is a prosperous country.
We are the best fed, most expensively clothed, most comfortably housed, most conveniently transported, most lavishly entertained large nation in human history.
But we are also a world leader in sin. I like St. Augustines definition. Sin, he says, is nothing else than the neglect of eternal things and
seeking after temporal things. In other words, the very affluence of our country in having access to so many satisfying creatures here on earth is a
demonic seduction that lures people from the love of eternal things.
When I say world leader in sin, I mean this literally. Not satisfied with world leadership in adultery, contraception, fornication and sodomy,
our American State department for months before the UN Cairo Conference in 1994, broadcast to all nations that, and I quote, the United States believes
that access to safe, legal and voluntary abortion is a fundamental right of all women.
We are still answering the question Why develop the Eucharistic formation of the young? Our answer is:
Why Eucharist Formation? To anyone who does not have the Catholic faith, it is meaningless to associate the Eucharist with the moral revolution
going on in our country today. But to those who have the fullness of the true faith, the relationship of the Eucharist to heroic virtue and massive
conversion is not only meaningful. It is indispensable.
- Because otherwise our young Catholics will become what their American peers already arein large measure victims of an anti-Christian
militia that dominates our media and political system.
- Because, as we enter the twenty-first century, we need a well-formed, deeply committed and powerfully motivated Catholic leadership,
which is the children and young people of today.
The key to this relationship is miracle. What am I saying?
In both cases, it is Jesus Christ, the Wonder Worker on earth in the Eucharist who must perform the necessary miracles. He must work the
miracle of infusing heroic courage and He must perform the miracle of conversion of lapsed Christians and unbelievers in the modern world.
- I am first of all saying that except for the Eucharist, no one can remain totally faithful to Jesus Christ and the moral demands He makes on His followers.
- I am further saying that, except for the Eucharist, God will not convert the multitude of souls estranged from His love.
Remember what we are speaking about. We are answering the question of why Eucharistic faith and love must be nourished among Catholics
from their earliest years. Why? In order to prepare them for heroic virtue, and in order to make them channels of miraculous grace in a godless world.
This, then, is my principle message to you today. Train the Eucharistic faith of young Catholics today to become the living martyrs of Christ in the next century.
In the early Church, the expression was coined Sanguine martyrum est semen Christianom, the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.
This is even more true in our day. Christ needs martyrs who are willing to shed their blood if need be, and who do shed their acceptance by the world,
out of loyalty to Jesus Christ.
In this same early Church, which we call the Church of Martyrs, daily Mass and daily Holy Communion were the accepted practice for Catholics.
Children were not excluded.
But you might object. That was the age of the catacombs. Did I hear you say, That was the age of the catacombs? If that is what you said, let me
enlighten you. Anyone who wants to really, honestly, sincerely, wholeheartedly live his or her Catholic faith today must be ready to live a catacomb
existence in the closing decade of the 20th century. Twenty-five years of working for the Holy See has taught me many things-most of which I will
never publish or even articulate in public. But this much I can say. We are today living in the Age of Martyrs.
Where do we get the strength even to survive? From Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. How do we become instruments of divine grace in restoring
a Christless society to its Redeemer? From Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
Guidelines for the Eucharistic Formation of the Young
Our closing reflections in this conference concentrate on how weparents and teachers, priests and religiousare to become apostles of the Eucharist in our day.
What is an apostle of the Eucharist? An apostle of the Eucharist is one who has certain Eucharistic qualities, eight to be exact.
But an apostle of the Eucharist has no illusions. There will be opposition. Have confidence, Jesus tells us, I have overcome the world.
- An apostle of the Eucharist is one who is personally very devoted to the Holy Eucharist
- as Real Presence
- as the Sacrifice of the Mass and
- as Holy Communion
- An apostle of the Eucharist is one who realizes that there is no solution to the problems of the world or the problems of the
Church, except through the Holy Eucharist.
- An apostle of the Eucharist is one who does everything in his power, by word and example, to promote a deeper faith in the Eucharist as
Presence-Sacrament, as Sacrifice-Sacrament, and as Communion-Sacrament. All these are seen as the main sources of divine grace for the whole human race.
- An apostle of the Eucharist prays for a deeper understanding of the Blessed Sacrament, by himself and by othersespecially by bishops and priests.
- An apostle of the Eucharist lives a life of reparation for those who neglect the Holy Eucharist or desert the Holy Eucharist, or distort and desecrate the Holy Eucharist.
- An apostle of the Eucharist is zealous to convert or re-convert people to a life of grace and the fullness of the Christian faith, which
believes that Jesus Christ is, now, present on earth, offering Himself in the Mass by giving us the graces He won for us on Calvary, and
giving Himself to us and coming bodily into our body, His soul into our soul, as the pledge of eternal destiny.
- An apostle of the Eucharist is a martyr for the Eucharist. No matter what price has to be paid, an apostle of the Eucharist is ready to
pay it as a witness to his faith that Jesus Christ is living in our midst today.
- An apostle of the Eucharist simply expects the Eucharistic Christ to work whatever miracle needs to be performed in our day, especially:
- Miracles of courage in conquering the demon of human respect by confessing Jesus Christ twenty-four hours a day.
- Miracles of conversion in changing sinners, even todays murderers in high places, to be humble followers of Christ.
Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, we believe You are with us in the Blessed Sacrament. We believe You are inviting us to become apostles of the
Eucharist through the young people you place into our lives.
You told us, Allow the little children to come unto me, and do not prevent them from doing so. In saying this, You were telling us to nourish
the Eucharistic faith of the young. It is by believing in You that they come to you. It is by growing in their understanding of this faith that
they will grow in their love for You.
Here on earth, they cannot see You with their bodily eyes. But they can see You with the eyes of their soulprovided we nurture
their faith by our own deep belief in You our Eucharistic Lord and nourish their hearts by our own selfless affection for you our Eucharistic Love. Amen.
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