Four major feast days help us turn to the heart of our faith
Jun 12, 2020
(This is a “Faith in Action” column for the Catholic Standard newspaper and website by Msgr. John Enzler, the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.)
There are three particular times a year when the liturgies uplift me, challenge me, and fulfill me in special ways. We’re in the midst of one such time right now, and as we prepare to celebrate the last of four consecutive major feasts, I think the pandemic and ongoing struggles with racism make this year even more powerful.
As you could guess, one of these special liturgical seasons is Christmas. Easter is another. The third is right now in late spring/early summer when four big feasts come week after week as we celebrate some of the most important elements of our faith. These feasts always challenge me to be a better priest and to celebrate more worthily with the people of God the gifts we share.
The first is the Ascension, which this year fell on Memorial Day weekend. Before Jesus returns to his Father, he tells his disciples to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
It’s called the Great Commission. The Lord commissioned his disciples and also commissions us to go out and teach, to share the gift of our faith. This feast offers us a chance to ask ourselves how we are doing in bringing the Lord to others.
Immediately following the Ascension, we come to one of my favorite liturgies of the year, Pentecost. I’ve always loved this day, the birthday of the Church. Jesus’ commission to preach and teach was given the power it needed through the Holy Spirit – the “wind of God”– to take the message to others. “The Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” (Acts 2:4)
Aren’t you amazed by the courage, resilience and strength of the Apostles after they received the Spirit? All of them faced the threat of death, and almost all of them died by martyrdom. And yet, they continued to preach and teach in ways that still inform and inspire us today.
Dying for Jesus was not just part of our early Church history, it is even more a part of our world today. A commission formed by St. John Paul II in preparation for the year 2000 found that more than twice as many Christians were martyred in the 20th Century than the previous 19 centuries combined. Let us pray for all those who persecuted for their beliefs and live in danger because of their faith.
Last Sunday, we celebrated the feast of The Most Holy Trinity. This is a difficult belief to explain and to understand, but it was clearly the disciples’ experience. They experienced God as their Father. When Jesus began to teach, they saw him as truly the Son of God, and the Resurrection sealed that belief. Then Jesus sent the Spirit, which guided all they did in the early Church and continues to guide us today. From those experiences, the Church believed and taught that our God is three persons in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This coming Sunday, we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. Here in 2020, I feel Corpus Christi is more poignant than ever as so many of us crave nourishment to feed hunger of the body, hunger of the soul, and a hunger for justice and equality.
I’ve realized during the shutdown how much I miss the full experience of Eucharist. One gift of the priesthood is celebrating Mass every day. Most, if not all, of you have not had that gift for three months. I am grateful to receive the Blessed Sacrament daily, but I admit that doing so privately in our rectory does not give me the full sense of what Eucharist is.
The Eucharist at its best is done in community. It is you and me together in communion with the community of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the Word of God proclaimed and taught. It is the gift of Jesus at the altar. It is the community sharing in the one bread and the one cup. Eucharist is the many coming together as the mystical body of Christ.
I had hoped that we could be able to celebrate Corpus Christi by receiving the Eucharist together. Some counties in our archdiocese now celebrate Masses with restrictions. I cannot wait to experience the full sense of Eucharist again with you, and I pray it will be very soon.
In addition to our hunger for community, the COVID-19 pandemic and economic impacts have dramatically increased physical hunger in our area. Catholic Charities has set up food distributions at various places throughout the archdiocese, and car lines have stretched a mile in some cases as people wait patiently to receive the food they need to feed themselves and their families.
They, too, are hungry for community, and the community is there. Volunteers and our staffers come at some risk to themselves, wear masks, and keep socially distant. They are there to make sure that all who come receive the food they need, and they offer a kind word, a prayer, and even a smile that still carries power behind a mask.
Another hunger so powerfully present this year is for justice and an end to racism after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. How sad it is that we still have not overcome our racism. How sad it is that we’re still struggling to treat each other as fellow children of a loving God, brothers and sisters in Christ.
The love of the Father, the peace of the Son, and the gift of the Holy Spirit are the heart of our faith. May that heart lift us through these difficult moments, lift us above the tension and struggles and racism that are still part of our land, and lift us above the pandemic that has taken the health, lives, and livelihoods of so many. May it give us the courage to persevere and the strength we need to move forward.
I want to acknowledge and thank all who are stepping up to support the needy in such special ways. Donations to Catholic Charities continue to come in, even amid economic uncertainty. Volunteer hours continue to grow, even with a degree of risk involved. The work of service continues to change hearts. You have given hope to so many, including me. I am confident that through the gift of our faith, the gift of the Eucharist, and the gifts of all we have that we will continue to do the work that God has called us to do.
In the words of St. Paul, which we echo at the beginning of Mass and read on Trinity Sunday, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (2 Corinthians 13:13)
May God bless you, and may God give us all the strength to preach and live the Gospel every day. One of my favorite quotes, attributed to St. Francis, is simply: “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words.” May our preaching be clear for all to see and know God, not only by what we say but by the loving ways we live each and every day.
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