Dcn. Isaiah Schick
Special to the Catholic Herald
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of National Eucharistic Revival articles provided by the Diocese of Superior. God willing, Dcn. Schick will be ordained to the diocesan priesthood in May.
Happy Lent! No, really.The season of Lent is a powerful time in the annual cycle of the church’s life and worship. We are constantly reminded that we find ourselves in a desert – or as the “Hail, Holy Queen” calls it: “this valley of tears.” It is a season of contrition and penance. However, it is also a season of yearning, of hope! If we only focus on the fact that we now find ourselves in a desert, it can be easy to be discouraged. But let’s not forget why we are in the desert, how we got here, or where we are going!
The Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt is a consistent theme throughout Lent – being led by God out of slavery and to freedom in the promised land. However, there was a time of necessary purification in the middle before they were ready to truly live in that freedom – the desert. And you might also remember the Gospel reading at Mass this year for the First Sunday of Lent from a few weeks ago, wherein “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). He had just been baptized in the Jordan River by John, and he had not yet begun his public ministry of preaching and miracles. In both of these stories, the need for bread features prominently. For Israel, they needed food for the 40 years of their desert wanderings, and in crying out to the Lord, he gave them manna from heaven to satisfy their hunger and to sustain them during their time of purification. For Jesus, he was hungry, and the devil tempted him to provide for himself by turning stones into bread instead of relying on the Father to give him what he needed. And what was Jesus’ reply? “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3).
So what about us as we find ourselves in the desert of Lent, in the desert of this world? We have been baptized into Christ, set free from our bondage to Satan, sin, and death – but not yet brought fully unto our heavenly homeland. We are yet in need of purification, in need of healing for our hearts to live that freedom of the sons and daughters of God fully forever – and we are hungry. We try providing for ourselves in so many ways. And yet, our Father has already sent us what we need: his dearly beloved son, Jesus Christ, who is his word made flesh. This very Jesus is speaking to us today just as he did to his first disciples: “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” (John 6:51). We will not survive this desert unless we feast ourselves regularly upon the bread that we have been given: Jesus himself, truly present in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
You may have heard of the National Eucharistic Revival, which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has initiated for the benefit of the church in our country. This revival is not only for those who struggle to believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is not just for those who do not yet have a practice of attending and participating in Mass regularly on Sundays and on holy days of obligation. No – this Eucharistic Revival is meant for all of us. It is for us sinners, for us who have families, for us who feel alone, for us who have daily joys and sorrows, for us who are laity, for us who are clergy. All of us are fellow wanderers in this desert, fellow pilgrims on the journey. It can be so easy to take for granted the gifts the Lord has given us and to resort to grumbling in the wilderness, from complaining about the leadership which God has placed over us to even sometimes longing to go back to the slavery of sin out of which we have been called! Let’s not miss this opportunity to recommit ourselves to gathering the manna of the Eucharist in this foreign land that is our present lot, to consuming regularly this bread who is Jesus that is food for the way (viaticum).
Perhaps in returning to the basics of what our soul needs – the nourishment of spiritual food – we will not just receive the sustenance that our heavenly Father constantly sends us, but each of our lives will truly also become an act of eucharist, of “thanksgiving.” And when our earthly journey is over, may Jesus, who has never left us alone, lead us into the promised land of heaven: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b).