God with us
One of the biggest fears of those who follow Jesus is the fear that this might not be true, that we might be wasting our time, that we might be setting ourselves up for disappointment or failure.
I think this fear has grown in the present moment with the current focus placed upon scandal, with the increasingly large gulf between what Christ teaches about marriage and what our contemporary society holds up as marriage, imposed upon us by the force of law. We can see snapshots of these fears and accompanying anger on social media with Facebook posts and Twitter wars — with the interaction of faith in the fragmentation of contemporary times. It can feel like our faith has carried us into a risky place, an uncharted wilderness. It can feel that being a faithful Catholic is dangerous to our social standing, our sense of security, and even a threat to our employment.
This fear is basically where Jesus’ disciples find themselves in the Gospel of Luke in the miracle of feeding the 5,000 (9:11-17). They are surrounded by a crowd of people, and they want Jesus to dismiss the people because they are in a deserted place and they are afraid that they have nothing to prevent the crowd from becoming hungrier and angrier to the point of becoming a mob. We know that crowds depicted in sacred Scripture indicate a collection of individuals without belonging or purpose. When crowds are depicted as murmuring in sacred Scripture, it is indicative of faithlessness and facelessness; it is indicative of fear and lack of identity.
Jesus is not frightened by the perceived bad odds — five loaves and two fishes against 5,000 people. He does not dismiss the crowds out of fear. Instead, He takes the lead and takes everyone with Him — including the Apostles — into a deeper relationship with God. Through the taking, the prayer of blessing, the breaking of the bread, and the giving of the bread, Jesus fills the vacuum of the peoples’ hunger, their restlessness, and the dangers of the wilderness with a superabundance of love. The space occupied by fear becomes a coup for God’s presence — and Jesus directs His Apostles to dispense His gifts to the crowd.
What does this mean for us today? Well, as the Catholic Church faces increasing scrutiny and pressure to conform to the ideologies of the moment, Christ comes to fill our corresponding fears with Himself. Jesus does this concretely in our lives through the Eucharist — which itself can never be separated from Christ’s Apostles and the bishops, their successors in union with the Successor of Peter. The Eucharist is not a concept. The Eucharist is not merely a symbol. The Eucharist is the very real presence of Christ in the unity of His Body and in the sacrifice of His Blood. The Eucharist is the only and most excellent gift that can save us from our fears and self-destruction by sinful ideology through the selflessness of love.
The temptation for a bishop as a successor of the Apostles for today is the same as the temptation was for the Apostles themselves as recorded in that Gospel passage. That is, when Jesus says, “Give them some food yourselves,” the Apostles initially begin to go to the marketplace fearfully to placate the demands of the crowd and to stave off the crowd’s becoming a mob for the time being. The Lord directs the Apostles to have the people sit down in communities of belonging so as to prevent the anonymity and isolation of a faceless mob. Then, Jesus nourishes them with what they have offered out of their poverty.
The marketplace that tempts the successors of the Apostles today is the marketplace of ideas. It is the marketplace of ideas that shills the latest concept or fad to keep the people entertained and placated for a while so that they do not become a mob for the time being. It is the marketplace of ideas that allures us into the ether of the denial of the reality of sin and the even greater reality of divine grace. It is the marketplace of ideas that soon becomes a temple of false idols that jealously enslave those that have carved them from abstraction.
The Lord directs us instead, and in a particular way, through my ministry as your bishop as shared with my priests, to avoid the charm of the marketplace of ideas and to embrace instead the Lord’s nourishment and sustenance in His Real Presence received not as an ideal, but as the reality of His love and sacrifice.
St. Paul exemplifies the life and ministry of an apostle and of a bishop as a successor of the Apostles most brilliantly in his first epistle to the Corinthians (11:23-26). Paul addresses the Corinthians who have become divided over personal preferences and customs. They have become fractured over economic status involving power and influence within the community and the Church. St. Paul exhorts them simply, “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night He was handed over, took bread, and, after He had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” Christ taken, blessed, broken, and given. The four verbs that mark every Eucharist. The four verbs that mark the life of Christ and His Church. The four verbs that mark through full sacramental initiation the life of every member of the Catholic Church.
My vocation as your bishop is not to placate you or to appease your preferences, or my preferences for that matter. It is to hand on what I have received to you, namely: that the Lord Jesus, on the night He was handed over, took bread, and, after He had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Christ taken, blessed, broken, and given.
What has been handed on includes Christ Himself and what He authentically teaches through the magisterium of the Catholic Church. Anything else is pablum. Nothing else will suffice. The bishop, like St. Paul, passes on what he has received and reminds the faithful of Christ’s centrality — especially when we are tempted to give in to fears and try to buy something else to satiate us instead of being nourished with and by Christ Himself.
In June we hosted the first of four Eucharistic processions with the Blessed Sacrament at our 40 Hours of Adoration event in Keller. Why a procession, you may ask? Because we are a people who need to be reminded more than we need to be informed about the meaning of the reality of what we do each and every Sunday. It’s not just something reserved for within the four walls of a church building, as much as the world would like to confine our religious liberty to the abstract walls of worship on Sunday. The Eucharist is neither a hobby nor a prop. The Eucharist and the teaching of the Church are given for the world. It is given for our lives, our homes, our streets, and our world. We, who have received Christ by taking and eating His Body and taking and drinking His Blood, are now to accompany Him out to the world on His mission of evangelization to the places where we live: our homes, jobs, schools, streets, stores, families, friends, strangers, neighborhoods, cities, state, country, and world. We do not carry Him in the monstrance where we prefer to go; we follow Him where He desires to lead us. He leads us into the world with the fullness of the truth in the selflessness of love and we will be rejected for it.
The vessel that we use for carrying the Blessed Sacrament in procession is called a monstrance (it comes from the Latin word monstrare, meaning “to show”). So, in the procession, we are showing to all who participate the real presence of Christ. It is Christ who wants to show them — show us — that He journeys with us on His way; He walks with us. Jesus wants to be shown to the whole world and He entrusts us with this mission and we are privileged to share in it.
Let us be the true and living monstrance that shows Christ to our streets and homes and jobs and neighborhood and world. As we have received Him into us, let us become Him, to paraphrase St. Augustine. As we have seen Him, so let us show Him to others. Let us offer our bodies for the sake of the life of the world as Jesus gave up His body. Let us shed our blood for the sake of the life of the world as Jesus shed His blood. Let us show the world by what we say and do that Christ dwells in us who have eaten His Body and drunk His Blood. Let us ask Christ to inspire many young men to lay down their lives with Him in the intimacy of the priestly vocation united to His sacrifice of the Eucharist — the most excellent sacrifice of love — a value so far exceeding any of the tinsel huckstered by the marketplace of ideas.
Let us pray for the renewal of married life, that husbands and wives in their unity of wedlock can reveal Christ’s love for His Body, the Church. Let us pray that we might renew our diocese after 50 years and stay with Christ and follow Him with prophetic clarity and ministerial charity in the reality of His sacrificial love.
Let us remember, furthermore, that the central position of Christ is maintained and continually offered through the celebration of the Eucharist. St. Augustine reminds us that it is the Eucharist that makes the Church. Without the Eucharist there is no Communion — not simply blessed or consecrated bread — but the intimate unity between God and among human beings that is offered by Christ and is more than shared purposes among people with like-minded opinions. Without the ministerial priesthood there is no Eucharist. Without the Eucharist the ministerial priesthood is pointless.
During this 50th anniversary of our diocese, let us remember that the heavenly Jerusalem is the Church triumphant, not the Church triumphalistic, as the Book of Revelation shows us (21:10-14, 22-23). The heavenly Jerusalem is a Church of confidence because it has Jesus Christ at its center. The new Jerusalem begins here and now by how we love each other in communion as the People of God, how we keep Christ central in our order of worship and in our lives as one body, the Church. It is the worship of God in the temple, in the Eucharist — Christ Himself — that gives the identity and mission of the new Jerusalem in the here and now.
As we proceed to the taking, blessing, breaking, and giving of the Bread at every Mass, let us remember that Jesus comforts us with His presence. In the Eucharist, we find that Christ comes to us especially in our fears, no matter how big the crowd of individuals or how loud the keyboards of the social media opposition to the teachings of Christ and the nature of His Church. In the Eucharist, we see that our fear of Jesus’ absence is unfounded, because in the Eucharist — given to us through the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church and the ministry of priests — Christ is with us. Let us stay with Him.
Bishop Michael Olson was ordained and installed as the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth in 2014. He shepherds a flock of more than 1 million Catholics in 28 North Texas counties.