The Greatest Need in the World Today: Forming the Eucharistic Faith and Love of Children
A conference given by Fr. John Hardon, S.J. in 1994 on forming children in love and devotion for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, and which remains relevant today.
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 most tender years of 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 Church's 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 CHURCH'S PEDAGOGY OF THE EUCHARIST
We know that already in the first century of the Christian era, the Church was concerned to teach the faithful — from the earliest years — the treasure of God's love which the Son of God gave to His followers in the Blessed Sacrament. When errors arose as early as 100 A.D. about the Real Presence, the Church's 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 papers 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 predecessor a thousand years before. The reason for the encyclical is obvious. Millions of Catholics are being challenged on their Eucharistic faith in today's 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 Church's martyrs were killed for their faith in the Blessed Sacrament. Thus, the Jesuit John Ogilvie was murdered by command of the Scottish for daring to celebrate Mass. St. John Ogilvie's 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 Church's practice of early and frequent Holy Communion. Seven hundred years before Pius X, at a general 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 death bed!
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 VI's 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 (1993), speaking to half a million young people in Denver, Colorado, Pope John Paul 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. Christ's 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 Church's 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:
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 EUCHARISTIC 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 America's 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 form 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. Augustine's 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, 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,
Because otherwise our young Catholics will become what their American peers already are — in 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.
Why Eucharistic 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.
The key to this relationship is miracle. What am I saying?
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. 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.
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 principal 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 Christianorum, "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 we — parents and teachers, priests and religious — are 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.
1. An apostle of the Eucharist is one who is personally very devoted to the Holy
• as Real Presence
• as the Sacrifice of the Mass and
• as Holy Communion
2. 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
3. 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.
4. An apostle of the Eucharist prays for a deeper understanding of the Blessed
Sacrament, by himself and by others — especially by bishops and priests.
5. 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
6. An apostle of the Eucharist is zealous to convert or re-convert people to a life of
grace and the fulness 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.
7. 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.
8. 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 today's murderers in high
places, to be humble followers of Christ.
But an apostle of the Eucharist has no illusions. There will be opposition. "Have confidence," Jesus tells us, "I have overcome the world."
"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 soul — provided 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."