Like so many parishes in our diocese and in the West, so in ours, death notifications now vastly outnumber baptism notifications; marriages have dwindled to a trickle; confessions are petering out; confirmations and first communions have dropped dramatically and we hardly ever see most of the children or their parents again. You know yourselves the situation when it comes to Sunday observance. The Scottish Catholic Directory records 1500 as the number of Catholics in St. Mary’s Parish (although I think the electoral register would give a higher number). I think we average 180 at Mass on Sundays. The vast majority of these are over 60 years of age. About 23% of children in St. Mary’s Primary are identified as Catholic. Of these, very few are brought to Mass every Sunday.
The causes of this situation are many and complicated. There are no quick fixes. There is no pastoral programme, analysis or document of the Pope that can adequately explain or, even less, deal with them. Our society today is more pagan than in pre-Christian times, for at least then there was a general openness to the possibility of gods or a god. In many instances today, though, it is not even that we are just faced with atheism: we encounter outright anti-theism. People who do believe in God can be viewed as anti-human because they won’t recognise man, woman, the human being as supreme. The new blasphemy is to suggest that a person cannot be or do anything he or she wants just because he or she wants it, including the choice no longer even to be a he or a she.
The picture can seem crushing and even desperate. And while we must see these realities for what they are, they are not the whole reality. They are not what counts most. It is Christ who counts the most; in fact, only Christ counts. “In the world you will have trouble. But be brave, I have conquered the world”, he says. What is our victory over the world? Our faith, St. John tells us. And at the heart of our faith in Christ stands the simple and majestic gift of the Eucharist. So, with absolute confidence we can say that the Eucharist has conquered the world. And if it has conquered the world, then there is nothing in the West or in our own little parish which the Eucharist cannot conquer. If the Eucharist is the heart of the cosmos, as Pope St. John Paul II wrote, then it is the heart of the whole Church, of every parish community and of every believer.
We risk worsening Church or parish problems if we think we can solve them on our own. We have to go to the source and that source is the Eucharist. It is only by drawing nearer to Christ in the Eucharist and by letting Him show us the way, and empower us to take it, that new life will spring up again and renewed love and hope will flourish. What we need is a Eucharistic conversion or revolution of heart and soul, to allow the Lord to turn us each into whatever His love desires for His own kind purposes. Holiness rooted in the Eucharist is not about having visions or witnessing miracles, interesting though these may be. Since the Eucharist is the living memorial of the death and resurrection of Jesus, Eucharistic holiness is about learning to sacrifice ourselves in love for Him and for one another. To die to self and live for Christ is the only way that we will attract others to Him, or back to Him. It is deep personal love for Jesus in the Eucharist, who is my brother, my friend, my Lover and my Lord, which will sanctify me. The Church needs living saints to revive and rejuvenate her for mission. She does not need more books, structures, laws or programmes. She needs witnesses, people in love with Christ – in other words, saints.
I am confident that the Eucharistic Revival launched and proposed to you today is a gift of Christ’s own heart to us as individuals and as community. It is an opportunity of grace calling us to believe every more firmly, to hope ever more unflinchingly and to love ever more deeply and completely the Holy Eucharist. We begin on a feast day which became part of the Church’s calendar as the result of a vision of St. Juliana of Liège in 1208. Before and after her, many saints and martyrs gave witness to the reality and grace of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. There was the 3rd century boy-martyr St. Tarcisius, stoned and beaten to death when carrying the Eucharist to a prisoner. There was St. Ignatius of Antioch, the 2nd century Bishop Martyr, who called the Eucharist the medicine of immortality and had what can only be described as a passionate love for the Sacrament. There was 14thcentury Imelda Lambertini, patron saint of first communicants, who so longed for the Eucharist as a young girl that, when she first received it at the age of 11, she died making her prayer of thanksgiving. There is St. Peter Julian Eymard, 19th century founder of the Congregation and Servants of the Blessed Sacrament.
And then there’s Blessed Carlo Acutis. A bit like Elijah the prophet, he arose like a fire out of nowhere. He exemplifies in his own youthful way the words of Christ: “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already!” Carlo caught the fire of the Eucharist early in life and it consumed him early in life. Because of it, he reached out to the poor and the migrant with real sincerity and friendship; because of it, he defended the boys at school who were bullied, the girls who were harassed, the unborn child and the virtues of charity and chastity. His heart was won over by Jesus in the Eucharist, and he gave Him top priority in his day and week, lots of time before and after Mass, and devoted himself to the love and honour of his Blessed Mother, of St. Francis of Assisi and many other friends of Jesus. Carlo’s life was so complete so soon because he was so full of Christ. I have a burning hope, and pray that it will not be vain, that Carlo will find the way to reach the youth in our parish and win them over to Jesus, with authenticity, with realism, with joy.
But there are millions of ordinary, unnamed Catholics, probably including many of our own parents and grandparents and, indeed, many of you here present, whose lives have been vibrant with grace as the result of steadfast faith and deep spiritual love for the Holy Eucharist. “Whoever eats me will draw life from me”: these words of Jesus explain why his eternal life in us feeds not only our own lives but, through us, the lives of others. Parish revival can only come from the life of the Eucharist. Christ will work in our minds, hearts and bodies to make us more alive with Himself and from that, as from the mustard seed, there will grow new life, new love, new hope. He is ever ancient and ever new. He does not run out of ideas or surprises. His mercies and his works are not exhausted. He changes night into day, deserts into running streams. The plans of His Heart endure for ever. He has come to revive us, to give life in abundance to us and through us. And so, good Jesus of the Eucharist, come to us with your saints and revive our love for you, revive our faith, waken us up from the nightmare of a world without you. Free us from wherever habit and routine, apathy and the burden of life, have stolen our joy in loving you. Woo us once more as only you can. In you alone we hope. Let not our trust be in vain! Be our Highway to Heaven!