Sunday 23rd September 2018
Witness for the National Eucharistic Congress and Pilgrimage 7th – 9th September 2018.
So we’ve been hearing for weeks and weeks now about “The National Eucharistic Congress”, the first one here in Britain since 1908, and I suppose a lot of you are thinking: ‘What is it!?’ Well basically, it was an initiative of the Bishops of England & Wales to give us the chance to attend a huge conference all about the Eucharist. 3 days of lectures, adoration, preaching and prayer. They called the congress Adoremus - Latin for Let us adore Him. You might think ‘But why? What’s the point in all that?’ Well it's about this drive to rejuvenate Eucharistic Adoration in our parishes, to encourage a deeper faith in the Blessed Sacrament and a fresh realisation of its centrality in the Christian life. We’ve heard from countless church documents over the last 50 years that “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life". What does that mean? Well it means that everything in the church and in our lives flows from the Eucharist, and everything we do in life and all our actions should be ordered and point directly back to the Eucharist as its high point. So therefore, the church is most herself when she gathers to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass. Eucharistic devotions like Exposition, Adoration, Benediction and processions, serve to points us all in the direction of the Mass and its centrality.
So the weekend kicked off with around a thousand delegates from all the parishes around the country arriving at the Echo conference centre on the Friday to attend the symposium day. We heard lots of different talks from morning till night by Priests, Nuns, Bishops, Doctors, all telling us about the Eucharist in different contexts; the Eucharist in the context of the Scriptures; the Eucharist as a meal; the Eucharist as a daily source of spiritual nourishment; a source of Faith, of Hope, of Charity; and most importantly as a source of Grace. All of those talks are available on the website of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales if you fancy watching them, which I suggest you do as they were very informative.
The 2nd day was the main event. A welcome by the Apostolic Nuncio, and a couple of addresses by leaders of charities, such as Mary's Meals and how all their work feeding starving schoolchildren round the world is rooted in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. And then Aid to the Church In Need, who spoke about the struggle many Middle Eastern Christians have with getting to a church because it's been bombed, so they urged us in the west to go to Adoration and pray before the Blessed Sacrament in solidarity for those who can't - which I think is a beautiful sentiment. After this there was the keynote speaker: Bishop Robert Barron. You might have come across him online. He’s an Auxiliary Bishop from Los Angeles – but don't let that put you off! He is an excellent preacher, a very gifted Catechist, articulate, intelligent, and down to earth. He is wisely using the social media platform to evangelize, and consequently his followers are mainly the younger generation, whom he inspires. He's also a YouTube sensation, he’s got his own channel on there, his videos have millions of views, and they’re all free to watch so I highly recommend you check him out. 5000 of us turned up that day to listen to him. He gave us two talks, one in the morning about the Mass – walking us step by step through the ritual, which lasted longer than a Mass itself! But it was a wonderful insight into appreciating the beauty of liturgy. In the afternoon he spoke about Holiness: how to be holy and how to live a Christ-centred, saintly life. Well he gives us the ideal, but he acknowledges what a hard journey it is to get there, for everyone, he quoted GK Chesterton who said “We're all the same, we're all sinners. We're all in the same boat, and we're all seasick! But we can get there, with Christ’s help.” That talk was the highlight of the Congress so far. I can't stress how inspirational and uplifting Robert Barron is when he speaks. If you don’t watch any of the other videos from the Conference, then just watch his. I heard him on that Saturday and have since watched him 4 times. He makes me feel encouraged and fired-up. But I’m still in sat in that boat, and I'm still seasick..
On the final day, we gathered at Liverpool Cathedral for Sunday Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, after this there was the Blessed Sacrament procession through the streets of Liverpool. 10,000 people were there for that procession. That is a figure reported by the BBC. 10,000 people processing through the streets of Liverpool in an act of witness to our faith. As we left the Cathedral and paraded into the street, the heavens opened and every single one of us got saturated to the skin, it was like a bucket had been poured over each and every one us, from the Cardinal, right down to this poor little African child who had holes in her trainers, we were all soaked. It was appropriate really as Cardinal Nichols disclaimed any iota of triumphalism in the walk, rather that in light of recent bad news, it was a “penitential procession”. So we all marched on and it was magnificent. Then, as the procession headed back toward the Cathedral and the Blessed Sacrament reached the top of the steps, we stopped for Benediction, the rain stopped, the Cardinal lifted the monstrance, the clouds parted and the sun shone down on 10,000 of God’s faithful pilgrims, and we received Christ's blessing. It was awe-inspiring.
And so the idea was, for all the delegates to then come back to our parishes and infect our fellow parishioners with this reinforced message the Eucharist truly is the greatest gift that God has given His church, and that other than Mass, one of the best ways to be in the true presence of Christ in our own time, is Adoration. It allows us to be able to spend quiet, reflective time in the presence of the Lord. There were plenty of opportunities to go to Adoration that weekend and one particular service – prompted by Aid to the Church In Need – imparted a deep peace throughout me. I was profoundly moved. It was a deep, personal encounter with Christ, and it will remain with me forever.
So I’m inviting you all, to come to Eucharistic Adoration in this parish. It is the First Friday of every month, it lasts less than an hour, it alternates between St Mary's church and St John Fisher, and is always in the newsletter. Please come, if you’ve never been before, or if you haven’t been for years, come. If you think ‘I can’t because of I’ve got the kids’, bring them. No one will turn them away. In the Gospel reading for today Jesus put his arms around a child and said “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name, not only welcomes me, but also welcomes the one who sent me.” So bring them. What better way to instil a sense of reverence for the Sacrament in them than Adoration. And for you, If you listen, you can hear the voice of God in the silence. He answers prayer. He touches your heart. This all happens when the Lord is adored in the Blessed Sacrament.
I’ll leave you now with some words of Mother Theresa, who spent every morning on her knees in front of the Eucharist:
"The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, is the best time you will spend on earth. Each moment that you spend with Christ will deepen your union with Him and will help bring about everlasting peace on earth." She is now a saint. Thank you.
Lee Anthony Price.