Between Amens —
Christian friendship and the Eucharist

Dr. Karen Shadle

The church in the United States will soon be embarking on a “eucharistic revival,” a response to increasing religious disaffiliation and waning understanding of Catholic eucharistic theology and the doctrine of the Real Presence, in particular.

This is a dynamic endeavor led by our bishops’ conference to renew the church by enkindling a living relationship with Jesus in the holy Eucharist. You will hear much more about diocesan, parish and national efforts in the coming months and years.

Preparation for a eucharistic revival doesn’t begin in a church, however. It begins with a culture. I’ve been reading a lot about eucharistic culture.

What is it about our American society that stifles faith?

What are the conditions that could foster a more robust understanding of the Eucharist? How can we help build the latter?

There are many answers to these questions, and I want to focus on just one: friendship.

Americans are lonelier than ever before. According to a recent study by the Survey Center on American Life, half of American adults have fewer than three close friends who are not relatives. Twelve percent claim to have no friends at all.

The pandemic is not to blame. This is part of a steady trend over several decades. We appear to be wandering through life essentially as lone wolves.

Our collective loneliness is something of a paradox, since today we have more ways of connecting than ever before. In the digital world, there are any number of apps for meeting new people and filters for blocking out anyone who irritates us. These tools fuel an attitude of remarkable intolerance and exclusivity.

The reasons for cutting people out of one’s life are often silly: a perceived slight, the “wrong” political opinion, an annoying habit. The person who seeks the perfectly curated inner circle will soon find himself alone, annoyed with everyone and consumed by bitterness.

What does this have to do with the Eucharist? In part, a eucharistic revival is about reviving Christian friendship — a principle that allows us to worship together despite imperfections.

Think of your parish and all the people in it. Think of your pastor. No matter how much you like your church, you will occasionally encounter preaching you dislike, decisions you disagree with, differing tastes and difficult people. These are not flaws, but rather features of the Christian life.

In the encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” Pope Francis speaks of “true friendship,” in which “we find that our hearts expand as we step out of ourselves and embrace others. Closed groups and self-absorbed couples that define themselves in opposition to others tend to be expressions of selfishness.”

In Jesus, we find the paragon of friendship, and in the Eucharist we encounter Jesus himself, our dear friend. When we abandon the Christian community and the fraternal friendship of faith, the results are devastating.

The experience of friendship teaches us to be open, understanding and patient, to come out of our own comfortable isolation and to share our lives with others. May we all nurture good friendships and thereby help to till the soil of culture, making it more fertile ground for the flourishing of the faith.

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