In this new year, the Church in the United States will embark on a Eucharistic Revival — a grassroots movement of Catholics across the country, “healed, converted, formed and unified” by a renewal of our collective devotion to and belief in the Eucharist.
Our encounter with Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist, where he is alive and present among us, ought to be a profound and life-changing one. This is not to say that every reception of Holy Communion is accompanied by proverbial fireworks. Anything done over and over again can become routine. But occasionally this familiar sacrament of ours should overwhelm us, set us afire, smack us in the face and knock us off our feet.
But does it? In my discussions with other Catholics, especially those around my age, I find that many have never truly encountered Jesus in the Eucharist in this kind of transformative way. For too many, the Eucharist is a habit learned long ago, with vaguely understood meaning. There is a palpable lack of enthusiasm, a tepidity that plagues our relationship with the sacrament. The Eucharistic Revival seeks to stir up an intensity that has been somehow lost and give all of us another chance to encounter Jesus.
An encounter is more than a mere meeting, more than just occupying the same space. An encounter spurs movement, action and change. It inspires us to do things a new way.
There is no better example of encounter than the story of the Magi, heard in the Gospel each year on the Feast of Epiphany. The wise men are generally thought of as benign figures in the nativity drama. They traveled so far, followed the star and even brought gifts! It is easy to forget that, according to Matthew’s gospel, these men were essentially spies on a reconnaissance mission for the jealous King Herod. But — thank goodness — they had an encounter with Jesus, one so deep and profound that they changed their plans on the spot. Instead of returning to Herod, they “departed for their country by another way.” It was an encounter that changed their course of travel and the course of history. The real importance of the Magi is not their journey to Bethlehem, but their journey away from it.
Two-thousand and 22 years later, our encounter with the living Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament should also change us, alter our behaviors and spur us to decisive action. That could look like many things: changing a personal habit, volunteering in the community, responding to a vocational call, switching careers, reconciling a broken relationship, committing to attend Mass more regularly. This is the kind of kick in the rear that a revival seeks to affect. There are many ways and places to encounter Jesus, but this year the Church especially calls us to encounter him like the Magi — in the flesh — in the Holy Eucharist. As we do so — again or perhaps for the first time — may it change our lives forever.