10/04/2005, 00.00
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Synod on the Eucharist at the centre of the Church and the world

by Bernardo Cervellera

Christians diminish celebrations when they exalt "the works of man", more than the "works of God".  The world needs to learn from the Eucharist what solidarity is.

The Synod on the Eucharist opened on October 2nd.  When the event had been announced over a year ago, a journalist said to me, a bit out of desperation. "And now what are we going to write about? No one is going to be interested in this topic!"

In effect, the Eucharist is the mystical, less visible and less graspable side, the most internal mystery of the Church: it is not easy for the mass media, interested as it is in conflicts, wars, killings, sensational revelations, to see in this something that makes a good story and increases newspaper sales.

Christians themselves – particularly priests and missionaries – have also been on this opinion.  Twenty or thirty years ago, there were people who thought that celebrating mass was useless and who thought that their time was better spent going on strike or occupying homes in favour of the proletariat.  Even today one can attend Mass to hear (vague) proclamations in favour of man, peace, justice, where the celebrant and the faithful become the protagonists of the rite and the altar a great stage of a modern theatre, close "to the people".  For those who have got beyond protests and social activism, taking a reactionary turn, Mass turns into a (vague) festival of friendship and the feeling of being in good company.  In both cases, "works of man" are being celebrated more than the gratefulness (eucharistia, thanksgiving) for what God has done for man.  Cardinal Angelo Scola, in his Introductory Report yesterday, spoke of "dying by the Eucharistic wonder".

Sentimentalism and moralism are the two great currents which attempt to water down and extinguish the mystery of the Eucharist, described again by Cardinal Scola as "an unexpected and entirely gratuitous event.  Sentimentalism and moralism forget that the centre of everything is the person of Jesus Christ, his "gentle presence" which, in giving the gift of His body and blood, the power of His death and resurrection, transforms my body, my intellect and my sentiments of love.  Because I am loved by Him, I love all my brothers and sisters who live in the world; since everything is given to me in Him, I become rich enough to share my wealth and poverty with those in need.

In the Angelus prayers of the Sundays preceding the Synod, Benedict XVI recalled various saints for whom the Eucharist was truly the centre of their life: it was so from the point of view of contemplation, of the interior and most hidden dimension, but also in their action and visibility.  And among all he recalled Padre Pio and Mother Teresa.  Both spent long hours contemplating the Eucharist: Padre Pio spent hours celebrating Mass; Mother Teresa spent 2 or 3 hours of silence before the consecrated host each day.  Yet we cannot say that activity or efficiency was lacking in their life: the hospital founded by Padre Pio, La casa della Sofferenza ("the Home of Suffering"), is among the most advanced in the treatment and care of the sick, committed also to supporting medical care in various countries in Africa.  And Mother Teresa's homes gather the dying, the old, children, lepers, single mothers, all those that today's society – apparently so efficient – is not able to help.

Even the Church experience that is most generous in means and people, foreign missions, rests on the Eucharist.  It is thanks to this strength that missionaries travel great distances, dedicating long periods of time to studying the language, to acculturate themselves in an environment and to give freely their time and life to people they have just met.  One day, someone should calculate the "budget" of all missionary institutions, the amount of money and personnel they offer each year for the evangelization of the world, to make known the truth and love of Jesus Christ.

The Eucharist is also the centre of the world: the lack of its logic makes nations selfish and slow in responding to the needs of the world.  Let's give a few examples.  We all remember the great tragedy of the tsunami and the generosity of many in Italy and many other places.  It is still not known today if and how Italian donations made through SMS messaging have reached those struck by the tragedy.  At a smaller scale, through the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions, after only a month from the tragedy, all the donations received had reached destination, in the shape of boats, shelters, homes, nets for the rebirth of the Asian people.

And what can be said of the effort so often called for by our pontiffs to help developing populations with large-scale international solidarity?  Even debt cancellation is still up in the air, despite having been promised time and again.  And the percentage of gross national product that goes toward aid to poor nations gets smaller and smaller each year, pushing the poor into the arms of international Islamic terrorism, which is more generous, even if for ideological reasons.

Without the Eucharist, the Church becomes a circus; without the logic of the Eucharist the world becomes more and more divided and feeble.

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