September 14, 2009

The Eucharist and St. Anthony Zaccaria - by Fr. Gabriel M. Patil, CRSP, S.T.L., S.S.L.

A talk given by Rev. Fr. Gabriel M. Patil, CRSP, S.T.L., S.S.L.

at the closing of the 40 Hour Adoration of

the Most Blessed Sacrament

at the Barnabite Spiritual Center in Bethlehem, PA on Sept 12, 2009

The First Thursday of the Month Adoration Group
Happy twentieth birthday to the young women and men of the adoration group!With our St. Paul I say to you, "We, Barnabite Fathers, give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope" (1 Thes 1). Your endurance, your faithfulness, your perseverance, your dedication for these past 20 years are to be publicly acknowledged and gratefully commended.

Hearing that you have been praying for vocations for 20 years, people with a business mentality would probably ask, "How successful have you been?"

A story comes to my mind, the story of an elderly Jewish man who goes to pray at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem three times a day, every day, even when it rains or snows. He has done that for more than 30 years. When a news reporter asks him how he feels, he answers, "Like talking to a wall!" Considering the visible outcome of your praying for vocations, you would be fully justified in "feeling like talking to a wall." But you are persons of faith and in faith you know that the seed of vocation planted here through your prayers will produce fruit, if not in this field, in other fields, in far away fields, fruits that you may never see, fruits that nevertheless will grow and mature thanks to your prayer.

Another factor to consider is the possibility that God, who called you to worship and pray 20 years ago, might have had other purposes in mind in addition to your perceived purpose of fostering vocations. I’m thinking of another story in which God tell a man, "Push that big boulder." The man tries with all his energies all his life but is nor able to move the boulder the fraction of an inch. Frustrated and humbled, he apologized to God for failing. But God tells him, "I didn’t want you to move it, I wanted you to develop strong muscles. Look at the muscles on your arms and legs, how big and strong they are!" Have you failed? Who knows what was God’s true intent when he called you together 20 years ago! Look at your faith, your love of God and service to the Church…how great and lively they are!

Historians dispute about the origin of the 40-hour Devotion. Did it originate with St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria and the first Barnabites? Or the Augustinians?

The practice of private adoration of the Blessed Sacrament reposed in the tabernacle for a period of 40 consecutive hours, from Good Friday to Easter morning, existed before the time of St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria.

What Anthony Mary Zaccaria and the early Barnabites did in 1534 – 475 years ago - was to ask the authorization the expose publicly and solemnly the Blessed Sacrament for 40 hours in the Cathedral of Milan and to repeat that solemn exposition in turn in all the churches of Milan. The authorization was granted in 1537 and the practice took place for the first time from March to October 1537.

There is a close relation between the Holy Eucharist and vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life.

This relation is based on the fact that every vocation is a special grace from God, and the greatest source of grace we have is the Eucharist.

It is the living Lord who offers Himself in Holy Communion who inspires men and women to give themselves to Him in the service of their sisters and brothers. Persons who attend Mass and receive Communion obtain the light they need to discern God’s call and strength they need to respond to the call.

The Eucharist is also the best way to recognize vocations. Show me a man or woman devoted to the Eucharist and I will show you a person who is an apt subject for the priesthood or the religious life.

The Eucharist is finally the infallible way of preserving one's vocation. Is it any wonder that saintly priests and religious over the centuries have been uncommonly devoted to the Blessed Sacrament? They know where to obtain the help they need to remain faithful to their vocations. It is from the same Christ Who called them and Who continues to sustain them in His consecrated service.

The best way to celebrate this 20th anniversary of our Adoration Group is to renew our commitment to continue to pray for the gift of new vocations and the gift of perseverance in one’s vocation by kneeling in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament professing our deep conviction that vocations begin with the Eucharist, are developed through the Eucharist, and are preserved by the Eucharist.

Why this emphasis on the Eucharist?

To appreciate the significance of Anthony Mary’s initiative, we should bear in mind the conditions surrounding the Eucharist at that time. Mass was celebrated on rare occasions. Holy Communion was a privilege denied, ordinarily, to the laity. Hence, the Blessed Sacrament was not kept, most of the time, at the main altar, but in the sacristy or in some dark church corner, even in a grimy wooden box where ants and other bugs could easily enter. Churches became places for anyone to stroll around, for lovers to meet, for people to hold conversations or games, or warehouses of sort for people to store household tools and goods. Against this background it is easier to understand the reason why St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria put so much emphasis on public and solemn display of devotion to the Eucharist.

For him the Eucharist is the crucified Lord alive and living among us. The two poles of his spirituality are the crucified Lord and the Eucharist and the two are obviously connected.

St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria was a reformer, that is, a prominent figure of that 16th century spiritual revival movement known as the Catholic Reformation.

While Martin Luther sought to reform the Church as institution, St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria and other reformers were convinced that reformation of the Church had to start with the individual person, with personal conversion, with commitment to radical "self-reform."

What does personal conversion imply? It implies the possibility of saying with St. Paul, "I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2, 20). What can effect this radical personal conversion, thin transformation into Christ? St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria has no doubts: the Eucharist; the Eucharist is the sacrament of conversion. In his Sermon 3 he writes, "You turn to God… by offering Him sacrifices: the sacrifice of your bodies kept under control by penance for the love of God, the sacrifice of your souls eager to unite themselves with Him, but above all the sacrifice par excellence, the most holy Eucharist. No wonder that people have grown lukewarm and turned into beasts, as it were. It is because they do not receive this sacrament. The surest proof, then, of your return to God is that you go back to receive this food. Go back, my friends, go back to receive this sacrament. Nothing can make you holier than this sacrament, for in it is the Holy of Holies. Remember that Augustine exhorts you to receive Holy Communion at least once a week." And following St. Augustine exhortation, St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria prescribes in his Constitutions, "Let everybody, according to one's disposition, go to communion at least every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation" (Ch.1).

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