By DIANE SCHLINDWEIN
The thousands of people who gathered at the Eucharistic Congress on Oct. 28 to celebrate the source and summit of our faith, the holy Eucharist, were also there in part to hear the inspirational words of four top-notch and well-known Catholic speakers. Rest assured; those speakers did not disappoint! Here are some highlights of what those men and woman had to share about the faith.
Dr. Scott Hahn, a former minister of the Presbyterian Church who later converted to Catholicism, is now a popular author and preeminent evangelist. In his talk, entitled “The Road to Emmaus: Cultivating Eucharistic Amazement” Hahn told his listeners that sacred Scripture is not just for clergy, but for all of us. “There is an unbreakable bond between the Old Testament and the New Testament,” Hahn said.
The Catholic Church in the United States is, as many of us already know, in the midst of a national eucharistic revival. As St. Pope John Paul II led Catholics to a new evangelization, he wanted Catholics to not only redevelop our eucharistic faith, but to rekindle our amazement at the sacrament, Hahn explained.
Pope Francis, our beloved current pope, also wants us to see the unbreakable bond between Sacred Scripture and the holy Eucharist, he added. “Sacred Scripture helps us take our Father at His word,” Hahn said.
Hahn spoke at length about the importance of what was shared in Luke 24, beginning with the appearance of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus as it relates back to the Old Testament. He added that it is vital to read both the OId Testament and the New Testament. “When you read the OId Testament on its own, it reads sort of like a story in search of an ending,” he said. “I would propose that the New Testament is practically unintelligible from the Old. It is only when you read them together that you see they are indivisible.
“The New Testament was a sacrament before it became a document, according to the document,” he said. “The eyes are only opened in the breaking of the Bread,” he said, speaking about the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. “When we receive the Eucharist, it transforms sinners into saints.”
Hahn urged the pilgrims at the Congress “to get involved as Catholic Americans.” “I want to see my grandkids — all 21 of them — have their grandkids and see their hearts burning within them and the eyes of faith opened to the Real Presence of the Body, Blood, soul and Divinity of Christ.”
Hahn closed his talk with a prayer, asking God to “pour out the Holy Spirit” on us wherever we are in our faith journey.
A priest of the Diocese of Peoria, 41-year-old Father Chase Hilgenbrinck — a professional soccer player turned priest — was the second speaker of the day. He is a prime example of a person leaving one fulfilling life behind to follow God’s more important call. His talk was called “Living with a Eucharistic Priority.”
The Eucharist has always been a priority of the Catholic Church, he said. The Eucharist should remain a priority in our lives. “Nothing can be a priority except the Eucharist because it is Jesus Himself,” Father Hilgenbrinck said. “He’s the only one not changing. He’s not going away.” Additionally, he urged his audience to “make prayer the first thing you do in your day.”
At Mass priests have intentions but the lay people at Mass have intentions, too, he said. “You have an intention for every Mass. In every Eucharist you receive the limitless graces that God wants to give you in your intentions. If you have personal intentions, you are personally invested in the Mass.” He suggested people take Communion with this thought: Jesus, allow me to receive You as if it were my first Eucharist, my last Eucharist, the only Eucharist I would receive in my whole life.
Pointing to the altar that was on the podium in anticipation of the Mass that afternoon, he said, “This is where heaven meets earth! What are you doing? You have an altar in your heart. How are you venerating the altar of your heart where Jesus is coming to rest in your soul? Will you reverence that place as He’s approaching?
“The Eucharist has always been the priority of the one holy and apostolic Catholic Church. The question is, is it our priority? If the Eucharist is the priority of marriage, He will strengthen and salvage that marriage. If the Eucharist is the priority of friendships, He will deepen them. If the Eucharist is the center of the sanctity of our spirituality, He will redeem our Church. If Jesus (in the Eucharist) is the center of the spiritual life of our Church, He will save it. That’s how it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.”
The third speaker for the day, Father Denis Robinson, OSB, holds the important position of president-rector at St. Meinrad Seminary, one of the schools that educates our diocesan seminarians. His faith-inspiring talk was called “The Surprise of the Eucharist.”
Father Robinson explained that he came from a very large Southern Baptist family who eventually converted to Catholicism. That was a surprise, he said. Because he believes that a story has the ability to take us some places that sometimes a lecture does not, Father Robinson told a story from his youth, back when he was just 6 years old, and he and his cousins visited their grandmother in Mississippi.
During his visit, his grandmother took him with her as she delivered a care package to a very poor family who lived way out in the country, down a red dirt road. While he was there the two children who they were visiting offered him a blue biscuit they had saved from their breakfast. “They told me, ‘We saved it for you. We didn’t eat it. We didn’t eat anything. We saved you, our breakfast.’
“It was a biscuit. It was blue because it was made with well water and these poor people saved it for me,” he recalled. Right about the time he finally worked up the nerve to eat the biscuit, his grandmother gathered him into the car — biscuit and all — and drove off. “My grandmother said, ‘Give me that dirty thing’ … and she threw it out the window. I watched it bounce off … and then it was gone.”
Growing more serious, Father Robinson said, “Every day of my life I have been haunted by the spectrum of a blue biscuit. Last night when I was watching the full moon that rose over the fields of Southern Indiana, I thought of that biscuit. Every time I raise the host at Mass I think of that biscuit, a poor child’s sacrificial gift given in hospitality.
“I reflect on that biscuit at times and now I have a context for it. I wonder, ‘How will the people of this congregation be changed (by the Eucharist)?’” he said. “It is my prayer that you will have the surprise of the Eucharist in your life.”
Known for her happy spirit and uplifting energy, Sister Karolyn Nunes, FSGM, was the final speaker at the Eucharistic Congress. In her talk, “Strengthened and Sent Together: The Eucharist as the Source of Communion and Mission” she shared a number of important aspects of the Eucharist just a short while before the attendees gathered for Mass — but only after she began her session with a short tune played on her harmonica. She was joined in music by her fellow harmonica-playing friend, Father Brian Alford, rector of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and vicar for Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations, who was in the audience.
Sister Karolyn, who grew up in Rhode Island, spoke about the first time she came to visit the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in Alton and immediately felt at home. “On the monstrance at the convent, this is engraved: Come if you love. That continued to echo deeply in my heart.”
Speaking to the large crowd, she said, “What a gift it is to look out and see so many people from different states in life, ages, and places. You are here because Jesus wanted you to encounter His love in a new way today, amidst the Church of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.”
She added, “Jesus wants me. He wants you. He wants us. In the sacrament of the Eucharist and in all the sacraments, He waits for us. Love is always free, and it is always an invitation. We can only love because He first loved us, at St. John reminds us in his First Letter.
“We come to give honor and worship to Jesus and to put Him first, to allow Him to be king of our hearts, to enthrone Him,” she said, “and to live the power of the Eucharist as a sacrament of His love for us.”
Want to watch the speakers’ talks?
Go to the diocese’s YouTube page to watch the talks by Father Chase Hilgenbrinck, Father Denis Robinson, OSB, and Sister M. Karolyn Nunes, FSGM. (Due to contract stipulations, Dr. Scott Hahn’s talk cannot be published.)