As society becomes increasingly secularized and polarized, the Eucharist is a place of encounter that points the way forward for the Church, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, told an audience gathered at The Catholic University of America, April 26.
The Eucharist plays an essential role in allowing us to see reality with the eyes of faith, the nuncio said, in prepared remarks discussing the “Eucharist and Ecclesial Discernment,” for the annual Cardinal John Dearden lecture sponsored by the School of Theology and Religious Studies.
University President Dr. Peter Kilpatrick introduced Archbishop Pierre and noted the significance of the lecture topic as the U.S. Church is in the midst of a three-year National Eucharistic Revival.
“The Catholic University of America will play a very important role in the eucharistic revival, in the National Eucharistic Congress, and in particular, the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage,” President Kilpatrick said.
The archbishop focused his hourlong speech on three of Jesus’ sayings — “I am the resurrection and the life”; “I am the bread of life”; and “I am the Way” — as the “guiding thread” of his reflections, since they “introduce us to the heart of this dynamic that encompasses the Paschal Mystery, the Eucharist, and discernment.”
“Is faith irrelevant in today’s world?” Archbishop Pierre asked. “As Christians, do we have an answer to the great dilemmas that confront humanity, to suffering, to the lack of meaning that many experience in their lives?”
The answer to these questions falls on the “incarnational aspect” of our faith, Archbishop Pierre said. Because Christ triumphed over death, he can be encountered today. Thus, faith is the necessary “remedy to the malady of the contemporary man,” he said.
“The Paschal Mystery stands at the very heart of the Eucharist. If Christ is not victorious over death, then the Eucharist has nothing to offer,” he said.
Archbishop Pierre then recounted several resurrection appearances in the Gospels to illustrate the link between Eucharist, Paschal Mystery, and discernment. In the Gospel of John, Christ appears to the disciples who are distraught after the crucifixion and have returned to fishing. They recognize Christ only after the breaking of bread and sharing a meal.
“The Lord choses to communicate the transformative good news of his resurrection through eucharistic symbols, created realities that make this mystery accessible,” the nuncio explained.
Archbishop Pierre also commented on polarization, especially concerning the role of the Eucharist in the life of Church.
The relevance of the sacrament, he continued, is often seen through a Christian anthropology that fails to acknowledge the link between the “creatural condition of man and his supernatural finality.” This tendency can render the Eucharist “ethereal,” or detached from the “concrete aspects of the human condition.”
“Such an incomplete perspective is at the root of the ideological debate concerning the Eucharist, its weaponization in the cultural wars, and the, at times, isolated focus on eucharistic adoration,” Archbishop Pierre said.
In discussing ecclesial discernment, the nuncio referred to the disciple Thomas’ question, “How can we know the way?” Christ replies that he is the Way, the archbishop said. “Hence, discerning becomes encountering.”
The Church’s communion with Christ in the Eucharist is an “ecclesial compass. The north is the direction of immersion, of entering every situation of human desolation following the way of the Incarnation,” he said.
“If you understand that, you will understand Pope Francis. If you don’t understand that, you will not understand Pope Francis. This is the key,” Archbishop Pierre said departing from his prepared text. “Be careful. Because if we don’t understand Pope Francis, we are not in the Church.”
Later in his speech, the archbishop went on say that likewise synodality is an “exercise of communion,” inviting us to listen and break barriers of isolation to know our neighbors’ suffering.
“Here again the Eucharist is the north star. It leads us down the path of the Incarnation not to judge but to love,” he said.
The annual lecture honors the late Cardinal John F. Dearden, who served as archbishop of Detroit from 1958 to 1980. In opening comments to the nuncio’s lecture, University Provost Aaron Dominguez called Cardinal Dearden a “key member of the American contingent at the Second Vatican Council,” adding that he shaped conciliar documents such as “Lumen Gentium” and “Gaudium et Spes.”
As the first president for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the cardinal “led the implementation of liturgical reforms in the United States, using an approach that emphasized consensus and increased participation of the laity,” the provost said.
Read Archbishop Pierre’s full lecture.