'A strong and genuine Eucharistic faith means a strong and vibrant Church'
CHARLOTTE — A strong faith in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is critical to a Catholic's life, Bishop Peter Jugis said in his homily for the closing Mass of the 12th annual Eucharistic Congress.
The Sept. 9-10 celebration at the Charlotte Convention Center drew approximately 15,000 people overall, organizers said Saturday evening — noticeably higher than last year's attendance of 12,000-13,000 people. The event featured approximately 21 hours of continuous Eucharistic Adoration, a Eucharistic procession through uptown Charlotte that stretched for nearly a mile, and a two-hour closing liturgy that was standing-room-only in the convention center's largest gathering space.
In his homily, Bishop Jugis encouraged Congress-goers to remember that Christ is truly present at every Eucharistic celebration, and the holy sacrifice of the Mass is the greatest sign of God's mercy. The theme of this year's congress – "Be merciful, just as the Father is merciful" – echoed the Church's Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, which continues until Nov. 20.
"Why do we have the Eucharistic Congress?" Bishop Jugis then asked.
"We have a Eucharistic Congress because a strong and genuine Eucharistic faith means a strong and vibrant Church," he continued.
It is an opportunity for the people of western North Carolina to come together "as a diocesan family" to worship and honor God.
The congress is rightly centered on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Bishop Jugis said, because "all of the events of the congress have led up to this point, because the Mass is the source and the summit of the Christian life and the source and the summit of the Eucharistic Congress."
"God had mercy on the whole human race, and through Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection, He saves us from our sins and gives us new life in His grace," he said.
Pictured above: Bishop Peter Jugis served as the celebrant and homilist at the closing Mass of the 2016 Eucharistic Congress. (Photo by Doreen Sugierski, correspondent)
Bishop Jugis urged people to reflect on God's mercy and then put mercy into practice in their own lives – starting with taking to heart that Christ is really present in the Eucharist: His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
Catholics must affirm their faith in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, he said, especially in contemporary times when so many people no longer believe that reality.
He cited a 1994 New York Times/CBS News poll which found a substantial majority of Catholic adults believed the Eucharist was not really the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, but only a "symbolic reminder" of Christ.
"Can you believe it?" he said.
Twenty years later, he wondered, "would the poll findings be much different?"
Instead, Catholics should look to the example of the disciple Mary, who sat and listened at Jesus' feet. Today we do the same at every Mass in the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, he said.
Similarly, Bishop Jugis continued, we are like the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, as told in the Gospel reading at the closing Mass of the congress. They recognized Jesus only after He blessed and broke the bread with them.
"They recognized that He was truly present, and it is a beautiful gospel for a Eucharistic Congress," Bishop Jugis said.
When the priest elevates the Host and the Precious Chalice at each Mass, "you also recognize Him to be really present. You adore Him at that moment in the Mass," he said.
Catholics acknowledge the Real Presence again at Communion, when the priest says, "Behold the Lamb of God…," and they reply, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive You…"
"Although hidden under the signs of bread and wine, Jesus is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity," he said.
Sometimes it is easy to become distracted at Mass, Bishop Jugis admitted. But Scripture offers helpful advice, especially Jesus' own words to the Apostles at His Ascension: "Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."
"Those words can easily be applied to the Eucharist," he said. ""Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.' … I remain with you. I am here."
Jesus' words to His disciples on the Sea of Galilee, also, are good reminders, Bishop Jugis continued, when He told them, "'Take courage, it is I. Do not be afraid.'
"Apply those words to the Eucharist," he urged.
At the elevation of the Host at Mass, too, Catholics can remember the words from the Letter to the Hebrews (12:2): "Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end."
Also, he suggested recalling Psalm 123: "Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for His mercy."
And in the Gospel according to St. John, the evangelist writes, "And they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced."
"We are looking upon Him because He is truly present," Bishop Jugis said.
"Such is the amazing truth of the Eucharist!"
The Presence of the Lord is experienced in many ways, he said, "but we experience His Presence in a unique way in the Eucharist. How beautifully His Real Presence in the Eucharist makes all of the scriptures come alive for us here and now – not just those that I just named, but all of the scriptures."
The Eucharistic Congress, he said, "is about deepening our amazement at Our Lord's Real Presence and energizing us for the good works of charity and mercy when we return home. Let us go forth from this congress renewed and refreshed, to live joyfully our Catholic faith and to serve the Lord."
— Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor
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