48th INTERNATIONAL EUCHARISTIC CONGRESS
HOMILY OF CARDINAL JOZEF TOMKO,
Your Eminences and Distinguished Authorities,
Introduction: greetings and thanks
At the beginning of the third millennium, we believers in Jesus Christ, representing the Churches on all the Continents, have come from all over the world to Guadalajara, Mexico, this most beautiful Country, to express and strenghen our faith in Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist. This is the 48th International Eucharistic Congress, the first in the third millennium.
With and on behalf of all of you, let us first send an affectionate greeting to our beloved Holy Father, John Paul II, Successor of Peter and Head of the Catholic Church. This morning in St Peter's Square, John Paul II spoke of the International Eucharistic Congress in Guadalajara to the faithful gathered there for the Angelus, and to the whole world. I shall read you his words:
"The International Eucharistic Congress on the theme: "The Eucharist, light and life of the new millennium', opened today in Guadalajara, Mexico. I join in spirit this important ecclesial event which also opens the Year of the Eucharist.
"For this special Year, I addressed to the entire Church an Apostolic Letter that begins with these words: "Mane Nobiscum Domine - Stay with us, Lord" (cf. Lk 24: 29). This invocation rings out in every Christian community: by recognizing the risen Christ "in the breaking of the bread' (Lk 24: 35), may the faithful be ready to witness to him with fruitful charity.... Let us entrust these intentions to the intercession of Mary Most Holy, "Woman of the Eucharist" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, chap. VI)".
This is the task the Holy Father entrusts to us today.
Personally, I thank him for deigning to send me to the Congress as his Legate. He is with us, he is accompanying us with his prayers, and at the end of the Congress he will address a Message and impart his Apostolic Blessing.
I cordially greet Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, Pastor of this Church of Guadalajara, who has spared no efforts or resources to organize these Eucharistic festivities together with numerous collaborators and with the support of the Pontifical Committee of Rome.
With him, I offer a fraternal greeting to Your Eminences and the Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the priesthood.
My respectful greeting goes also to the distinguished national, regional, local and military Authorities.
I reach out with heartfelt affection to the young people, the families, the elderly, the poor, the suffering and the delegations of every continent, nationality and language.
To all of you present I say: May peace and joy in the Eucharistic Christ be with you all!
1. From Upper Room to Guadalajara
1.1. We come from our world
We come from a world full of light but also of dark shadows. On the one hand, we can see the search for something that will unite humanity as we saw happen at the last Olympics: the longing for peace, the rediscovery of the beauty of creation, the defence of human rights, sensitivity for social justice, etc.
In the Church herself, we note the reawakening of young people to whom the Holy Father has entrusted the wonderful task of being "morning watchmen" and who are enlarging and developing the young Churches; after a century of great Popes, John Paul II is ever more widely recognized as the highest moral authority, not only by Catholics but by all humanity, whom he continues to teach by his example as well as his words; everyone can perceive the Church's constant commitment to peace, human dignity, justice and the poorest and weakest, to the culture of life against the culture of death, to the inestimable value of every human person and also to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, to mention but a few of the lights.
But we come from a world that is also troubled by dark shadows: wars known and wars forgotten, declared or smouldering, various kinds of violence and conflict, the ideological attack on marriage and the family and even human life from its conception to natural death, now also threatened by euthanasia with the legalized killing of the elderly, the sick and even newborn infants, the clouding of the moral conscience, the loss of the capacity to love faithfully and constantly, terror that becomes horror, a loss of the sense of sin that is a sign of the loss of the sense of God, the "silent apostasy" from Christ of certain Christian regions, a secularization that excludes God from social life and even from individual consciences, an agnosticism that leaves no room for religion and becomes worse than atheism, while manifestations of sectarian and fanatic religiosity which are often fundamentalistic, proliferate.
We come from this world to seek light to live by, certainty for our doubts, courage to bear witness to our faith among our brothers and sisters in difficulty, nourishment for our lives and those of our neighbour.
"We want to see your face, Lord". We too, with Peter, desire to demonstrate and profess our faith in Jesus Christ: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6: 68). Jesus himself said: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (Jn 8: 12). And again: "I am the bread of life" (Jn 6: 48). Light and life, these are what our world needs.
1.2. Eucharist: Christ in whom we believe
We have come to this Congress from various corners of the earth to celebrate the Eucharist. But what is the Eucharist?
After the consecration we say: it is the "Mystery of Faith", a precious gift. Indeed, "the Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift - however precious - among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 11). It would therefore be better to ask: "Who is the Eucharist?", not "what is the Eucharist?".
To strengthen our faith, we must go back to the origins of the Eucharist, that is, to Capernaum where it was promised and to the Upper Room where it was instituted. With the Gospel in our hands and with open hearts, let us reread the sixth chapter of John, especially the words we have just heard: "I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread he shall live forever; the bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.... He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal and I will raise him up on the last day" (Jn 6: 51, 54).
Yes, the Eucharist is Jesus Christ himself, alive, real, even if present under the sacramental veil of bread and wine.
Just as they seemed difficult to some disciples in Jesus' time, may not his words seem "hard" for us to understand with our mentality, used to verifying everything with our senses if not with our gadgets and technology? Yet Jesus does not change a word, but rather reinforces his affirmations.
Therefore, let us stay with Peter, and with his faith: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God" (Jn 6: 68-69).
For us, therefore, the Eucharist is Jesus himself, it is the "Mystery of Faith" but also a true reality. Today we stand before Christ in the Eucharist with the wonder of faith, joy, admiration and love.
It is this same wonder that filled the Apostles in the Upper Room. In that solemn but sad atmosphere in anticipation of the passion, Jesus manifested his infinite love for humanity and fulfilled his promise. As John tells us: "Before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end" (Jn 13: 1), that is, to the extreme, the limit.
And then he did not bequeath to his own a memento, an image, a gift however memorable, or a beloved object, but himself. And in addition, he chose the species of bread and wine to signify that he desired to become our nourishment and sustenance in daily life as well as our source of eternal life.
He gave himself as food for us, so that he might remain with us in a unique and intimate union, like the food that enters the bloodstream of our bodies and through our vital metabolism becomes life and energy for us.
Likewise, Jesus himself wanted to enter into very close communion with us: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me" (Jn 6: 56-57).
This stupendous reality must inspire and transform our life and our Eucharistic communion into vital encounters that revitalize our activities.
But the wealth of the Eucharist, this wonderful invention of divine love, does not end here.
2. "Pro mundi vita'
Jesus Christ also instituted the Eucharist for another purpose. It is not by chance that when he promised the bread of life he said: "The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (Jn 6: 51). Then, when he instituted the Eucharist in the Upper Room, he took the bread and solemnly declared: "This is my body, offered in sacrifice for you". And of the wine he said: "This is the cup of my blood, poured out for you".
Thus, on the very night that he was betrayed, Jesus anticipated by a few hours and in an unbloody, sacramental way, the sacrifice that he offered shortly afterwards by pouring out his blood on the Cross, and thereby instituted the Eucharist as his redeeming sacrifice.
But that is not all: he wanted it to be perpetuated for ever, so he left those present in the Upper Room an order that is also a special power: "Do this in memory of me!".
Ever since, the priests of the Church have faithfully carried out this sublime duty, as St Paul describes it in his Letter to the faithful of Corinth: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (I Cor 11: 26).
As in the early Church of St Paul's day, today too, and also now in Guadalajara, we are doing what the Lord passed on to us: the celebrant faithfully repeats the Lord's words over the bread and the wine, he changes them into the Body and Blood of Christ in memory of him and announces: "Let us proclaim the Mystery of Faith". And the people respond, professing their faith in the sacrifice of Christ that is renewed on the altar: "...we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus...".
This is not only an evocation of the Lord's passion and death, nor is it purely a commemoration, as in a sacred theatrical representation; it is the sacramental representation of this saving event. This central event of salvation is made truly present and "the work of our redemption is carried out" (Lumen Gentium, n. 3).
"This sacrifice", the Holy Father says, "is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there". This means is the Eucharist itself.
The Pope exclaims a little later: "What more could Jesus have done for us? Truly, in the Eucharist, he shows us a love which goes "to the end' (Jn 13: 1), a love that knows no measure" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 11). A love that lays down its own life for the life of the world, even our world, for our millennium, for each one of us!
Dear brothers and sisters, we are solemnly opening this Congress in order to venerate, adore, praise, thank and pray to Jesus Christ present among us in the Eucharist, the sacrament of his love. May the motherly gaze and powerful intercession of Mary, Woman of the Eucharist, accompany us on our journey during these days, "so that, strengthened by the Eucharist banquet, we may become in Christ light in the darkness and live closely united to him, our life" (Prayer for the Congress). Amen.