Ongoing Formation Series (OGF) AY 2017-2018 Talk 4
“The Eucharist is the secret of my day. It gives strength and meaning to all my activities of service to the Church and to the whole world,” said John Paul the Great. Indeed the Eucharist is the outpouring of God’s love that should be received with joy and gratitude by every Christian. It provides the unfailing divine assistance that enables us to truly fulfill the great work of bringing Christ to others.
Dogmatic Theology Professor Fr. Renan Michael La Guardia, SDB, SThL, MATh, PhD spoke on the Eucharist and its centrality as a source and sign of communion as the Ongoing Formation (OGF) Series for this academic year continued in DBCS last December 11. Another featured speaker was Ms. Cory Villafania, Theology Professor and formator of catechists, who shared the Eucharist’s profound impact on her life and those dearest to her.
Intimacy with the Divine
“We become channels of grace only to the extent that we are first of all vessels. How can we help lead others to Christ if we are not first connected to the Lord? We need to rest on the heart of Jesus like John in the Eucharist,” Fr. La Guardia explained.
The attitude and posture of the Beloved Disciple is one that every Christian is called to imitate. To listen to the heart of Jesus is to receive the love of God and to learn to love like the Savior. But as the new liturgical year has begun, and the Year of the Parish has given way to the Year of Clergy and Consecrated Life in the Church in the Philippines, priests and consecrated men and women are particularly challenged to become more and more conformed to the heart of the Good Shepherd.
“We need to pray for our priests and our sisters (and all consecrated men and women),” said Fr. La Guardia. “It is difficult to live up to the standard given by Jesus the Good Shepherd.” It after all demands giving one’s life for the sheep.
“It is difficult to become a priest, more difficult to remain a priest, and still more difficult to be a holy priest.”
But as Fr. La Guardia said, the priest belongs to Christ. It is primarily Christ and His grace (and not human effort alone) that makes every Christian and especially ordained ministers capable of being like Christ and bringing Christ to others. This is especially why celebrating the Eucharist – daily if possible – is so essential to Christian life.
As the Lord said in John 15, only those who abide in Him can bear much fruit; indeed, without Him, we can do nothing.
“Bearing fruit will naturally happen as long as you’re connected to the vine,” said Fr. La Guardia. This is why, he added, “divine intimacy — friendship and communion with the Lord — is our top priority, especially for us priests and consecrated persons.”
Intimacy with God is especially experienced in the Eucharistic banquet. It is not just like any other dining experience. If having lunch or dinner with family and friends already helps to nourish the body and forge relationships, how much more is this accomplished in the Eucharist where God and man meet and come together.
“The sacred meal allows us to remember God’s nearness and willingness to share with us,” said Fr. La Guardia.
As John Paul II wrote in Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), “From the Eucharist, the Church draws her life. From this ‘living bread’ she draws her nourishment” (EE, 7). The Eucharist in fact contains the Church’s entire wealth: Jesus Christ, who feeds us with His own body and blood. This is why St. Thomas Aquinas aptly addresses the Lord with the title “Pelican of Mercy,” since, when there is no other food available, the pelican pecks its own breast to feed its young with its own blood.
Nourished by so great a meal, we Christians should rightly live Eucharistic lives marked by the spirituality of communion – communion with God and with others, which according to Novo Millennio Ineunte (2001) entails reflecting on the Trinitarian love and seeing God’s love and presence in others; seeing our brothers and sisters as part of our own lives; valuing everyone as God’s gift to us; and making room for one another and bearing each other’s burdens with love (see NMI, 43).
“The Eucharistic banquet is a tryst with our Beloved — an agreement between lovers to meet at an appointed place and time,” explained Fr. La Guardia. “After the Mass, do our hearts have the same longing and excitement for our next tryst with our Beloved or have we fallen into the drudgery of routine? Our lives would change the day when the Eucharist becomes our DESIRE … our personal JOY.”
Fr. La Guardia concluded by recalling the prayer of intentionality prayed by priests, “May I celebrate this Eucharist as if it were my first Mass, my last Mass, my only Mass.”
Bread chosen, blessed, broken and shared
Ms. Cory Villafania, who with her husband Nelson was invited as auditors in the Synod on the Family in Rome, shared that in the Eucharist, “as we receive the bread of life, we become gradually bread for the others, for the world, to share God’s love. The bottom line is love.”
She said that usually going to Mass is just seen as an obligation, which is hurtful to the Lord. “I have yet to hear someone say to the question, ‘Why do you go to Mass?’ the answer: ‘Because I love Jesus!’”
Like most people, Ms. Villafania has experienced rejection, which she said is “a nuance of the world,” because “with God, we are all chosen to be His children and heirs of eternal life; and we are all called to share His life with others.”
She became conscious of being chosen after experiencing a crisis in her twenties. A professor who did not believe that Jesus is God presented his opinion so scientifically that she was affected. This pushed her to study Theology. She also realized that studying was not enough.
“I also needed to pray, and I found the Lord forming me through his Word.”
Even as she experience difficulties in all aspects of her life, she kept going to Holy Mass and asking God to help her. She continued to have faith. “I became grateful for the love that Jesus has given us in the Eucharist.”
Ms. Villafania has five children, and the greatest brokenness she and her husband have experienced in life is the death of their two sons. In 2004, their eldest son JB died at the age of 28 due to acute kidney failure. “We learned from our son how to love ‘in spite of,’ which he taught us from his youth. He forgave so quickly. And he would be dressed as early as 3 pm for 5 pm Mass every Saturday.”
They lost another son, NJ, 24, seven years later. He was crossing the street and was run over by a jeepney. The driver was using his cellphone and did not realize immediately that he had hit someone. Her son was still alive when he got dragged by the vehicle about seven to eight meters. He died in the hospital.
“During his wake, we saw his reflection paper, where he wrote: ‘Life has an end… each of us has a mission, sometimes we lose our way and go back to Him in confession, what is best is that we nurture our relationship with God daily and this is the beginning of eternal life.’ Precisely, life is nurtured by the Eucharist. His old girlfriend said he would pray very hard after communion. I’m so thankful that as parents we were able to help prepare him for his end.’”
Ms. Villafania said the Word of God plays a very important role in forming and strengthening our faith, and she saw this in her son. “About four years before NJ died, I read them a Gospel passage about the disciples being sent out by Jesus and afterwards they all returned to report to Jesus what happened. What struck NJ was how they all reported to Jesus. So I asked, ‘Why is that the line that struck you, this passage is so rich?’ He told me, ‘Why, mom, don’t we all report to Jesus at the end of our life?’”
Her son may not have done great things in his short life but in his own special way, he shared the little that he had with the poor. For example, every payday, he used part of his salary to treat his staff to a simple meal and with extra money he also paid for their tricycle ride.
“Lay life is Eucharistic, too! We are chosen to be spouses, parents, to raise children, to make sacrifices, to help them grow up to be real children of God and to find their vocation.”
Ms. Villafania shared that while she was broken by the loss of her two sons, she also received strength from the Lord to “continue the mission.”
After working for 40 years as a Professor of Theology and school administrator, she found herself being led by God to the work of formation.
“Now I teach the poor who will be catechists. I was led to that because of the Eucharist….We are called to be given so that our brokenness gives life to others.”
Maria Divina Solano, MRS, MATh is a graduate of Don Bosco Center of Studies. She is the Research Coordinator and guest professor teaching Mariology and Theology and Spirituality of the Laity.