April 2 marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II. Looking back at the Pope’s life, we see a remarkable man of many accomplishments who has left a permanent mark upon the world. This holy man will forever be remembered for the many extraordinary characteristics he exhibited, one of which was his exceptional devotion to the youth of the world.John Paul II displayed a special affection for youth from his early priesthood days. At age 29, he was sent to a university parish in Krakow, where he immediately became deeply involved in the lives of the students, establishing a “Living Rosary” prayer circle and interacting with the youth, both in one-on-one meetings as a spiritual director and counselor and in larger group activities such as hiking, camping, and weekend retreats.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt. 16:24) Last August, Hurricane Katrina raged through New Orleans, bringing despair and desolation to thousands. Now, six months later, the city is still struggling to rebuild. This hurricane season has been one of the worst in history, with 27 named storms, including the devastating Hurricanes Katrina, Dennis, Rita, and Wilma. Experts are already predicting that next year will bring another record-setting hurricane season. Other deadly natural disasters in the past few years include dozens of horrific earthquakes and a huge, deadly tsunami that killed thousands in Southeast Asia in late 2004. Looking at all the destruction and despair caused by these tragedies leads one to wonder how God could possibly permit such terrible things to happen. If He really loves us, why does He allow us to suffer so greatly? Why do these people have to suffer? What did they do?
“In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
One of my many memorable experiences from this past World Youth Day in Germany was participating in Eucharistic adoration on the night of the vigil. As I entered the tent that served as an adoration chapel, I looked around the room and realized what a strange sight was before me. If someone who was a stranger to the Catholic faith had entered the room at that moment, he or she would certainly have been overcome by a sense of wonder and curiosity. Hundreds of people knelt in silent awe before a small, round piece of bread. Any outsider would surely be confused at seeing this Catholic practice known as adoration. But there are also many Catholics who do not understand adoration because they do not have a proper understanding of the Eucharist. We worship and adore this piece of bread because we believe that it is the amazing, all-powerful God, the Creator of the universe. To any outsider, this belief is completely absurd. How can the infinite God fit into a tiny wafer? And why would a truly omnipotent God want to stoop down to this level? These are deep questions, but they are very important, because they deal with the Eucharist. The second Vatican Council tells us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of all that we believe. (Vatican II, Lumen gentium, no. 11) Our entire faith is based around this small, seemingly insignificant piece of bread, because we truly believe that this piece of bread is Jesus Christ. It does not merely symbolize, represent, or contain the essence of Christ, but rather, it truly IS Christ, who becomes present during the Transfiguration so that we may have the opportunity to meet Him and enter into communion with Him. Despite these beliefs, we often become passive in our faith. After attending Mass every Sunday for many years, we have a tendency to lose our sense of amazement and wonder at what is occurring. We listen to the readings and the prayers of the consecration, recite the appropriate responses, and receive Holy Communion without realizing the greatness of what is taking place. But if we truly believe that Christ is present in the consecrated bread and wine, we should approach the altar with awe at the miraculous occurrence that is taking place – in the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary is made present for us, and we take our Lord God into our very person. In the reception of the Eucharist, we are entering into the most intimate communion with God that we can ever experience in this life. That is not something to be taken lightly, or to be received casually. Rather, it is something that should captivate us again and again each time we participate in it. To avoid becoming spiritually passive, we must constantly seek a deeper understanding of our faith through prayer, spiritual reading, and frequent reception of the sacraments. We must strive especially to obtain a better understanding of the Eucharist, around which our entire Catholic faith is centered. The Catholic Church’s teachings regarding the Eucharist are beautiful and deep. It would be impossible to explain them all in this short article, but I would encourage everyone who reads this to turn to the Catechism to read more on the subject. Our beliefs about the Eucharist are among the most important and central beliefs of our Catholic faith, and it is therefore essential that we learn as much as we can about the nature of the Eucharist. By understanding the Eucharist, we are better able to appreciate the Mass, and we are better prepared to receive this amazing gift of Christ’s own Body and Blood in the form of bread of wine each time we receive Communion.
From the beginning of time, man has attempted to get in touch with some greater Supernatural Force or Divine Being. The ancient peoples of the world did this through hymns, songs, and rituals of thanksgiving, praise, and petition. Today, thousands of years later, people across the globe continue to lift their minds and hearts to God in prayer. Prayer is Man’s natural reaction to the yearning for God that is implanted deep within him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us “In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father,…with his Son Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 2565)
This past August, I had the privilege of traveling with a group of 30 people from my high school on a pilgrimage to Cologne, Germany to celebrate World Youth Day. It was my first World Youth Day, and it was truly an unforgettable experience of faith and hope. During the pilgrimage, I was able to grow deeper not only in my faith, but also in my understanding of the Church’s unity.
On March 31, 2005, 41-year-old Terri Schiavo died in a Florida hospice, nearly two weeks after the removal of the feeding tube that had been keeping her alive for over a decade. Despite the obvious violation of Terri’s constitutional right to life, the US Supreme Court refused on multiple occasions to hear an emergency appeal from Terri’s parents. Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, had spent the last seven years fighting in court to remove the feeding tube, claiming that Terri would not want to live in her brain-damaged condition, which had resulted from heart failure 15 years before. In doing so, Michael displayed a flagrant disregard for Terri’s dignity as a human person.