September 1, 2021
by Judy Roberts
Like all great pairings, the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist are better together.
Bishop Joseph Strickland is hoping that will be driven home in a statement on the Eucharist the nation’s bishops are to draft at their fall meeting. Amid debate about whether public figures who identify as Catholic but defy key teachings should receive Communion, the bishop of Tyler, TX has urged that the document underscore the strong connection between the sacrament of Confession and receiving the body and blood of Christ. He also is calling for the immediate development of a culture of Eucharistic revival, something he says can’t wait for a document.
Confession, Bishop Strickland said, should be a part of every Catholic’s life, but failing to connect it with receiving the Eucharist has contributed to the confusion over whether politicians and other public figures who oppose Church teachings should receive Communion.
“All of us need to look into our hearts and ask ourselves how we can be more faithful to the commandments of the Lord,” Bishop Strickland said. “. . . If you really start to say ‘I’m about to receive the Lord of the universe, God’s divine Son as food,’ to really believe that means I’d better be prepared and be as close to him as I should be to actually receive him. That kind of reflection and good examination of conscience needs to be emphasized.”
Rather than single out politicians who receive Communion when they have promoted acts contrary to the commandments and teachings of the Church, Bishop Strickland said he and his fellow bishops need to call everyone to a basic understanding about the Eucharist. “Receiving the body and blood of Christ is not some sort of chip for being a member. It’s an encounter with almighty God, the supernatural gift of God’s presence among us. That’s what we’ve all got to be ready for.”
Bishop Strickland has said that to receive Communion while “choosing to disagree” with basic Church teachings can lead to eternal damnation for any Catholic. “Really, what it comes down to, the Catechism and canon law tell us, if you’re living a life that obstinately disagrees with Church teaching you shouldn’t receive [Communion.] Well, you might say, ‘I want to receive the grace.’ Not if you’re in mortal sin. You’re blocking the grace. The first step is Confession and that’s where it really needs to be dealt with.”
‘It’s about eternal salvation’
If a person who disagrees with the Church is sincerely struggling with a particular teaching, Bishop Strickland said, a priest can help that individual understand what it truly means to be guided by one’s conscience. “A well-formed conscience leads you to the truth, not just your own conclusions,” Bishop Strickland said. “I think people have hardened their hearts and said, ‘I just disagree.’ But it’s about eternal salvation . . . All of us have to form our conscience in line with the truth God has revealed.”
Bishop Strickland said all Catholics need to embrace the words of the prayer before Communion, “Lord, I am not worthy.” “It’s not sane to say you believe the Lord of the universe is here and I’m about to receive him and not be tuned into how unworthy I am and how sinful I am and how I need to repent and grow in virtue. That is a lifelong process. That’s what needs to be revived.”
To achieve the kind of revival he envisions, Bishop Strickland said will require everyone who believes Christ is present in the Eucharist to share that faith and look for ways to reflect it. “Certainly, that comes down to reverence at Mass and really just living a life closer to Christ. It’s what I’m trying to encourage here in the diocese. Just about every homily I give now refers to the Eucharist, and it’s always pertinent because the Eucharist we know is the real presence – body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ.”
Bishop Strickland said in his own experience, making that truth more real changes behavior. For example, he continued, “I’ve always believed in the real presence, but now in my prayer, I am trying to spend as much time as I can in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. I’m learning to just really talk to him, really share my heart and to listen. As I tell people, I haven’t seen visions or heard a locution, but I really do feel more closely united to the Lord in the Eucharist.”
The bishop tries to spend an hour before the Blessed Sacrament each morning, noon, and evening. Yet, he said, “Living Eucharistically is not being constantly before the Blessed Sacrament but being aware that the Lord is here and living that and turning to him as you’re driving and facing a tough challenge at work or with the family. It’s wherever we are, to place ourselves in the presence of the Lord.”
Flying over tabernacles
For example, Bishop Strickland said when he is on a plane, he has developed the habit of thinking about the tabernacles he is flying over and how the Lord is present in them. “I try to place myself in Christ’s presence even when I’m not in his presence . . . That’s what we need to enkindle in all of our hearts – that awareness of being able to turn to him in the Eucharistic presence even when we are very far from a tabernacle.”
The bishop said he also tries to celebrate Mass with a clear consciousness of the real presence that comes to the altar and is present in the tabernacle. “I think all of those things help us to focus on this wondrous gift the Lord has given us, that he is truly with us as he promised. Certainly, the Holy Spirit is present in the world and in each person but the Eucharist I see as the Lord because he truly became man . . . This fully God, fully man, eternal son of God who became incarnate is there present in the Eucharist in a veiled way.”
This is a time, Bishop Strickland said, for everyone to embrace and look for ways to foster the great supernatural truth of the Eucharist that has been there through the ages, though has diminished for some. Indeed, a Pew Research Center survey has found that most Catholics – nearly seven in ten – no longer accept the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Bishop Strickland believes the denial of Christ present at every Mass is tied to the denial by many Catholics of basic teachings of the faith, such as the intrinsic evils of abortion and homosexual acts. To remedy this, he said, requires starting with Jesus Christ as truth incarnate and his real presence in the world. “A deepening of that belief and relationship makes everything start to fall into place. It makes you realize that the supernatural truth the Church proclaims is true and beautiful and challenging and life-giving.”
Bishop Strickland traces the current unbelief to the relativism of truth that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has spoken about. “Once truth becomes relativized it ceases to be really truth. It becomes what do you think and what do you feel. I think that is at the root of what we’re dealing with if people are saying they’re Catholic and sadly, having a very different version of Catholicism than what the Church officially says.”
JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.