Saturday Afternoon at the Eucharistic Congress

David Oatney Eucharistic Congress

DolanRigaliAfter Dr. Hahn’s talk Saturday morning, Nicole and I did our best to meander our way to the lunch tables and outside to eat. After lunch, we went inside and made our way back to the room known as “Hall B” where Father Robert Barron was to speak and Eucharistic Adoration would take place. I took the time to go to confession, and my sins were absolved, praise be, but there was, indeed, a long line so my confession was a short one. My confessor suggested some spiritual direction…Fortunately for me, I happen to have a spiritual director who I will soon be meeting with, so that recommendation won’t go unmet!

FatherBarronFather Robert Barron gave the second talk that Nicole and I attended, and the focus of Father Barron’s remarks actually was the Eucharist as Sacrifice, sacred meal, and Real Presence, which Dr. Hahn also discussed but which I would not describe as the principle focus of his talk. However, Father Barron (who was with us for Dr. Hahn’s message) said that he has known Dr. Hahn for years, and that in fact Dr. Hahn had touched on quite a bit of what his talk was going to be about. Father Barron again acknowledged the tremendous spirit that he saw in the crowd.

I was beginning to settle in to a spirit of prayer and focus on the Blessed Sacrament before Eucharistic Adoration when one of my brother Aspirants, Scott Maentz, burst into the room, and as quietly as he could said “come, come, come…quickly…now!” He grabbed my Roman Missal out of my walker basket and put it on the walker bench. Scott knew that I had brought the Missal in hopes of having Cardinal Dolan bless it, although from the size of the crowd coupled with the reality of His Eminence’s busy schedule, I had resigned myself to the fact that I likely wouldn’t get to meet the Cardinal, let alone have him bless my copy of the Church’s official liturgical text for the Mass (all of the diaconate Aspirants have our own Missals for study purposes, though since parts of the book other than the Eucharistic Prayers and blessings reserved for priests can be used for things like communion services outside of Mass or baptism outside of Mass, the book will likely be used for liturgical purposes by us, which is what it is intended for).

DolanRicherI ran out into the hallway to discover that while most of the heavy crowd had dispersed into the various venues, there was a steady group of people moving toward me as I moved toward them. Among these I saw my good friend Stephanie Richer, and several other people, and a couple of what appeared to be Sevierville police officers, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York. I asked Cardinal Dolan if he would mind to bless my Missal, and he said “as long as you remember me when you use it,” and he promptly did so. Unfortunately, no one was able to get a picture of this moment, but His Eminence took the time to stop and talk to a lot of people, take a lot of pictures, and bless a lot of sacramental objects. I didn’t expect anyone to get a picture, but lest you wonder if the people I mention might give you a similar account, this picture was taken by Scott Maentz of Stephanie Richer with Cardinal Dolan before the Cardinal began his trek down the hall. I believe the topic of conversation had something to do with the New York football Giants.

RigaliCardinal Rigali’s homily for Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction was, I thought, very special indeed. Although the worship was interrupted by the fire alarm (it turned out that a small child had pulled one of the fire alarms), I thought His Eminence recovered the situation quite nicely. In his homily on John Chapter 6, Cardinal Rigali pointed out that the early Church understood Jesus to be speaking very literally, and that he took no measure to show himself to be speaking in a symbolic way. Dr. Hahn had earlier discussed this as well saying that when Jesus said “he who eats my flesh,” he was using a word in the Greek text that literally meant “to gnaw.” I can’t speak to how others felt during Adoration, but I felt a sense of great peace come over that entire room. I could feel that Jesus was there, and that he was reaching out to everyone in the place with great love.

DolanCardinal Dolan’s address was also themed on the topic of the Eucharist as Sacrifice, sacred meal, and Real Presence, but he came at it from a different angle. He told the touching story of the New York cop who patrols the area near St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He said that the vigil light that signals that Our Lord is present in the Blessed Sacrament which is in his personal chapel can be seen from the outside. One extremely cold winter night, Cardinal Dolan begged the police officer to come in and warm himself with a cup of coffee. The cop pointed to the window with the flickering vigil light and said “I have all the warmth I need.” People may be far from perfect, the Cardinal said, but those who understand the Real Presence really do believe in it.

StikaConsecrationThe closing Mass was, to me, nothing short of spectacular. I think that nearly all of the clergy of the diocese (except, most notably, for Monsignor Xavier Mankel, OP, the Vicar General and my former pastor at Holy Ghost, who I last saw at the Mass of Chrism-it was said that he isn’t doing very well, so please pray for him!) were with us. I cannot express the spirit of unity in Christ that I felt in that place. The choir and the young people and others who provided musical accompaniment did a wonderful job, and I really enjoyed the choral piece in Vietnamese from the folks at our Vietnamese Catholic mission. We had music in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese. It was especially enjoyable to see some of our younger priests who have been recently ordained. I received Holy Communion from the hand of Father Christopher Manning.

StikaAt the end of the Mass, the Bishop shared with us his vision for the possibility of a new cathedral for the diocese. The feasibility of this project apparently has yet to be determined, but on a note of personal opinion, you won’t find me arguing against the need. I love Sacred Heart Cathedral, and it is a very special and holy place, but it was built when we were all a part of the Diocese of Nashville and it was built to be a large parish church, not a small diocesan cathedral for a growing diocese that occasionally has need to throw quite a big liturgical blowout for things like ordinations, which are becoming more  frequent here, along with Masses of Chrism and other Holy Week events.

After the Mass, Nicole and I stood in line for a while to talk to the bishop. I truly love Bishop Stika, and I am not just saying that because this is a diocesan site and I happen to be in formation to potentially be one of his deacons. He has a way with people…he truly loves people and people, they love him. It is said that the bishop is the Vicar of Christ within his diocese. In just watching the bishop, I could see Jesus. I saw Jesus joking with people who asked him to bless their holy objects, and I saw Jesus invite children to come to him, and hug him, and play with his miter and crosier and have their pictures made with them. I just stood there and I watched the bishop, and I saw the image of Christ. I often pray that the Holy Spirit will conform me to be more like Christ. I think I got a good example of what that might look like.

Finally came our turn for a few moments with His Excellency. Nicole had a rosary that she wanted to have blessed, which Bishop Stika happily did. He asked me “how’s school [i.e formation] going.”  I have observed that he remembers a great many of the people that he serves, which is a great gift.