Rediscovering Catholic Roots Through Eucharistic Congress

Christendom College President Reflects on Eucharist, Church in Ireland

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By Ann Schneible

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 1, 2012 (Zenit.org).- As the city of Dublin prepares to welcome pilgrims from around the world to the International Eucharistic Congress later this month, Dr. Timothy O'Donnell of Christendom College, who will deliver an address at the Congress, spoke with ZENIT about the priesthood, the Sacred Heart, and the centrality of the Holy Eucharist in Catholic life.

From June 10-17, the fiftieth International Eucharistic Congress will be hosted in Dublin Ireland. This will be the second Congress to be hosted in the city, the first being in 1932. The theme of this year's Congress is "The Eucharist: Union With Christ and With One Another."

Dr. O'Donnell is president of Christendom College, a Roman Catholic liberal arts college located in Front Royal, Virginia. Speaking with ZENIT, he discussed what this Eucharistic Congress will mean for the Catholic Church.

ZENIT: You will be delivering two talks at the Eucharistic Congress – one on the theme of the priesthood, and one on the Sacred Heart. Currently, the way in which the priesthood is regarded is particularly in crisis. Could you speak a little about the main points you wish to convey in your talks, especially in regards to the priesthood?

O'Donnell: Certainly, the priesthood is something that is so important for the Church, for the Catholic community. The problem I think is that the image of the priesthood has been really obscured. What I am going to try and do, therefore, is go back and try to ground the priestly identity in the person of Christ. The actual title of my talk is “Priest after His Heart”. I will be trying to relate how, in order to understand the priesthood, we have to understand Christ, we have to understand his heart, his person. So what I am going to do is really try to go back to the Gospels and take certain passages in the Gospel that reveal the priestly sentiments of his heart, to try and hit on those.

What is difficult is that you have to know who your audience is. Who is going to come to this? Is it going to be priests? Is it going to be lay people? It will probably be some type of mixture I would imagine. So what I really want to do is try to uphold, obviously, the dignity and the beauty of the priesthood, but at the same time, since a lot of lay people will be there, ground it really in the Heart of Christ.

ZENIT: What role could this Eucharistic Congress play in helping to bring renewal to the Church to the world, and especially in Ireland during this particular crisis in the faith?

O'Donnell: I think that there is a lot of things that could happen. First of all, because it is an International Eucharistic Congress, there will be Catholics coming from all over the world: this will be a powerful reminder of the universal Catholic Church, that whatever the difficulties may be in Ireland, the Church is much bigger than Ireland. Ireland can draw strength from the faith and experiences of other countries, other nations, and other continents. And of course, for any kind of renewal, you have to get back to prayer. Fundamentally for Catholics, you need to go back to the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our spiritual life.

When Pope Benedict wrote his letter to the Irish in the wake of the scandals, he clearly showed the path of renewal, and the path of renewal is found in going back to their tradition and find the great tradition in names such as Saint Columba, Saint Bridget, Saint Aeden, and all of these great saints who did so much to make Ireland's past truly Catholic and a truly glorious one. And sometimes you need to go back in order to go forward. The Irish saints were people who were passionately in love with Jesus Christ, and fervently in love with the Church that he established.

Therefore, anything that brings people of the Church, people from particular nations, back to focus on Jesus Christ and the absolute centrality of this great gift that comes to us from his heart – the gift of the Eucharist, because the Eucharist is sacrament of love, and the Sacred Heart is the devotion of love – anything that brings to that focus on Christ and his love can be a powerful source of renewal. [This is especially true] when you are dealing with the priesthood, which is so intimately linked to the heart of Christ… I think is a beautiful way to lead to that type of renewal and hopefully help foster vocations.

ZENIT: This year's Eucharistic Congress certainly has a particular relevance for the Church in Ireland. However, what sort of relevance will the Congress have to the Church globally – for instance, in the States, where there has also been a similar crisis in the Church as that which was experienced in Ireland?

O'Donnell: The best way to view this is really with the supernatural eyes of faith. Wherever God's people gather with the purpose of worshipping and celebrating the love of Christ and the love of the blessed Trinity revealed in Jesus Christ through the Eucharist, there is no way of gauging the impact that would have worldwide. In terms of prayer, Eucharistic Adoration and reparation, I think these will be great moments of grace not only for the Church of Ireland but for all those who participate.

Many of those who will participate, including a significant number from America, [they will come] back with an intensified love for Christ and his gift of the Eucharist, and that will have a great impact on the Church of America. The Church in America has been wounded, as has the Church in Ireland; but there is no healing apart from Christ, and to go back to Christ, especially looking at his sacrificial death and how he chooses to give himself to us with such humility, he shows us the way back to healing.

He re-enkindles again a deeper love for the Church and for the priesthood, [and we recognize] that if it was not for the priesthood, we would all starve spiritually. Catholics certainly do know this, and so sometimes I think we get caught up in the headlines, or focus so much on sinfulness that we fail to see that we are… but through a grace-filled event – such as the Eucharistic Congress – this really opens the channels for grace to be distributed worldwide; in other words, I think this will have an international impact on many countries, including the United States. Certainly those who participate in and enter into this event are going to go back and they themselves will become a leaven, share that story with the rest of the Church.