The Eucharist and the Family, the Domestic Church

Several weeks back in the One Voice, there was an article highlighting Damon and Melanie Owens, a couple who will be leading one of our breakout sessions at the Eucharistic Congress. Many people have asked about them, because in our Diocese they haven’t become a household name… yet. Damon has been on the Catholic speaker circuit for years. Anyone who has been through or taught the Theology of the Body for Teens: Middle School program in our Catholic schools or in confirmation programs has had the opportunity to witness Damon’s tremendous knowledge of Pope St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, as well as his tremendous energy, passion, and obvious love for Christ and His Church.

Damon has also been featured in many of the largest conferences, congresses and convocations around the country. He and Melanie have taught Natural Family Planning for many of the twenty-five years they have been married and have founded many organizations and Diocesan offices which promote and support marriages and families. An impressive speaker in her own right, Melanie holds a master’s in social work from the University of California at Berkley and has spoken together with Damon at many events which are focused on marriages and families. They have a lot of experience dealing with raising children, too; they have eight!

But the question we keep asking as we look at our speakers and our themes for the Eucharistic Congress is: what does this have to do with the Eucharist?

Much of Pope St John Paul II’s meditations on marriage and on the Theology of the Body centered around the theme of “sincere gift of self.” This is the idea that someone can, possessing a certain sense of self-mastery and self-control or ownership, freely choose to give themselves as a complete and total gift to (and for) someone else without holding anything back. This is the kind of gift that we see within the persons of the Blessed Trinity: Eternal Father, co-eternal and begotten-not-created Son, in a relationship of such perfect and powerful self-giving, the union with the Life-giving Spirit. In the perfect essence of God, the distinct persons of the Trinity perfectly give themselves without reserve, but because God is perfect, He completely gives himself without losing or sacrificing anything.

This self-gift is evident also in Jesus sacrificial love on the Cross. As John 10:18 tells us, Jesus freely gives up His life out of Love. As the second person of the Trinity, He gives totally of himself to the Father and sacrifices nothing. In His perfect humanity, Jesus gives Himself for us as a perfect and total sacrifice of Love. Less dramatic-looking but perhaps even more profound, is the way Jesus makes a total gift of Himself in the Eucharist.

It is somehow believable that within God’s One Divine being, the Three persons of the Trinity would be able to give themselves totally in a perfect, eternal and mysterious union. God is perfect and worthy of this kind of gift; and because He is infinite and perfect, He loses nothing from this donation of Self. It also seems somehow reasonable that out of obedience to the Father and out of His own perfect love for all human-kind that Jesus would offer himself up on the cross. But for us, we know that our marriages, families, and vocations are not perfect. We cannot perfectly give, and when we give ourselves totally to one another we will experience loss and sacrifice, like on the Cross. As individuals, it can sometimes be more difficult to believe that God – ineffable, inconceivable, incomprehensible, ever-existing and eternally the same – would present His total gift of self to us under the accidents of a simple piece of bread and a meager cup of wine. Not only under species which are simple, humble, defenseless, and unable to speak, but allowing himself to be consumed into our bodies. It is from the Eucharist that we “recuperate” what our imperfect gifts of self lose, and strengthens us with grace to continue in the imitation of God’s Love.

St Francis of Assisi, in “A Letter to the Whole Order,” puts it so beautifully:

“O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself for our salvation [that] He hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread! Brothers, look at the humility of God, and pour your hearts before him… Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, [so] that He who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally!”

As the Psalmist says, it is too wonderful, too great, too much to understand! Most of us do not have enough sense of self-worth to believe that God would really wish to be consumed by us, and yet He does. And so, the Eucharist shows us the love of the Triune Persons for one another, and the love of the Eternal God for each of us and the union He desires with us. But there is more…

When we receive Holy Communion, all of us who receive are brought into this union with God. We are all united to the Body of Christ. And as St Paul tells us, the mystical Body of Christ is His Church! It is interesting that when St Paul talks about the Body of Christ and its many parts and members as in 1 Corinthians 12 or Romans 12, we do not see much of a distinction between those passages and the way He speaks about the Body of Christ as the Eucharist. He seems to move between the two ideas seamlessly. In 1 Corinthians 10, St Paul says we all partake of the One Bread, which remains one though we are many parts. Through the Eucharist, the mystical Body of Christ is united.

The nuclear human family is the most evident example of this love that we see in our humanity. Evidence of the love of the Holy Trinity can be seen in the love of mother and father, husband and wife, whose love profoundly expresses itself in the life-given person of their child. In this participation in procreation, and also in the decision to remain celibate for the sake of the Kingdom, we become imitators of the Life-giving Trinity. It isn’t a perfect image, though. Father and mother are not un-created, and their child is not co-eternal. What we see in the family is something fashioned after God but limited by our physical world and human nature. But families in this way, build up the Church and society in the “shape” of God. The love of the Trinity is expressed in the family, as is the Eucharistic self-gift of Jesus. Christ’s love for the Church, as he lays down His life for her, gives the image of the sacrificial love we see both in marriage, and in priestly and religious celibacy. And the Mystical Body of Jesus joins, blesses, feeds, and forms families and communities who in turn build up the Church.

The limits of this page and of the knowledge of this author can only express so much of these great mysteries. But we look forward in anticipation to see what Damon and Melanie Owens have to say about The Eucharist and the Family, the Domestic Church during the Eucharistic Congress at the BJCC on June 28-29, 2019!

Posted in Blog, Eucharistic Congress.

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