This article first appeared in the One Voice.“…through the Eucharist!” These words are spoken often by Bishop Baker about the upcoming Eucharistic Congress. Any idea, any plan, any theme that has been mentioned is followed up with these words. While the Church is engaging in conversations about becoming better disciples, or how to better be missionaries to people who are marginalized or “on the fringes,” Bishop Baker has constantly reminded us that all the good that we wish to do in the world must begin and end with the Eucharist. This is why His Excellency has chosen the theme “The Eucharist and Missionary Discipleship” for the 2019 Diocesan Eucharistic Congress. The Eucharist is what transforms us into the likeness of Jesus, making us true disciples. The Eucharist strengthens and emboldens us to follow Jesus’ Great Commission to be missionaries who bring disciples to Him.
In this preparatory year, it is no accident that Bishop has dedicated this year to Mary, the “proto-disciple.” At the Annunciation, as Gabriel proclaimed to her God’s plan for salvation, by the power of the Holy Spirit the Divine and human natures of Jesus became physically manifest in her body. In a similar way, at each Holy Mass the priest prays the prayers of consecration, and by the power of the same Spirit, Jesus true natures become physically present for us to receive into our bodies. We follow the model of the Blessed Mother. Then Mary brings that physical presence of Jesus to the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah where she announces the joyful news to them, and even the unborn John the Baptist reacts. In the same way, each of us is called to leave the Eucharistic feast bringing the presence of Jesus within us to others. And our joyful proclamation of salvation is intended to cause a similar reaction in the hearts of those we meet. But is this usually the case? Or is it more likely that we will simply head off to our favorite brunch spot or get home in time for kickoff, habitually un-mindful that we are echoes of that great disciple who laid out for us her great example of a missionary disciple?
This awareness I refer to requires ongoing effort. It requires a daily discipline of prayer and a lifestyle that allows us to continue to do the same things life demands in a new way; always conscious of the One who lives in us and who calls us to carry him home to others. It requires the disciplines St Paul speaks of when he compares a disciple to a runner out to win the race or a boxer with eyes fixed on the championship. Likewise, our Bishop proposes we take the next year and a half, and consider these images St Paul gives us. That we prepare ourselves as though we were in spiritual training. He is asking us to be vulnerable in assessing our own abilities as a disciple and missionary. This may include getting ourselves a trainer, a spiritual director or a mentor who can help us on the way. It may include surrounding ourselves with a group of supporters who will hold us accountable, like a faith sharing group or a Bible study. If we are to grow to be disciples like Mary as we approach the Eucharistic Congress, we must be open to the possibility of change. This time of preparation and growth will allow us to be predisposed, in imitation of Mary, to the great graces that will come from our public display of devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament. We will be more likely to respond in an active and intentional way if we are in better “spiritual shape.”
This outlines for us the spiritual and pastoral motivations for why our Bishop would convene this Congress. But the timing of the event is also meaningful. June 29, 2019 will mark the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of our Diocese of Birmingham as an independent diocese. Anniversaries are happy occasions, but they also cause us to stop, reminisce, and take stock of our lives. This process of recommitting ourselves to a life of missionary discipleship is one of recollection and self-awareness. What a wonderful way to acknowledge the many sacrifices and hard work of the missionaries who brought the faith to Alabama, and our predecessors who fought so hard for its survival here! And then, when the big day arrives, in the presence of Jesus, we can express to Him our gratitude for making himself known to us through our Holy Mother Church. Anniversaries also cause us to think about where we are going next. This Eucharistic Congress will offer us a chance to intentionally plan a bright future for our local church; one marked with joy, hospitality, and missionary spirit.
Bishop Baker also continues to remind us that this Eucharistic Congress will occur very close to his 75th birthday. It is customary at that time for a bishop to submit a letter to the Vatican indicating that he has reached the age of retirement. Of course, it is up to the Papal Nuncio and His Holiness the Pope whether or not they choose to accept this letter. But the occasion does call for a reminder of a new beginning. And this is the wish of Bishop Baker: a new beginning at the half century mark, a new beginning in the zeal for spreading the gospel as disciples, and a new beginning in our imitation of Blessed Mary as bearers of Christ.
Mark your Calendar: June 28–29, 2019 at the BJCC. See BHMCatholic.com in the coming weeks for more information!