We are not a Church in retreat. We can’t be, because we have the Eucharist.
As we walked up the street, people stood on their porches or stared at us from their upstairs windows. What were those crazy Catholics up to this time? A couple of months before, our parish had intrigued and perplexed the town when the Spanish Mass community performed a living Stations of the Cross in the streets of town. There had been Roman soldiers, whips and blood, wailing women and Judas hanging from a tree.
This was similar, but yet different. Again, there were men with swords, but this time they wore plumed helmets and red capes. A gaggle of little girls in white dresses clustered together, their visages alternating between pious and chatty. Beneath a large, tasseled canopy, the priests took turns carrying the golden monstrance. The three parishes of our town had come together for a Corpus Christi procession. Suddenly, those weird things that Catholics do behind closed doors were there, in the middle of the street. And people paused to watch as we stopped at houses for Benediction or crossed the streets, singing loudly. Jesus was walking the streets of the town, ready to meet his people.
Afterwards, at the end of our little two-mile pilgrimage, there was a cookout and a picnic. We walked, we prayed, we sang, and then we ate. The children proclaimed it an excellent party, and couldn’t wait to do it again. The adults were in good spirits. It hadn’t been as hard as we’d thought. Our neighbors were curious, not hostile. It had been good to take Jesus to meet them.
Unfortunately, most American parishes will never have a procession like this. We’ve embraced a more austere Catholicism, and most of our parishes have jettisoned processions and other public displays. We have our celebrations behind closed doors. We let our neighbors get the impression that we’re really not that different from the United Church of Christ or the Methodists – surely we don’t really BELIEVE that stuff about the Eucharist and the Real Presence.
Meanwhile, our neighbors need the Eucharist, even when they don’t believe in God. Their lack of belief doesn’t matter. The power of the Eucharist is an objective reality, and Jesus can call to people, even when they don’t believe.
Saint Clare famously turned attackers away from her convent simply by showing them the Blessed Sacrament. Our cities and towns may not be under siege by barbarian hordes, but we are under siege. Our neighbors suffer in bondage to drugs and pornography. They’re crushed by despair. Yet we are too shy, too afraid of being labeled as weird, to process through the streets, bringing our Savior with us. We have the answer, and yet we keep Him behind closed doors, like the adherents of an Ancient Greek mystery cult, afraid to expose our dearest treasure to the light of day.
Jesus changes everything. When we process with the Eucharist, we mark our towns as holy ground. We pray for all those we pass, interceding for them before our Lord. We share the source and summit of our faith, and we remind those who have left the Church what, and more importantly Who, they are missing in their lives. Growing up, my religion teachers would admonish our class not to hide our lights under a bushel basket. Yet too many of us seem to be entirely comfortable jealously keeping the Light of the World hidden from the prying eyes of our non-Catholic neighbors.
So, be brave. Be bold. Be generous. Hold a Eucharistic procession, and take Jesus through the streets, past the homes of your neighbors who are crying out for His love. If it’s too late for your parish to plan a Eucharistic procession for Corpus Christi this year, plan one for next year. Drive to find one you can participate in. We are not a Church in retreat. We can’t be, because we have the Eucharist.