“Talitha Koum Calls Us to Be Evangelizers for the Eucharistic Revival”
Keynote Speech for the Office of Faith Formation Conference 2023
November 4, 2023; St. Matthew’s Church
It is a very good thing that we come together for this Faith Formation Conference, and renew ourselves in the work we carry out for our Lord and His Gospel and His Church. I am very grateful to Sr. Celeste and her team who have worked so very hard to make this possible. There is obviously an awful lot of work that goes into this and very many details to attend to, most of which we do not see, and it is a great service to our Archdiocese. Thank you!
The theme of our conference is inspired by the story of our Lord bringing the young daughter of a prominent synagogue official back to life. While the story is recounted in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), only Mark records the actual words Jesus spoke to the little girl in Aramaic, which is taken as the title of our conference. Let us first, then, listen to the story in whole:
When Jesus had crossed again [in the boat] to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea. One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, ‘My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.’ He went off with him, and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.
… people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said, ‘Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?’ Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, ‘Do not be afraid; just have faith.’ He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, he caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. So he went in and said to them, ‘Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.’ And they ridiculed him. Then he put them all out. He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was. He took the child by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise!’ The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. [At that] they were utterly astounded. He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat [Mk5:21-24a.35-43].
There are a lot of gems of wisdom packed into this story, and it gives us much to dissect. For my time with you here today, though, there are three particular insights that I would like to draw from the story and reflect on with you during our time together.
First of all, Mark tells us: “He went off with him, and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him…. And they ridiculed him. Then he put them all out. He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was.”
The first insight this story offers us has to do with Jesus’ way of acting. He of course had the power to restore life to that little girl in whatever way he wanted, from wherever he wanted. But he “went off with him”, and “took … the child’s father and mother … and entered the room.” Jesus took the trouble to accompany these distressed parents, to spend time with them and be present to them in their sorrow. Jesus is always present to those who are suffering and are seeking him.
We know how prominent the theme of accompaniment is in the teaching of our Holy Father Pope Francis. This has been a consistent theme for him from the beginning of his Pontificate. For example, already in a speech he gave at World Youth Day in 2013, he issued this challenge to the Church:
[W]e need a church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a church that accompanies them on their journey; a church able to make sense of the ‘night’ contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem….
It is important to devise and ensure a suitable formation, one which will provide persons able to step into the night without being overcome by the darkness and losing their bearings; able to listen to people’s dreams without being seduced and to share their disappointments without losing hope and becoming bitter; able to sympathize with the brokenness of others without losing their own strength and identity.
This is the model of pastoral engagement that Pope Francis sets before us. I was happy to hear our own Apostolic Nuncio, Cardinal Christophe Pierre, fill out the picture of what this means in a recent homily that he gave. This was three weeks ago at the Mass for the establishment of the new Metropolitan Archdiocese of Las Vegas. He spoke there about the “law of gradualness,” how we have to, as they say, “meet people where they are at”, and walk with them step-by-step along the way. But he did not leave it there. He completed the picture by underscoring the destination to which that way leads. And just what is the place to where we must accompany people who are, as Pope Francis would say, “in the night” and “in flight from Jerusalem”? To Jesus Christ. He is our goal, the one Savior of the world who literally loves us to death.
In this sense, Cardinal Pierre connected the visions of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict. Pope Benedict also spoke frequently of the culture of encounter, and reminded us of what that encounter ultimately means. As he famously said, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” He expanded on this principle in his 2009 Catechesis on St. Bernard of Clairvaux:
For Bernard, in fact, true knowledge of God consisted in a personal, profound experience of Jesus Christ and of his love. And, dear brothers and sisters, this is true for every Christian: faith is first and foremost a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, it is having an experience of his closeness, his friendship and his love. It is in this way that we learn to know him ever better, to love him and to follow him more and more. May this happen to each one of us.
Encounter and accompaniment: our personal, intimate encounter with Jesus Christ must happen first if we are to accompany others to him, the true desire of every human heart, whether they realize it or not. Only that deep encounter can give us the conviction necessary to know that he is the truth, to live by the truth, and to want to share that life-giving truth with others, despite the opposition and rejection we will face for standing by Christ.
This is another example our Lord gives us in his accompaniment of the father and mother of the dying girl. After she died and he said she was simply asleep (meaning the sleep of death, but they failed to understand), how did the people react? “[T]hey ridiculed him.” We, too, will be ridiculed at times for believing in Jesus Christ, and following his way; we will be accused of wanting to impose our religion on others simply for wanting to share this Good News with them. But a genuine, deep love and knowledge of Jesus Christ will give us the spiritual stamina to live with integrity, knowing that he is the one way, truth and life, for everyone, not just for some.
Food of Eternal Life
He is the one Savior of the world by virtue of his Resurrection from the dead, and this miracle of the reviving of the little girl in his public ministry is clearly an allusion to his upcoming Resurrection. The very word he uses to command the little girl, “arise”, is the same verb that is used in the Gospels in reference to his rising from the dead. And Mark ends his account of this story with a very telling detail: “He … said that she should be given something to eat.”
This gives us the second insight upon which I would like to elaborate. Here we have another reference in this story to Jesus’s own Resurrection, even though his will be different from that of the little girl whom he brought back to life, because she came back to life as we know it in this world, and so would have to die again. But Jesus rose to a new kind of a life, with a glorified body, a life that does not end. But it was truly in his body. In numerous accounts of his post-Resurrection appearances, we are told of Jesus eating with his disciples. In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we are told that the disciples were unbelieving when Jesus appeared to them after he rose from the dead, and in order to convince them that it was really him, he ate a piece of baked fish in front of them (Lk 24:41-43).
This makes us think, as well, of the story at the end of St. John’s Gospel, where Jesus is cooking fish on the seashore to give his disciples something to eat for the morning meal. And we have this testimony from St. Peter in the Acts of the Apostles: “We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and (in) Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised (on) the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:39-41; emphasis added).
Of course, the story that most brings together these two insights from the life and witness of Jesus, accompaniment and the post-Resurrection meal, is the story of his appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Their earnest request to Jesus before they even realized that this stranger accompanying them was actually he, inspired the title of Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter on the Eucharist, “Stay with Us, Lord” (Mane Nobiscum, Domine). He issued this letter in October 2004, the beginning of the “Year of the Eucharist” which he had proclaimed. He spoke about how the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus can teach us much about the Holy Eucharist in the following words:
The image of the disciples on the way to Emmaus can serve as a fitting guide for a Year when the Church will be particularly engaged in living out the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. Amid our questions and difficulties, and even our bitter disappointments, the divine Wayfarer continues to walk at our side, opening to us the Scriptures and leading us to a deeper understanding of the mysteries of God. When we meet him fully, we will pass from the light of the Word to the light streaming from the ‘Bread of life’, the supreme fulfilment of his promise to ‘be with us always, to the end of the age’ (cf. Mt 28:20) [MND 2; emphasis original].
In our own country, we are in the midst of a three-year Eucharistic Revival project, an effort to rekindle within the hearts of our people an authentic Catholic Eucharistic faith. This is the vision of faith that sees the Eucharist for what it is: the Bread of Eternal Life, the way in which our Lord continues to accompany us in this life so that he may take us to the life that is to come, the place he prepared for us when he entered into this world to die on the Cross for us.
What he provided the disciples on the road to Emmaus when he sat down and broke bread with them – a clear reference to the Holy Eucharist, the Eucharist that is our sharing in his death and Resurrection – he taught clearly and definitively about in his famous Bread of Life Discourse in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John. He leaves no room for doubt that this is truly his Body and Blood, which he gives to us for eternal life:
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever [Jn 6:53-58].
This is what the disciples walking to Emmaus experienced: their eyes were opened when the Living Bread who came down from heaven broke bread for them in that Eucharistic meal. Then, he disappears from their midst. What did they do right after that? St. Luke tells us: “So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, ‘The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!’ Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:33-35). But, why did they return to Jerusalem?
Truly, they could not have done otherwise, for now they had come to complete faith, the full realization that their Lord had indeed risen from the dead and conquered death, and that that was really him in their presence; they were so brimming over with joy that they could not but return to the community of disciples and share the good news – which indicates something else to us about the meaning of this sacrament, which brings us to the third insight worthy of our consideration in this story today, the story that is the theme of our conference.
Restoration: Marriage Covenant
“The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.” Jesus restores her to her parents, to her family. This dynamic of restoration to family is a part of the other two examples in the Gospels where Jesus brings someone back from the dead: the son of the widow of Nain (in the Gospel of St. Luke), and Lazarus of Bethany (in the Gospel of St. John). In the first case, the son is restored to his mother, a critical act of mercy on the part of our Lord when we recall that, in the ancient biblical world, a woman was always dependent on a man for her physical sustenance, and here this woman was a widow whose only son had died. Lazarus, too, is restored to his two sisters Martha and Mary, and they are later seen sharing a meal with Jesus himself.
We call this sacrament the sacrament of Communion, “Holy Communion.” That is why the two disciples returned to Jerusalem: to be in communion with their fellow disciples. This is how God created us to be, to live in communion, which means the sharing of the spiritual and temporal goods with which God has blessed us. It is love which makes this possible, the love made visible to us through Jesus on the Cross: giving of oneself for the good of the other, purely for the good of the other without considering what one will “get out of it.” This is also the reason why God created the human race as male and female, as the Book of Genesis tells us.
Let us go back to that foundational passage of the Bible, at the creation of the world:
Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. God created mankind in His image; in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them [Gen 1:26-27].
It is precisely because God wanted to make His human creation into an image of Himself that He had to make them as male and female. That is to say, God, as we know from divine revelation, is a life-giving communion of Persons, the Most Holy Trinity: everything the Father is and has He gives to the Son, and the Son returns to the Father, and Their mutual love sends forth the Holy Spirit Who draws us into the communion of God’s life and love.
God’s human creation, then, had to likewise be a life-giving communion of persons: in the covenant of marriage the man and woman share a life-long, life-giving communion of life and love with mutual and exclusive fidelity, thus imaging God’s eternal, life-giving, faithful love for us. In the conjugal union, the two become one and so complete each other – a complete, comprehensive communion of body and soul, mind and heart – while each retains their own unique identity. And that complete communion of persons generates new life.
God’s entire work of salvation is one of restoration: restoring us to the friendship we lost with Him through the fall of our first parents, restoring us to His communion of life and love. He works out this plan through a covenant He makes with the ancient people of Israel, and one which He brings to perfection in the New Covenant of His Son through his blood poured out on the Cross. This restoration is learned and lived out first and foremost in the family. It is the family, born of the life-long, fruitful and faithful covenant of marriage, that images the inner life of God to us, and teaches us about our relationship with Him.
In this sense, our Catholic understanding of the Eucharist is complete. The New Covenant sealed in the blood of the Lamb restores us to the eternal life for which God created us, the Covenant He makes present at every Eucharist. This is the command he gave us at the Last Supper: “Do this in memory of me.” But lest we think that this restoration happens simply by repeating a ritual and consuming what that ritual offers us, let us recall St. John’s version of that Last Supper. There, our Lord lowers himself to assume the duty of a slave and washing his disciples’ feet, he who is their Master. And then he commands them: “As I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:15). That is St. John’s translation of, “Do this in memory of me.”
In other words, this is a stern warning not to take the Eucharist lightly, but rather to approach only with fear and trepidation, living in a way that conforms us to that commandment of self-sacrificial love, which is far from seeking our own pleasures and interests and convenience. We must not take the Eucharist on our own terms or as we would like it to be, but as it truly is, in the totality of its meaning. As John Paul goes on to say in that Apostolic Letter “Stay with Us Lord”:
… it is important that no dimension of this sacrament should be neglected. We are constantly tempted to reduce the Eucharist to our own dimensions, while in reality it is we who must open ourselves up to the dimensions of the Mystery. ‘The Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation’ [MND 14; emphasis original].
A gift too great to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation. Think of those disciples on the road to Emmaus, think of their spontaneous reaction when they realized the immensity of the gift that had been given them: they had to go forth and share it, proclaim it, in communion with their fellow disciples.
There are many people in our own time who are experiencing the dark night far away from Jerusalem. Who will meet them in their darkness, and accompany them, patiently, step-by-step, to the light of Jerusalem who is Jesus Christ? When we live in conformity to the image in which God originally created us and to which He restores us in His Son, we know in the depths of our being the great gift that this is, and that He renews in every Eucharist. Only He can make us worthy of this gift, but love makes us want to try, anyway, and love disposes us to the working of His grace within us that has the power to make us so.
This is the light for which those who dwell in darkness yearn, the peace longed for by those who are filled with anxiety, and the joy that seems so unattainable to those suffering the burdens of sin, sadness, addiction and despair. They need to know that there is Good News, and his name is Jesus Christ! And he calls us to be the evangelizers of that Good News! When we truly know and love him, we will not be able to live our lives in any other way.
Knowing and loving him begins at home, in the very practical circumstances of our daily life. There, most of all, is where we learn and constantly relearn the lesson of his love, his love poured out for us in his Body and Blood at every Mass. To go back one last time to John Paul’s Apostolic Letter, this is the charge he left us with:
May all of you, the Christian faithful, rediscover the gift of the Eucharist as light and strength for your daily lives in the world, in the exercise of your respective professions amid so many different situations. Rediscover this above all in order to experience fully the beauty and the mission of the family [MND 30; emphasis original].
May our time together today renew us in this sacred calling, renew us in awe and wonder of the gift of inestimable value that God gives us in His Son, in every Eucharist, so that we may bring the light, peace and joy of this Good News to a world dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death. Thank you for your participation in this conference today, and your commitment to responding to this call that God has given to each one of you.