Diocesan principals meet, Bishop installs new superintendent

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

The principals of the Diocese of Covington schools met with Bishop Roger Foys Oct. 15 at St. Henry District High School to discuss the changing protocols regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and to install Kendra McGuire as the new superintendent of Catholic Schools.

Principals from the diocesan schools met at St. Henry District High School Oct. 15 to pray and discuss the current COVID-19 protocols in schools.

They began with Mid-Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours led by Father Dan Schomaker, vicar general. Bishop Foys then formally installed Mrs. McGuire. She recited the Nicene Creed and promised fidelity to the Church’s teachings as she guides the department forward.

“Our schools are being entrusted to your care,” said Bishop Foys. “You are to serve them as a good steward, seeking not your own interests but the good of the students, their families and the Church.”
Mrs. McGuire resolved to carry out her responsibilities “with fervent joy and prudence. I will to the best of my abilities, for those commended to my care, form them in the Catholic faith and teach them about the mysteries of the created world.” Mrs. McGuire also received a crucifix and relic of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, patron of Catholic schools, as signs of her new position.

Bishop Foys addressed all the principals, encouraging them to keep taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, as a call to live differently. Details about the current state of the virus in Northern Kentucky were given by Dale Henson, CFO.

Mrs. McGuire then gave principals details regarding funding from the CARES Act for schools, the summer feeding program and determining activities outside regular education based on whether they’re essential. “Anything that can be done virtually is definitely preferred at this time,” she said.
Laura Keener, COVID coordinator for the Diocese, also provided the principals with updated reporting and statistics regarding cases of COVID-19 in the diocesan schools.

New superintendent excited to support schools and ever deepen Catholic identity

In the 2020-2021 school year, the role of superintendent of Catholic Schools couldn’t be more critical — and Kendra McGuire has stepped up to navigating a school year ridden with challenges.

Formally installed Oct. 15 by Bishop Roger Foys, Mrs. McGuire, who has been assistant superintendent for four years, said she is excited for the opportunity to lead. It helps, she said, that she already has a firm understanding of the situation and ideas of what needs the most attention.

Kendra McGuire, superintendent of Catholic Schools, makes a profession of faith during her installation as superintendent Oct. 15.

“I’ve been blessed to work at different schools both as a teacher and a principal, so I’ve built these relationships with our school system. I’m happy to have stepped into this role because we, as a group, know what we need to do moving forward,” she said. “I want to express my gratitude to Bishop Foys for his confidence in me to serve as superintendent. Catholic education is an important ministry of our church and I am excited to assist Bishop Foys in carrying on the mission of our schools.”

There are many things on her mind for improvement, such as the inclusive education program and streamlining safety in schools. Most of these initiatives, she said, have already been in process and simply need time to be worked on when attentions aren’t all on the pandemic situation.

“One of the things that is challenging is that because of COVID-19, where we are starting this year is not where we would normally begin the year,” she said. “In some ways we have to stop and step back and look at priorities in light of all the changes since March … despite all these areas I see we can work on, we have to put that in perspective with what our priorities are right now.” For example, the schools just wrapped up fall testing to evaluate if remote instruction from the spring left any gaps in the students’ education.

Mrs. McGuire said she’s driven by a desire to support principals and to improve the Catholic identity of the schools.

“When I came to the Curia four years ago (as assistant superintendent), I wanted to make sure this office supported principals and schools in all the ways that they needed. I also think we always have room for improvement with our Catholic identity and making sure that all of our schools are focusing first on our mission of the Catholic faith, because with our focus there, the other aspects of the Catholic education come together. As I transition into the superintendent’s role, that has heightened those goals,” she said.

Being superintendent gives her the motivation to “lead the charge” and address these areas of growth. “Now, more than ever, our principals need that support. Our schools need the support because everyone is overwhelmed. Schools are busy anyway, and when you throw a pandemic on top of it … the more that we can do to help them through that, whether that’s to help with COVID-19 planning, or planning on the education side, if we can be proactive and be a support, that’s what drives me.”

For Mrs. McGuire, the new position is a vocation rather than a job. “It’s a calling,” she said, “and I think God taps you on the shoulder and asks you to serve.”

In times of turmoil remember — ‘only one thing is necessary’

By Brad Torline.

Becoming a parent for the first time is an intimidating experience for most people even under normal circumstances. Imagine what it’s been like in the year 2020.

I had finally mustered up the courage to dive into marriage and fatherhood and then, less than three months after announcing our first pregnancy, a “once-in-a-life-time” pandemic hit.

The ensuing political and economic instability, the surge in race tensions, and, of course, the most contentious presidential race in living memory were all just cherries on top of this nerve-wracking scenario.

I’ve always thought it was a little tiresome and melodramatic when people say things like “What kind of a world have I brought a child into?!” The world has always been in a bad way and we could always use another good person. And yet, I have definitely caught myself looking down at my tiny beautiful new daughter this year and wondering just what kind of world she will grow up in.

All of this had me pondering and praying — what are we as Christians called to do in the face of all this? What am I personally called to do?

“You are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary.” (Luke 10:42)

If you turned your phone or computer on at all during 2020 you were probably immediately berated by a host of political movements, causes and activists — each demanding your attention, focus and support. If you failed to respond, at once you were made to feel complicit in systematic evil, worthy of condemnation and exclusion, etc. etc.

But as the verse above reminds us, anxiety and hyper-activity are antithetical to the Gospel.

I’m not saying that Catholics don’t have social and political responsibilities. We do. They comprise what tradition calls our “active life.”

The simple point I want to make here (and the point that has brought me peace during these times) is the reminder that the Church has always prioritized what she calls the “interior life” over the active life.

I think remembering this can give us focus and peace during these tumultuous times. There are many crises going on in society and in the Church right now. Sometimes it feels we are losing ground on all sides, making us feel the obligation to run this way and that trying to do something about it all.

But remember that, in the end, there is really only one thing for which we will ultimately be held responsible. Remember that, in Christ’s words, “Only one thing is necessary,” and that is our interior life, what Pope Benedict described as our “personal search for the face of the Lord.”  It is our personal striving to discover the Truth and to live in accordance as best as we can — first and foremost in our own lives and then we can strive to help those in our immediate sphere of influence as well. Only then should we strive to do something bigger.

I’m reminded of an old story my friend’s Ukrainian Catholic pastor would tell:

“Once there was young man who sought to become a priest thinking, ‘Perhaps, I can save the world.’ He thought he would climb to the highest ranks of the Church, fix her systems, and launch worldwide movements to renew entire societies. But after being ordained he realized that he could not save the world unless he could first save his own diocese. So with joy he accepted his first assignment to the Curia and served under his Bishop for 20 years only to realize, in the end, that he did not have the abilities to save his own diocese. He grew tired and was happy when the bishop reassigned him to a small parish. He devoted himself with fervor for another 20 years, thinking ‘I could not save my diocese, but perhaps I can save this little parish.’ But as the years passed, he realized that he could not save his little parish either. In old age, humbled by many years of hard work, he thought to himself ‘I cannot save this little parish, after all, but perhaps I can save myself.’ So he dedicated himself to eradicating his bad habits and the wicked thoughts he held secret in his heart.

“On his deathbed he realized that he could not even do this. He could not save even himself! And he was able to simply offer himself over to the Lord.”

We have a tendency of going about things backwards, don’t we? In youthful zeal we think we can fix and rework entire systems. We think we could run the entire world better if only we were in charge. We think we can save the world even though our families are a mess and we don’t know how to help them, and even though we cannot solve our own problems.

Here is the truth: We cannot save the world. We cannot save our community. We cannot save our family. We cannot even save ourselves — only Christ can. The sooner we realize this the better.

Scripture says that all of creation is groaning for the revelation of the sons of God. (Romans 8:22) Translation: The only true way to help the world is to become a saint.

If we fill our life with activism but do not become a saint, we have failed and everything we have will come to nothing. But if we concentrate on holiness first and foremost, above all else, then we will accomplish more than we ever imagined in our lifetime because it will not be us doing the accomplishing — but Christ in and through us. As He promised us, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Matt 6:33)

Brad Torline is associate director for the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization, Diocese of Covington, Ky.

New guest house at Mary Rose Mission will provide stability and hope to struggling families

Laura Keener, Editor.

Since 1999, the leadership of Mary Rose Mission has faithfully fulfilled its mission “To Love as God Loves” by serving those in need through the intercession of Mary. That abandonment to God’s will has led the mission full-circle, with an added new ministry in a familiar place — a Guest House for families needing a home at its original home in west Covington.

Bishop Roger Foys blessed the Guest House, Oct. 10. “The volunteers and Board Members of Mary Rose Mission take to heart its mission ‘To Love as God Loves’; the new Guest House is its most recent example,” said Bishop Foys. “May God continue to bless them; and may the guests whose lives they touch come to know — through their care — the love of Christ.”

The home originally served as a hospice for people who were in the advanced stages of a terminal illness with no health insurance and no family to properly care for them. Many people lived-out their final days there and many found or returned to their faith due to the care and support they received from the volunteers — priests, women religious, businessmen and homemakers.

“The original Mary Rose Mission house is holy ground — miracles occurred there,” said Cindy Carris, vice president, as she talked about the eagerness of the Mary Rose Mission Board to re-acquire the property and open the Mary Rose Mission Guest House.

In 2008, with St. Elizabeth Healthcare expanding its hospice center, the Mary Rose Mission dissolved its hospice care, selling the house in Covington to another non-profit. Mary Rose Mission then opened its new ministry — a soup kitchen in Florence where every day volunteers continue to serve a hot meal to guests.

Most, if not all, of the guests at the Mary Rose Mission kitchen are food insecure; some are homeless.
“I get choked up every time I think of this,” said Mrs. Carris, “… to see a family living in a car is just devastating. To see a young, homeless family and to know that they just need a little lift and they would be okay, it’s heartbreaking to see over and over again.”

Last year Mrs. Carris learned that the Mary Rose Mission house was available and she immediately knew that the mission was being called back home, this time as a Guest House for individuals and families needing a safe and secure place to live.

“Some families they just can’t get the support they need. They rely on family and friends but eventually that runs out. They aren’t asking for a lot — they are not asking for luxuries — just a roof over their head,” Mrs. Carris said.

The Mary Rose Mission Guest House is not a program. Instead it offers its guests a stable place to live so that they can begin to rebuild their future. There is no timeline and there is no deadline. The only requirement is that guests agree to participate in personal and financial counseling.

“Hopefully our guests will get stable employment and then save up some money and transition to a home or apartment where they can support themselves independently,” said Mrs. Carris. “We have found that people just need a break — just need a lift — so that they can take a breath and begin moving forward.”

Century Construction has completely remodeled the 3-bedroom, two story home. The home includes a full kitchen, two family rooms, two full baths and a fenced yard. The first guest has already been identified — a single mom with a small child — with plans to move in soon.

“When this person called me she was in tears. I told her no, no, no — don’t cry. You have just fallen into the hands of Christ; we have got you, it is okay now,” said Mrs. Carris. “She is so scared and she has this beautiful child and she just wants to make a life for him.”

Mrs. Carris said she has no reservations in reassuring the mom that everything will be okay. “I can say that because it is all God now.”

“If you seek to love, God will put people in your path. When he puts people in your path, he will give you a means to love,” Mrs. Carris said. “We do not fix people, only God fixes people. He just gives us the ability to love and that ability to love opens avenue after avenue … We are just a small instrument here, God is just so good and it is so fun to see him work. It is so incredible to help and love somebody.”

Thomas More University’s in-person experience continues legacy of excellence

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

The 2020-2021 school year has certainly presented challenges for communities across the globe when social distancing is required for everyone’s safety and sports games are mostly cancelled because of COVID-19. Yet at Thomas More University, students and faculty are making sure authentic education still occurs, safely.

From an academic standpoint, a little more than 90 percent of students are either on campus in person or doing a combination between in person and online courses. President Joe Chillo said that since so much of the Catholic college experience happens in person, the students knew they wanted to come back for instruction.

“As we were planning for the fall back in April and May when we were in the thick of things, our students and their families overwhelmingly wanted this in-person experience,” said President Chillo. “This fall we opened up with the second-largest enrollment of the university, we had the third largest freshman class coming in. So I think those things speak to where the families and students were at in terms of coming back to campus.”

He said the experience during March of transitioning 500 classes from entirely in-person to entirely online challenged faculty, staff and students alike to greater innovation and agility that is being carried over into the fall semester.

“I think it gave our faculty and staff a taste and experience of what this was going to look like and it became clear that our faculty would have to continue to engage our students in that type of environment,” he said.

Thomas More is using larger spaces like halls for classes so that students can effectively distance. Smaller classrooms have been turned into Zoom spaces.

“It was really an effective job by our registrar and our academic leadership team in looking at space across campus and how we could effectively transform that space to work in this environment,” said President Chillo.

Michael Thompson, a senior at Thomas More studying fine arts (painting) and creative writing, said his classes are all in-person except for his senior seminar, which is being conducted with various professors over Zoom.

“From an art student’s perspective, it’s a lot more sterile because usually we’re very hands-on people,” said Mr. Thompson. “If another student needs help, we’re right there and are able to touch what they’re working on, show them how to do it … often we’re collaborating. Because of COVID-19, that’s very difficult to do because we have to keep six-foot distance in the studio. We can’t share supplies … it’s much more of an individual work area than the collaborative shared experience that I’m used to.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Thompson said he wouldn’t substitute the experience for anything. “Part of the reason I chose Thomas More in the first place was that I love the way that the liberal arts are taught here,” he said. “I love how the professors want to help you learn and how often classes are discussion-based experiences. Probably anyone that chose Thomas More because of the liberal arts Catholic education values that discussion-based experienced and being able to be in person with your professor or your peers because it’s a very different experience to look at someone eye to eye and have a conversation … it’s a lot easier to understand someone face to face than in a chat room or discussion board.”

Numerically, the university has had 31 students in quarantine or isolation as of Oct. 1, and only seven of those quarantined on campus. Students who could go home have done so. Reduced capacity in student housing has given adequate space for quarantining and isolation when students display symptoms.

One of the biggest changes this year, President Chillo said, was having to modify events based on social distancing requirements laid out by the CDC, the governor’s office and local health officials. The events themselves get few and far between, and the lesser numbers mean they “don’t really have the same feel as they’ve done in the past.”

Mr. Thompson said it’s been hard on students to not have those social experiences on campus, and he’s not alone with being less likely to attend when things are scheduled — even with safe distancing. Students value being in the classroom and, since the types of activities at events are so limited, students don’t want to risk getting involved if they think it might not be worth it. Even Mr. Thompson, who used to attend many events, is more skeptical, so he knows people who are more introverted will certainly be less likely to attend.

School spirit has also been challenged by lack of live sports games. While student athletes are practicing lightly right now, there have been no competitions to attend. The school has participated in events like cross country meets, but sports like soccer and basketball have been pushed back.

Yet through it all, President Chillo said students have come together to combat the pandemic extremely well. “I’m watching our students show resiliency, showing understanding and commitment to the policies that have been put in place to make sure we practice effective social distancing, and a good healthy and safe environment,” he said. “Our students are deeply appreciative and hard working. In some ways, when you don’t have that traditional school spirit through athletics, it’s coming out in other ways and I see the best of that coming out in our students and faculty.”

“I think that these clubs are really trying to make sure school spirit stays high and people stay involved, but I think more than anything, school spirit right now is just collectively trying to keep each other safe,” said Mr. Thompson. “That’s what we’re doing as a campus.”

Another change, Mr. Thompson said, is a lack of student presence in the work-study programs which normally involved students working in Admissions or Student Life, for example. He said many students don’t see the value in making minimum wage for those types of jobs if they’re in harm’s way, so the jobs aren’t taking place this year.

“It’s a loss for the university as well as the students because … there’s a close bond between administrators and students and professors here, and I think a lot of that is facilitated by student workers,” he said.

President Chillo sympathizes with the students, who aren’t experiencing college in the way most have in the past. “They want to have that university experience and right now they’re getting that in a very modified way. … We’re going to have to continue to think through ways to engage our students and create the sense of community that Thomas More is known for,” he said.

He’s looking ahead to future school years with hope, however, that some of the newly implemented practices will make the university experience even better.

“I think the agility we’re creating here at the university is something we’re going to put into place for the spring and we’re being mindful of the academic calendar and structure out the spring semester,” said President Chillo.

40 years a deacon: The diaconate as a layman’s road to holiness

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

Deacon Tom Dushney is celebrating his 40th year of the diaconate, and credits it with his greater formation as a man. Whether baptizing his grandchildren or teaching RCIA, he says his service to the Church has been his route to sanctification.

“I had a great desire to serve God, his Church and the people of his Church,” said Deacon Dushney. “I had contemplated the way Mary said yes to God, and I responded to God’s call to do that … to serve God and his Church at a greater level.”

Currently serving at Mother of God Parish, Covington, he was ordained in Camden, New Jersey in 1980 and incardinated into the Diocese of Covington 1998 when he moved here for his job. At the time, he was assigned to Mary, Queen of Heaven Parish, Erlanger.

Deacon Tom Dushney

Deacon Dushney said that through a life of service, he’s developed into a much more whole man.
“It helped me to develop a disciplined prayer life through the Liturgy of the Hours, to understand ecclesiology and teachings of the Church and (have) a deeper relationship with Christ.” Through this personal spiritual growth, he said he learned how to be a better husband and father, as well as bring Christ into his work place. “It reminded me of the call to holiness … that really appealed to me and bore fruit in my life,” he said.

Some of his greatest joys during his ministry have been bringing people in to the faith through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) at Mary, Queen of Heaven Parish, where he was director of Religious Education, and being involved in the administration of sacraments. He loves to preach and teach, as well as prepare the faithful for the sacraments of baptism and marriage.

“Recently I’ve been able to witness the marriages of my granddaughters and baptize my grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” he said. “What a wonderful experience that has been for me, and a blessing in my life. There’s so many wonderful opportunities to serve the people of God. I’m so thankful to God that he called me to this ministry of the permanent diaconate.”

“I congratulate Deacon Dushney on his 40 years of dedicated and fruitful service to the Lord and to the Church as a permanent deacon,” said Bishop Roger Foys. “Deacon Dushney embodies what it means to be a true servant of the Church looking after the needs of others and administering to them with compassion and love. He is a true gentleman and example and witness to everyone and anyone engaged in ministry.”

Deacon Dushney said he’s also been a better spiritual leader of his home through his diaconate. He’s come to understand the importance of obedience to the Church, especially to his bishop and to the teachings of the Church. Through his continued learning, he’s been able to share that truth with his family.

“It’s given me a greater sense of belonging, a sense of personal responsibility to my role as a Christian man,” he said. “I think my family has most benefited from my spiritual growth … as I was able to give them a deeper insight into Christ and his Church, and the meaning of God’s love for them.”

Though his ministry has slowed down a bit as he’s advanced in years, Deacon Dushney, now 75, is still joyfully serving wherever he’s given the chance. He’s looking ahead with peace that he’ll be able to do whatever his pastor and bishop need from him.

“My prayer has been, that I will still be able to minister to God and his people, that in my old age I will be able to participate in ministry and serve as I have for 40 years,” he said.

He encourages men interested in the permanent diaconate to prayerfully consider it. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to serve as a representative to the people, to be able to bring God’s love to them.”

“I attribute it all to God and his loving mercy to me — I’ve done nothing to deserve these many blessings in life so whatever I have received, the joy and happiness, I attribute it all to God’s grace and mercy.”

‘Give us this day our daily bread’ — The new manna

By David Cooley.

In the first installment of “The Eucharist: The Source and Summit” we focused on the doctrine of Jesus’ Real Presence and on prefigurements of the Eucharist in the Old Testament. In this second installment we now turn to the New Testament and will focus on the scriptural scenes and passages that pave the way for the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.

Early in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus teaches his disciples to pray the “Our Father.” (Mt 6:9-15) It’s interesting that, in the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus invites us to pray for food: “give us this day our daily bread.” This seems the most “human” or “practical” of all seven petitions in the prayer. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to “not be anxious about your life or what you shall eat” (Mt 6:25), yet he invites us to pray for what is necessary each day. Is it possible that Jesus is referring to a “daily bread” that is both physical and spiritual?

The fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer and Jesus’ teaching against anxiety acknowledge our earthly needs but they also call us to turn our cares and worries over to God. We rest in God’s providence and we are called to have faith — an attitude of trust in the presence of God and openness to his will. It is not a blind trust, but an assent to what has been revealed to us.

So, while there is clearly a straightforward, earthly sense to this petition, there are deeper and higher dimensions as well.

The earthly sense is that we need sustenance to survive, and we should trust that God will take care of us. As, St. Cyprian (d. 258 AD) observes: anyone who asks for bread each day is poor. In other words, the prayer presupposes the poverty of the disciples — those who have renounced the world, seek no security other than God and pray for the fulfillment of his kingdom

The deeper dimension is found in the context of the Exodus, when the People of God, wandering in the desert, were fed by God himself with “manna from heaven.” Jesus referred back to that story when he said, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4; Deut 8:3). In this context, “our daily bread” is the Eucharist, the new manna from heaven.

In the fifth chapter of his book, “Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration” (Ignatius Press, 2007), Pope Benedict XVI points out that the Fathers of the Church were practically unanimous in understanding the fourth petition of the Our Father as a Eucharistic petition. “[I]n this sense the Our Father figures into the Mass liturgy as a Eucharistic table-prayer (i.e. ‘grace’).” (“Jesus of Nazareth,” pg. 154) In other words, the Our Father is our prayer before the meal at our Lord’s Table.

When Jesus feeds 5,000 people by miraculously multiplying bread we are reminded, again, of the miracle of manna in the desert. In the ancient Jewish tradition it was believed that manna was originally from the Garden of Eden but, after the fall of man, was taken away and stored in heaven. Therefore, manna was a perfect food unaffected by sin, and only appeared when God sent a mediator to deliver his people from slavery. It was also believed that the Messiah who was to come would be a new Moses and would bring with him a new manna. In the Bread of Life discourse (Jn 6:35-59), Jesus repeatedly refers to “manna from heaven,” using it to explain to his disciples how they would be able to eat his flesh and drink his blood. It seems just that the new manna provided by the Messiah would be even more miraculous than the ancient manna provided in the wilderness. Jesus said: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Jn 6:51) When Jesus was in danger of losing many disciples because of this hard teaching he said, “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (Jn 6:55)

New Testament scholars widely agree that Jesus is speaking here about the Eucharistic food and drink that he will give the disciples at the Last Supper. If we consider Jesus’ words in the Bread of Life discourse from an ancient Jewish perspective then the Eucharist could never be just a symbol, it must be supernatural bread from heaven. The Eucharist is a gift of himself that Jesus left behind for all time for the people of the New Testament — us. He left us himself in his sacrifice offered under the appearance of bread and wine. It is a manifestation of his boundless love. It is a uniquely intense fulfillment of the promise: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Mt 28:20

In the gospels, when Jesus speaks of bread or uses bread to perform a miracle there is always a transcendent message that mankind’s true food is the Logos, the eternal Word. In the Blessed Sacrament the Eternal Word becomes true manna for us, a taste of heaven that we can experience this very day. Being in communion with God, we are sharing in the life of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. The Eucharist, our daily bread, is spiritual food for our soul, giving us graces for our journey back to God.

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization.

Born in Bethlehem — the ‘House of Bread’

By Father Nicholas Rottman.

Okay, I’ll admit it, “O little town of the House of Bread” does not have quite the same ring to it as “O little town of Bethlehem.” But, although not helpful for singing, it may be very helpful for our faith to know that “Bethlehem” means exactly that. The name is old Hebrew and comes from bêth (house) and lehem (bread). As Christians, we recognize immediately the significance. Bethlehem, the “House of Bread,” was the place where Jesus Christ entered the world on that first Christmas morning. How does Jesus describe himself later on in his public ministry? “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (Jn. 6:35). In this passage, Jesus emphasizes that he is the nourishment, the food that we as believers need to strengthen us as we make our pilgrimage through this land of exile. But what sort of nourishment is this? Is it just a purely spiritual nourishment? No.

By the time of Jesus’ birth, Hebrew was not the spoken language of the Jewish people, but rather Arabic. Interesting, the Arabic equivalent of bêth lehem is bêt lahm, which means “house of meat.” You just can’t make this stuff up! Jesus promises that he will feed us not just by some spiritual power or grace but also with his own flesh and blood: “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. […] 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 6:55–56, 58) In the holy Eucharist, Jesus provides food for the world — the food of his body, blood, soul and divinity. And God symbolically prefigured all of this through the name of the town where he was born. Christ, born in the House of Bread, has become our food for the journey of life.

This Christmas, we should have a new appreciating of the Nativity Scene thanks to the meaning of “Bethlehem.” There in a manger — a container for holding food and feeding hungry animals — lays the Bread of Life who will sacrifice his flesh to give us new life. Bethlehem is truly both the House of Bread from Heaven and the House of the meat of Christ’s body. Indeed, this is why it is so important that we celebrate Christmas (Christ-Mass) by attending holy Mass and receiving the Body of Christ in holy Communion.

As we prepare for that celebration through the Advent season, let us remember that Christ can come to us every day — every day can be Christmas —because of the holy Eucharist. St. Bernard of Clairvaux said that there are three comings of Jesus Christ (see Sermo 5, In Adventu Domini, 1-3). The first, which we are preparing to celebrate at Christmas, is his coming as man at the Incarnation. The second, which we look forward to with a mixture of anticipation and fear, is his coming to judge the living and the dead at the end of the world. In between these two comings, said St. Bernard, is a third coming. That is Jesus’ mysterious and sacramental coming to us in the most holy Eucharist. By our worthy reception, may we ourselves become a new Bethlehem — a house of the Bread of Life and a house of the meat of Christ’s body in the most holy Eucharist.

Father Nicholas Rottman is a priest in the Diocese of Covington, currently on sabbatical.

The feeding of the five thousand and the Eucharist

By Father Ryan Stenger.

The only one of the miracles of Jesus that is included in all four of the Gospel accounts is his feeding of the crowd of five thousand with miraculously multiplied bread and fish. Obviously this event greatly affected the first Christians and was influential in forming their understanding of the Lord’s identity and mission.

In the Gospel according to John, the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is reported at the beginning of the sixth chapter and is followed by the Lord’s famous Bread of Life discourse, in which Christ explains to the crowd his teaching on the Eucharist, thus drawing a strong connection between the miraculous feeding of the crowd and the sacrament of his Body and Blood that he would institute at the Last Supper. The evangelist also emphasizes this connection in his description of the time and place of the miracle. St. John writes, “Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples” (John 6:3). So often throughout the Bible the mountaintop is where God and man come together most profoundly. Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, the prophet Elijah spoke to God in the silent whisper on Mt. Horeb, Christ himself was transfigured in glory on Mt. Tabor, and crucified on Calvary. According to the ancient imagination, the mountain was the place where heaven and earth meet, the symbol of God reaching down to us as we reach up to him.

And St. John also writes, “The Jewish feast of Passover was near” (John 6:4). It was on Passover that the sacrificial lambs were put to death in remembrance of God’s liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. Of course, Christ would die on the Cross at Passover time, as the true Lamb of God whose sacrifice saves us from death and liberates us from slavery to sin. And so, with these details, St. John is showing that the miracle that Christ performed in feeding this massive crowd was not simply a matter of providing ordinary food, but that it was symbolic of something much more, that the bread he gave them prefigured the Bread of Life about which he would go on to teach them, the Eucharist — the place where heaven and earth meet, the unbloody re-presentation of the sacrifice of the Cross, the Lord’s sacred Body offered up and his precious Blood poured out.

It’s easy to imagine that enormous crowd of five thousand following the Lord across the Sea of Galilee and up the mountain. They surely must have been hungry and weary and maybe even lost and confused. How many times throughout their lives had they sought for a way to satisfy their hunger, for a place to find rest, for a source of guidance and direction, but been left unfulfilled in the end? But now they have come to Christ. And after they have been fed by him, St. John tells us that they “had their fill” and still there were twelve baskets of bread left over (John 6:12). That crowd stands for all of mankind, because we all have a profound spiritual hunger, a longing for more than what the world can give. Our hearts reach out towards the infinite, the transcendent, the divine, because God has made us for himself. Only in him are we able to have our fill, so to speak.

And it is in the Eucharist that he gives himself to us as food to sustain us on our journey towards him, as the only food that is able to satisfy that most fundamental longing of our hearts. If it were merely a symbol, it would not be enough, but the Lord gives himself to us truly in the Eucharist — his Body and Blood, his soul and divinity. And he gives himself to us not simply in a momentary way during the liturgy, but he remains with us always in the Tabernacle. His presence abides in our midst; he lives within his Church, so that we always have access to him, so that we’re always able to find our sustenance in communion with him.

The Second Vatican Council taught that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the whole Christian life (Lumen Gentium, n. 11). It is in the Eucharist that God lives among us — from him do our lives come and to him are our lives directed. He must indeed be the source and summit of our lives, as a Church, as a diocese, as parishes, as families, as individuals. But sometimes we lose sight of that. It seems so common to hear the Church spoken of as a sort of social service agency, which exists to run hospitals, and schools, and soup kitchens, but then for it to be forgotten that her primary purpose, the reason for all of her activity, is the worship of God. A parish, for example, can do all sorts of great things, but if it doesn’t draw its people closer to Christ in the Eucharist, then it has completely failed in its mission. And it is the same way in our individual lives. We can become so consumed with activity and busy-ness, even good and important and necessary things, that we lose sight of God living in our midst, that we sometimes even tell ourselves that we don’t have time to spend with him and worship him. Sometimes we look for our sustenance and satisfaction in other places; sometimes we direct our lives to other ends.

But the Lord’s miraculous feeding of the five thousand reminds us that only he can truly feed us, only he can satisfy the restlessness of our hearts. May we never look for our happiness apart from him who lives with us always in the Eucharist, so that we might live at all times with him as the source and summit of all that we do.

Father Ryan Stenger, J.C.L., is pastor, St. Joseph Parish, Camp Springs; and judge, Diocesan Tribunal Office.

The Bread of Life discourse — have you come to believe?

By Father Michael Comer.

“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you will not have life within you.” Jesus spoke these words to a group of his disciples — those who had already begun to follow him, and who had at least the beginnings of faith in him. But these words shocked them to the core. The very idea of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus was totally repulsive to them. In fact, they were, as Jews, forbidden to have any contact with blood at all. It made them ritually unclean. And so, they turned away from him. We are told that they returned to their former ways of life. They abandoned him, and refused to have any more to do with him. This was just too much.

We read this account in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John — what is called the Bread of Life discourse. It is a dialogue between Jesus and his followers, who have experienced the miracle of the multiplication of the bread and fishes, and want him to continue to provide for their physical sustenance. Jesus explains that they have missed the point. God wishes to feed them with bread from heaven that will give them eternal life. “Give us this bread always,” they respond.

Jesus then begins to explain to them that he himself is the Bread from Heaven. He is the only one who can satisfy the deepest hungers of the human heart. Only he can give them eternal life. If they eat this bread they will never be hungry again. They will never thirst again. They are shocked, because they have never heard this kind of talk from a rabbi before. Each of them taught about God and how God would satisfy their deepest longings. But Jesus is saying that he himself will fulfill their deepest longings. This is scandalous at best, and blatant heresy at worst. Who does he think he is? Who, indeed!

At this point in the discourse, Jesus changes the metaphors. He no longer speaks of bread from heaven, but of his own flesh and blood. “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” This is even more shocking. “How can he give us his flesh to eat? What can this possibly mean?” And now Jesus becomes even more shocking in his statements.

“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you will have no life in you.” Now he is not only talking about eating his flesh, but drinking his blood. How repulsive! How disgusting! How offensive! Jesus keeps pushing the issue, not softening his words in any way. In fact, he doubles down, beginning to use a new word for “eat”, which is typically used to refer to a dog gnawing on a bone. “My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh (whoever gnaws on my flesh like a dog gnawing on a bone) and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”

It is at this moment that the line had been crossed. Jesus had gone too far. It is one thing to say that God will provide for his children. It is something else for Jesus to identify himself with God and tell them that he would provide for them. If Jesus had said that God had sent him to provide for his people that would have been somewhat acceptable. But when Jesus essentially made himself equal to God that was too much. And when he said that we must eat his body and drink his blood, that was really too much. But now, he has become even more graphic, even more literal, telling us that we must actually gnaw or chew on his flesh and drink his blood — this is a bridge too far.

I am certain that Jesus must have felt a great sadness as he watched these followers of his turn away, and reject not only this teaching but also him. He loved them. He had come in order to redeem them, and to be the food that would satisfy them, and make them into the children of God. It must have broken his heart. Couldn’t he have tried a little harder to hold on to them, and not let them leave? Couldn’t he have softened his teaching just a little bit, so that it would have been less shocking and upsetting to them? But he didn’t. He let them walk away. If they could not accept this teaching, they could not be his disciples. This was that important.

We then see Jesus look with sadness to the Twelve. His words are filled with hurt and disappointment and fear. “Are you going to leave me, too?” My guess is that the Apostles were just as shocked and confused by this teaching as were those in the crowd. They too were repulsed and repelled by the idea of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood. They were shaken to the core. And yet Peter responds, for all of them, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe that you are the Holy One of God.” In other words, “We don’t get this either. It makes no sense to us. But we know and believe in you, and so we are staying. We trust you.”

Some studies state that on any given Sunday, only about 20 percent of those who identify as Catholic attend Mass. And only about half attend with any regularity at all. There are many reasons for this, but I believe that one of the main reasons is that in their heart, many Catholics do not believe what Jesus tells us in this Bread of Life discourse. “I am the Bread that has come down from heaven. … I am the Bread of Life. … Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. If you eat this bread, you will live forever. … This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. … Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you will not have life within you. … My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. … Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

If we truly believe the words of Jesus and what he is promising to those who eat his flesh and drink his blood, how could we possibly absent ourselves from the Mass?

Let us pray for a rediscovery, by the Catholic people, of the remarkable gift of the Eucharist, the Bread from Heaven, and the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ himself.

Father Michael Comer is the pastor of Mother of God Parish, Covington.

In the sacrament of the Eucharist, why bread and wine?

By Father Daniel Schomaker.

The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life. The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.” (CCC 1324) The Church’s teaching in memoriam tells us that contained in the “sacred species” and veiled in the objects of bread and wine, is in fact Jesus Christ! His very body, blood, soul and divinity!

But why when we celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist do we use bread and wine? The simplest explanation is that we are adhering to the command of the Lord when at the Last Supper “He took bread and gave it to his disciples…” and “He took the cup filled with wine …  ‘Do this in memory of me.’” Ultimately as believers this should be enough, but since God has given us a mind let’s delve a little deeper.

After being cast out of the Garden of Eden because of disobedience, God tells man that it is “bread you shall eat, by the sweat of your brow.” (cf. Gen. 3:19) Humanity also offers back to God the “first-fruits” of the field — as seen in the offering of Abel and later in the offering of bread and wine by the priest-king Melchizedek. Prior to their journey into the desert as they fled Egypt, the Israelites ate “unleavened bread”; and when wandering in the desert, it was the manna or “bread from heaven” that God gave to sustain them.

The gift of bread to eat (which we pray for every time we offer the Lord’s Prayer) is a sign of “the pledge of God’s faithfulness to his promises.” (CCC 1334) Or another way to say this is that in the midst of the trials of life and on our pilgrimage towards the “promised land” (Heaven) and in our thanksgiving to God for any and all blessings, it is bread that always sustains us physically and reminds us of God’s closeness.

The gift of wine or “the fruit of the vine” also finds its way into the revelation of salvation history. Just as there was an offering of bread in the Old Testament, so too was there an offering of wine — often referred to as the “cup of blessing.” At the conclusion of the Jewish Passover meal, this “cup” “adds to the festive joy of wine an eschatological dimension: the messianic expectation of the rebuilding of Jerusalem.” (CCC 1334) We also see, in Jesus’ very first public miracle — the Wedding Feast at Cana  — the centrality of wine, where he transforms water into wine, but not just any wine, the very best wine. And this miracle takes place at a joyful celebration.

So, why do we use bread and wine for the celebration of the Eucharist? 1. Jesus said to; 2. Bread points us to the continual sustenance we receive from the Lord when we cooperate with his grace; 3. Wine points us to the joy of the Gospel and of our eschatological end, heaven; 4. Human beings are a compilation of body and soul; both need to be fed — bread sustains the body; wine sustains the soul.

Father Daniel Schomaker is vicar general; pastor, St. Augustine Parish, Covington; moderator of the Curia; and assistant director of seminarians in the Diocese of Covington.