In this series, I write about the five pillars of the Eucharistic Revival, a three-year-long initiative of the United States’ Conference of Catholic Bishops that aims to promote faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. You can find the other articles in the series here:
The Third Pillar of the USCCB Eucharistic Revival is “Empower grassroots creativity by partnering with movements, apostolates, parishes, and educational institutions.”
The soul is the soil of a person – it is where life is nourished and cultivated. Just as the yield of a crop depends on the quality of the soil within which it was planted, the fruit a soul bears depends upon the condition of that soul. There is a reason why so many farmers have faith in God: working with the local soil is a way to work on your soul. The connections between the two are abundant. Jesus knew this, so he often connected the spiritual life to agrarian concepts.
The U.S. bishops’ use of the term “grassroots” in the Third Pillar, therefore, is not just a colloquial way of supporting communities with local significance and roots. The bishops, I would argue, are being quite intentional–and I would even say somewhat poetic–in their use of the term. Since its inception, Christianity has been a grassroots movement. Jesus’ parables often referred to the soil, seeds, and things that grow as metaphors for the soul–because he knew that’s how his Church would have to grow: from the roots and soil of the local communities, the hearts and souls of the local people.
The best grassroots movements, apostolates, parishes, and educational institutions are those that bear good fruit in the souls of the local people. This idea is not foreign to the Church. In fact, for quite some time the Church has taught the need to implement both solidarity and subsidiarity when practicing social justice. The Second Pillar addressed solidarity in stating that we ought to accompany others, “especially those in poverty and the most vulnerable.” The term “grassroots,” and by extension the Third Pillar of the Eucharistic Revival, addresses the principle of subsidiarity by pointing out the importance of small communities. The Catechism defines the principle in this way:
“a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good” (CCC 1883).
Grassroots, local, lower order–these are all words for the same thing: the community that is most immediately around us. The gospel is lived out in the neighborhoods we live in. This is where the Church grows, and this is where belief in the Real Presence must take root. How do we ensure that this happens? By promoting the teachings on the Real Presence in local movements, apostolates, parishes and educational institutions. But to do this we can’t just rely on the trickle-down effect by simply taking instruction from the higher order of U.S. bishops. We must allow the teaching to take root and flourish in our own hearts and souls so we can share the truth with the people immediately around us
In today’s age, it’s tempting to think of movements as dangerous, revolutionist concepts. Some of the most popular movements in our society today have contentious reputations. I will refrain from being specific.
However, there are some good movements these days. There’s the pro-life movement, the Traditional Latin Mass movement, the Catholic charismatic movement, and others. The Church is a well-built ship navigating through the culture to a destination: The Promised Land of heaven. Our sojourn on earth is a journey to this destination within that ship, and on that journey we ought to accompany others. So, by its very nature, the Church is on the move. A good movement is directed toward that end: accompanying others in their journey toward heaven. This correlates well with the Second Pillar of the Eucharistic Revival, which is, in part, to:
Contemplate and proclaim the doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist through the … Goodness of our accompaniment of persons in poverty and those who are vulnerable.
For a grassroots movement to remain grassroots, it needs to continue to accompany the people in every community it enters. The Church has been doing this for years with its missionary saints. The story of the Catholic Faith in America cannot be told without shining light on the missionary work of St. John Neumann, St. Mother Anne Seton, St. Katherine Drexel, St. Frances Cabrini, and others who devoted their lives to spreading the Gospel here in the States. When we talk about movements in the Catholic Faith, these are the giant movers and shakers that should come to mind.
Apostolates of the Church, like movements, also accompany persons in poverty and those who are vulnerable by following the example of Jesus and the apostles. An apostolate can be made up of religious or lay people, if they dedicate themselves to serving others and spreading the gospel. When it comes to evangelization and accompanying others, few orders have more experience than the Franciscan Order. St. Francis of Assisi was so devoted to accompanying others that he would feast with a fellow brother who had trouble fasting as much as he did, just so the brother didn’t feel excluded.
One grassroots apostolate that continues the mission of St. Francis is the Franciscan order of brothers known as the Knights of the Holy Eucharist based in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Knights accompany persons in poverty by taking vows of poverty themselves. Founded by Mother Angelica, like many other Franciscan orders–and Catholic religious orders in general–the Knights “exist to serve the Church and the wider community.”
Parishes are where the Church can proclaim the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist through the Beauty of its worship. This connection between the Second and Third Pillar of the Eucharistic Revival is vital, because without Beauty the gospel message can easily get lost in an arbitrary quest for knowledge and self-righteousness. It is Beauty that enables us to step outside ourselves and recognize how small we are in God’s magnificent design. The Mass, therefore, should reflect God’s beauty in parishes throughout the Church and across the nation. Of course, through its various ministries, a parish would do well to teach the truths of the Faith and serve others, especially the poor and vulnerable. But all of this should flow from the Beauty of the Mass, because Beauty moves us to do good and seek truth.
One effective way to empower creativity at educational institutes is to encourage all Catholic universities to implement Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church), where the pontiff states:
“It is the honour and responsibility of a Catholic University to consecrate itself without reserve to the cause of truth. This is its way of serving at one and the same time both the dignity of man and the good of the Church …”
The Church ought to proclaim the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist through Catholic universities, because that is the proper place to share the truth of Church teaching.
By empowering grassroots creativity–and by partnering with movements, apostolates, parishes, and educational institutions–the U.S. bishops are aiming to go back to the Church’s roots. The small communities of the early Church are what made it flourish, like the planting of small seeds in good soil–and that process was repeated over and over again in civilizations throughout the Church’s 2,000-year history with great success. With these Pillars of the Eucharistic Revival, the bishops are simply casting the seeds again in our culture, hoping they take root better this time. And the greatest seed to plant is the proclamation of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
This article is the third of five articles on the USCCB’s Eucharistic Revival, sponsored by the Knights of the Holy Eucharist, an order of Franciscan brothers in Lincoln, Nebraska. Learn more at knights.org.