To be a Catholic is to hold certain beliefs. We need to understand, claim and celebrate our Catholic identity.

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Thank You, God!
By Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.

People attend religious services for various reasons. If I ask why you attend church, would you offer any of the following replies?

"I go to pray." "I like to hear sermons that help me know how to live." "I go to ask God for blessings on my family." "I join the priest in offering the sacrifice of the Mass." "I like the music." "I go to receive our Lord in Holy Communion."

These are all good answers, but the most Catholic answer is, "I go to Mass to say thank you to God."

That's why we call the Mass "Eucharist." The word eucharist comes from the New Testament Greek word for "giving thanks." And at each Eucharist, as we begin the central act of the Mass which we call the eucharistic prayer—our great "thanksgiving prayer" —the priest invites: "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God." And we all respond that "it is right," that it is the right thing to do to give God thanks and praise.

And why?

Because to say "thank you" is what one does when receiving a gift. I'd be willing to bet that from your earliest years your parents taught you that whenever someone gives you something, you are to say, "Thank you." And once you were old enough to write, they encouraged you (forced you might be more accurate) to write a thank-you note to those who gave you gifts on your birthday, at Christmas or on other special occasions. "Thank you" is the proper, human response to a gift. It indicates gratitude and appreciation for something freely given, something we did not merit or earn. It is the corrective for arrogance.

What a Gift!

Catholics celebrate the Eucharist because we know that we have been given a gift. Our very existence is a gift; God didn't have to create us. And not only do we exist. We live redeemed—saved from sin by the death of Jesus on the cross and destined for eternal happiness. If that isn't a gift, I don't know what is!

Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we gather with other grateful Catholics and we listen as the Scriptures are proclaimed. We hear again and again of God's gifts: creation, freedom, salvation, healing, redemption and everlasting life. Filled with gratitude for so great a gift, we, in turn, want to give a gift to God. We bring forward bread and wine, our food and drink, the symbol of our very lives, and place them on the altar, God's banquet table. And we say, "Thank you, God!" in our eucharistic prayer. And in the course of that prayer we remember how—at that first Eucharist—Jesus himself took bread and wine and gave God thanks.

And then something wonderful happens. God changes our gifts and gives them back to us as a gift more wonderful than we ever could have imagined: the very Body and Blood of Christ. And we joyfully process to the altar a second time—this time not to give a gift of bread and wine, but to receive a gift—a divine gift, a transforming gift.

Creating a New World

The same Holy Spirit whose power changed the bread and wine now changes us. "[W]e, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf" (1 Corinthians 10:17).

We Catholics believe that at the Eucharist we really receive the Body of Christ. This belief is central to our Catholic identity. But if we believe that we really receive Christ's Body and that we really become Christ's Body, then we have to act in accord with that belief.

At the conclusion of each Eucharist we are sent forth, commissioned to go out into the world and bring Christ's Spirit to everyone we meet and everything we do. We become ambassadors of encouragement, compassion, generosity, healing, understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation. The gift of the Eucharist is the insight that in living for others, we find life's true meaning. Thank you, God!

Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D., has a doctorate in liturgy and sacramental theology from the Institut Catholique of Paris. A popular writer and lecturer, Father Richstatter teaches courses on the sacraments at Saint Meinrad (Indiana) School of Theology. His latest book is The Sacraments: How Catholics Pray (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

Next: Scripture and Tradition—God Speaks to Us

Questions for Reflection:
• Talk about a Eucharist celebration that was very special for you.

• When do you feel a part of the Body of Christ? What can you do to experience a closer bond within that Body?

The Eucharist: A Family Affair
By Judith Dunlap

The Eucharist brings us together to celebrate our oneness in Christ. It is a meal, a sacrifice and a celebration of new life. Participating in Sunday Mass is even more satisfying when those same elements are celebrated at home.

The Eucharist is a meal. We remember the Last Supper, the breaking of the bread, the blessing of the wine, —This is my body. This is my blood.— Years ago I read that the average family shares only two meals a week with all members gathered. If this is true for your family, make those occasions special—meals of gentle conversation without TV, newspapers or interruptions.

The Eucharist is a sacrifice. At the preparation of the altar we respond, —May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands...— Parents know about sacrifice—giving up sleep to comfort a restless child, wearing retread sneakers so a teen can have new soccer shoes. We are doing our children a disservice if we don—t teach them to sacrifice too. When children —give up— something they learn the discipline of saying no to themselves and choosing a greater good.

The Eucharist is a celebration of new life. We become a part of Christ—s body, sharing in his Spirit. In Eucharistic Prayer III the priest says, —Grant that we...may...become one body, one spirit in Christ.— Your children experience their life in Christ—s through the give-and-take of everyday family life. Help them to also experience that life with the larger Church family by participating as a family in the social and service activities of the parish.

The Eucharist is a family affair. We celebrate it with our parish family and we live it day in and day out with our household family. Thank you, God, for the gift of both families!

For Family Response:

Have a special meal on Pentecost, the last Sunday of this month. Let everyone help in the preparations. At the meal talk about what you like about your parish family.

Media Watch
By Frank Frost

Acclaimed when it appeared in theaters, the documentary film Spellbound is now available on DVD. It has all the elements of good entertainment: interesting characters, suspense, drama.

Spellbound follows eight participants in the 1999 National Spelling Bee from their victories in area competitions through the pressurized national event. These young people and their families put a face on the rich diversity of our country, reflecting a wide geographic, economic and social spectrum. Before the nail biting begins, the film introduces the students in their home settings.

Angela, who hails from Texas, is the daughter of first-generation immigrants from Mexico who do not speak English. For April, home is a small working-class town near Philadelphia that has seen better days. Emily comes from an upscale Connecticut home.

A strong work ethic is notable in all of the contestants, but no one takes this further than Neil and his East Indian father, who set up an elaborate study system in their California home. Nuper, from Florida, is also of Indian descent. Ashley is the African-American daughter of a single mother in Washington, D.C. Ted hails from rural Missouri where only sports count, and Harry is a brilliant hyperactive kid from New Jersey.

We catch these contestants preparing like elite athletes training for the Olympics, determined and dedicated, practicing hours each day, not just memorizing words but also learning word origins and language roots.

We recognize that in the end only one contestant can become the national champion. And we hope it will be one of "ours," the ones that the documentary filmmakers chose to follow. This is not a drama, after all, where the writer can decide who wins. And when the parents and their children fly to Washington, D.C., for the competition, suspense grows.

One by one our students step forward to the microphone, hear the word, perhaps ask for a definition or clarification and then take the plunge. We become aware of the pressure they face, the confidence they do or do not display, the element of luck in their assigned word. All of ours make it through the first two rounds.

With each round tension goes up a notch and spikes in the fifth round when the bright television lights of CNN signal the beginning of live television coverage. At this point, four of ours are still in the running, and all make it to the final eight.

One by one, contestants have been hearing the feared signal that they have misspelled a word. We learn a lot about winning and losing as downcast contestants are escorted offstage to a consolation room and eventually sit down to talk about their experience. Their sometimes poignant reactions as they struggle with disappointment speak volumes. And we watch, spellbound.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

St. Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444)

Some people seem to shine at any tasks or challenges before them and to have all the gifts they need to accomplish them. Bernardine of Siena was such a man.

One of the most outstanding preachers of his day, he was called a second St. Paul. Bernardine—s words left audiences spellbound—audiences so large that they gathered in open spaces rather than the confines of a church in order to hear him call for personal change and social reform within and outside the Church. His voice, chronically hoarse and weak, could somehow reach up to 30,000 people at a time.

Born near Siena, Italy, Bernardine was orphaned by age seven. He was nurtured by extended family members who made certain he received a solid education. At age 20, when the people of Siena were suffering from a terrible plague, he nursed the dying for several months. He entered the Franciscan Order at 22. Following his ordination he spent many years in prayer and solitude. That rich period prepared him for the rigorous life of preaching and travel (typically on foot) that lay before him.

Bernardine was persuasive and witty, insightful and intuitive, humble and holy. He led others to his devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus by devising a symbol—IHS, the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek—in Gothic letters and surrounded by rays of the sun. It soon replaced many of the superstitious symbols of the day.

Bernardine declined three requests to serve as a bishop in various parts of Italy. Instead, he served the people by modeling Jesus and by preaching the gospel. He died on the eve of the Ascension in 1444 at age 64. He was canonized by Pope Nicholas V six years later. Bernardine of Siena—s feast day is May 20.

Lillian Kennel

When Lillian Kennel closes her classroom door at St. Louis School in Batesville, Indiana, at the end of this month, it will be for the last time. After 44 years of teaching second-graders, she is retiring from a career that has enriched her and the lives of her students.

Instead of a public reception and gifts, she has asked that well-wishers help toward a scholarship fund that will enable needy youngsters to experience the benefits of a Catholic education. "I wanted to leave with something I can see," Miss Kennel told Every Day Catholic.

Of course she's left her mark on hundreds of youngsters. Although she has taught many subjects over the years, her hands-down favorite is religion, and the best part of the school year comes when preparation for First Communion begins.

"Second-graders thrive on religion," she says. Their interest is only heightened when she begins an intense eight-week preparation program for First Communion. That's when the youngsters start the official countdown to the big day.

In addition to classroom work, students create a scrapbook with their parents. All second-graders are formally introduced to the parish at a candidate Mass. They share a day of reflection with their godparents. Field trips take them to the Oldenburg Franciscan convent, where they like to tell the Sisters "what they have been doing to get ready for Jesus." They visit a local carving shop to see how altars and church furniture are made.

Miss Kennel understands the importance of the celebrations that often follow First Communions. But, she reminds her students that "the main guest that day is Jesus. I want this to be the beginning of a lifetime of devotion for them."

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