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Catholic Christians believe in the Real Presence, the Body and Blood of Jesus, in the Eucharist. We cannot ever truly understand this mystery, but we can explore its aspects of gratitude, intercession, forgiveness, praise, meditation and contemplation.

Youth Update

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A Lenten
Immersion Experience

by Chris Schell

Real Presence! The Body and Blood of Jesus! Catholic Christians have always believed this. It is one of the Church's earliest and most constant teachings. But what does it mean?———— If you're looking for answers, many attempts at explanations exist. The reality is that we'll never truly understand this profound mystery. What we can do is explore it part by part.

In this Youth Update, six of the many aspects of our eucharistic celebration are highlighted: gratitude, intercession, forgiveness, praise, meditation and contemplation. Each week of Lent, you are invited to focus on just one to increase your appreciation of its depth and importance in your life.

We Gather With Grateful Hearts

Did you know that the root word for Eucharist is Greek (eukharistia) and means thanksgiving? Every time you participate in the liturgy, you remember and realize that Jesus left you this miraculous food for your journey. Jesus promised that he would not leave you and that he would always be with you.

I'm sure you've heard the popular saying, "You are what you eat." This is most true of sharing Eucharist, in which you become a part of the Body of Christ.

You receive the body and blood of Christ, you say "Amen" (I agree) to this profound truth and then you become the extension of the body and blood of Christ in your world. You thank God for the bread of life. You thank God for the gifts you have been given. You sit in gratitude for the sacrifice of Calvary.

ACT AS BELIEVERS. This week—each morning even before your feet hit the floor—thank God for at least three things. These can be as simple as gratitude for waking up or as complex as being thankful for the strength to deal with complicated health problems or peer pressure issues. Simply be grateful.

Our kids always loved to play that car game, "What's in the Trunk in Grandma's Attic?" In round-robin fashion, each person names something in the trunk, going around in alphabetical order.

One Thanksgiving, before we ate, we took turns around the dinner table naming things we were grateful for in alphabetical order. Everyone was way too hungry to enjoy this Thanksgiving game and it was strongly recommended that next year we wait until after dinner! As this week progresses, maybe you could try this grateful game with God.


We Pray for Others and Ourselves

Intercessions are another "standard feature" at Mass. This is another word for prayers or petitions. You're asking for your needs and your wants. You pray for others, your world and yourselves.

During the eucharistic prayer, you pray for the living and the dead—all the people you hold dear. These prayers remind you that we are all connected: those who have died and those who are living now.

ACT AS A BELIEVER. Some intercessions or prayers may be for life's extras. This week's exercise is to try to distinguish between needs and wants. What is really important for your life? Each day, pray three prayers of petition, interceding (praying) for another's needs.

Wouldn't the world be a beautiful place if everyone had what he or she needed? Next time you say you want something, determine first if you really need it. Many people are trying to live simply so that others may simply live.

Another approach to intercession was given to me by a young friend who suggested a prayer journal. She loved that line from a popular hymn, "I will hold your people in my heart." It moved her to write needy people's names in it. She said she really didn't know what to pray for these people, so there were no specific prayer requests, just names.

She was just lifting them to the Lord, embracing them with love. She especially prays for those who give her the most trouble, for often they are the most troubled. You may wish to begin your own book of intercessions.


We Are Forgiven; We Forgive

During the Mass, you pray for forgiveness very early: "Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy...." Then later you pray in the Our Father, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Because you're human, forgiving is very hard to do. Because Jesus was human, you can imagine how hard it was for him, when he was dying on the cross and he said, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."

Jesus is our example in how to live, how to love and especially how to forgive. He lifted up his persecutors to God for the forgiveness of sins.

ACT AS A BELIEVER. If you have a Lenten Reconciliation service at your parish it would be an added benefit if you could attend. So much healing can happen when you realize the social aspect of your sin.

It is very hard to forgive others for the hurts you feel; it is hard to forgive yourself for turning away from God, and it is very hard to accept God's unconditional love. That's why you have the sacrament and the grace of God to help you in this quest. You can try to forgive on your own, but it's certainly not as easy.

Make a list this week of all the people with whom you have issues or add them to your journal. This is a movement beyond self, thinking about hurts and forgiving them. Maybe you can draw or scribble the hurts away. Maybe you can literally bundle them up and shred them to pieces. You could also take the big step and actually forgive them in person.

We have had many bonfires during our youth group's Advent prayer services, where we literally burn up our hurts and unsolved issues of forgiveness. We have talked much about walking away from an argument and/or writing a letter or note to clarify feelings. We always remember the Jesus prayer of forgiveness ("Father, forgive him [or her]").


All Praise to God

Awesome is an appropriate word for God. At Mass, we say aloud just how awesome God is. Outside Mass, we gather many clues.

Have you ever stared at the stars at night and wondered about the other realms of the galaxy? Did you ever admire the intricacies of the life cycle of the caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly? Have you hiked in a national park or climbed a mountain to experience the wonder of creation?

Have you ever had an encounter with someone and you just immediately connected? Have you held a tiny baby and admired her or his tiny fingers and tiny eyelashes? Have you ever been thinking about someone and then she or he called you or made some other kind of contact?

All of these and so many more are the physical manifestations of the awesomeness of God. God is so above and beyond our wildest imaginings. God is so infinite that our infinitely finite minds cannot begin to fathom the divine magnitude. Praise God, within all, above all, beyond all, around all, saturating your world.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow! You acknowledge your oneness with nature, you appreciate the beauty of your world and you cherish the diversity and the complexity of creation. Praise also keeps you humble. You realize how small you are in the whole scheme of things.

ACT AS A BELIEVER. Here are a few options for acting in praise of creation: The next time you see litter, you could pick it up and dispose of it or recycle it. Make a list this week, adding three things that astound you, or add to your journal things that amaze you. Strive to find something in your life every day for which to praise God.


Meditate on Mystery

Eucharist offers some periods of silence—after the readings and after Communion, for instance. You are invited to meditate on the Word of God and on the Real Presence of God during those times.

Meditation is a way of becoming quiet and using your imagination. A guided meditation helps your imagination become part of the process. It works best if someone reads to you and slowly stimulates your imagination.

You could, however, make a tape yourself and then play it back when you have some time to be alone with God. If neither option seems possible, read the following directions to yourself and try meditating. If you've ever shared in a guided meditation, you can tap into that experience.

Ready? Get comfortable and breathe slowly—at least three long slow inhales and exhales. Bow your head and close your eyes. Now you'll begin to relax all the parts of your body. Starting with your toes, bring your muscles to your awareness, squeeze and tighten them and then relax. Continue from your tip of your toes to the top of your head. Now go back to focusing on your breathing. Slowly inhale and exhale and breathe in the grace of God.

ACT AS A BELIEVER. Imagine you are in your family room or living room and you have sneaked down to the Christmas tree before anyone else is up. You're sitting in the quiet and staring at all the wonderful gifts and decorations. You can smell the pine scent of the tree and feel the warmth of the glow of the soft lights.

Look with wonder and appreciate all the little details. Now your eyes fall upon the manger scene in the nativity set nearby. Your attention is shifted from all the wrapped gifts to the greatest gift of all as you see Jesus in the manger.

How is it that God loves you so much? How is it that Jesus becomes one of us? Look at this tiny human baby, God incarnate, God in the flesh. And look at the poor, tired parents. Think about that contrast. Poor—God?!

Jesus is gift and you also are gift. That's the mystery of the Incarnation. Choose any kind of gift box as a symbol of you. Open it—what's inside? What is your talent? What is your gift? What is unique about you? What is special?

At St. John's, where I used to work, we presented our gifts written on pieces of paper and dropped them into a beautifully wrapped box at our prayer services.

Meditate on your gift and how your use of it will help make this world a better place. Present your gift to God, have a conversation about your uniqueness, offer yourself as gift. When you're finished, come back out of your imagination.


The Heart of Prayer

This last week of Lent is so profound. You have to stretch to the outer reaches of your understanding. Are you ready? Now you can dive even more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist.

Jesus gave you the example of self-gift. He gave himself freely all through his life, healing and teaching. At Mass, listen for these words (some weeks, the words will be different, though the idea is the same), as stated in Eucharistic Prayer II: "Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ."

This, too, is the mystery of the Eucharist. How does this happen? How does this bread and wine (this Body and Blood of Jesus) nourish you to become the hands and feet, mind and heart of Jesus in our world? How do you become food for the hungry, home for the homeless, drink for the thirsty, comfort for the sorrowing, light for the world?

It is possible with God: You do become food for others on your journey here on earth. Strengthened by spiritual nourishment, you are able to say yes to the goodness of God.

To accomplish this, you need some silence. When Jesus was praying, when he was lost in union with the divine, he was quiet.

At St. John's, we love to play the "Pin Game." Of course, the room has to have a hard floor for this to work. All would be still and quiet. There were no pens clicking, no chairs moving, no fluorescent lights buzzing. We sat in silence.

After what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only a minute, I would drop a straight pin. We brought to life the old phrase, "It was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop."

ACT AS A BELIEVER.Contemplation literally means to be pensive: to think deeply and meditate upon mystery. Sit in absolute quiet for at least six minutes. Let at least a virtual pin drop!

Psalm 46 includes this verse, "Be still and confess that I am God!" Do just that. Sit in quiet; sit in God, God who remains present in the Tabernacle, who remains present in us. The place is not as important as your state of being. Be present. Be a gift to God. Be open.

Here's the beauty of this reflection. The eucharistic minister says, "The Body of Christ!" By saying, "Amen," you agree. The bread is the Body of Christ. You are the body of Christ.

We are all in this together. As St. Paul says, when one part of the body hurts, we all hurt. Let us be about healing. Let us be about celebrating the Body of Christ.

You know how. When you were young, your parents, grandparents and teachers taught you to pray. You often say the same memorized prayer together. It's a great way to pray and a great beginning.

What we weren't always told was how to be a prayer. That's my prayer: That you can live your life in the eucharistic prayer, being grateful and thinking of others always. Your yes to God can be a contributing factor in making this world a better place for everyone.

We live as Eucharist.

A Gift of Remembering

Here's a tool to help you remember what a gift God has graced us with—Jesus. Also remember that you too are a gift back to God. You are gift as pray-er.

GRATITUDE When we start with a grateful heart, we appreciate goodness and thank God for so many blessings.

INTERCESSION We can pray for others and ourselves, for both needs and wants. Lift them to the Lord. There is power in prayer.

FORGIVENESS We come with humble hearts and in need of forgiveness. We ask for healing for others and ourselves.

TO GOD BE THE GLORY We lift our prayer of praise, our offering in humility, realizing the awesomeness of God and our littleness.



You say all Catholic Christians believe in the Real Presence. Not all teenagers realize this. Did the Church always believe this? Has that belief changed at all?


From the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of Jesus at the Pentecost event, the apostles and disciples were empowered to preach, teach and heal. The Acts of the Apostles tells us of this early Church and how they gathered in each others' homes to break bread together and celebrate the presence of Jesus still with them. This is the eucharistic liturgy we celebrate together.


You say we need some "alone time." When I try, someone in my family always interrupts. What can I do?


What a wonderful opportunity to be an example to your family. You could, of course, negotiate at a family meeting for the entire family to pray together or have quiet time in the house. If that doesn't work, just by expressing your need for quiet time you raise everyone's awareness. My daughter once put a little sign on her door that she didn't want to be disturbed.


I know you've said here how I can "live as Eucharist." But tell me again: How can I really make this happen?


Jesus gave us the best outline for how to live with the Beatitudes: attitudes for be-ing, how to be in this world. We are called to community, to be in communion, to really care for and share with our poor brothers and sisters. I love the saying attributed to St. Francis, "Preach the gospel always and, when necessary, use words." I believe that is living the Eucharist.


Chris Schell, director of religious education at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Cincinnati, Ohio, for 10 years, was also parish youth minister for seven of those 10 and was on the core team of TACKLE, an urban plunge into social-justice issues.

Andrew Cordonnier (17), Kimberly Goubeaux (18), Katy Luthman (16) and Krista Paulus (17), all from St. Remy Parish in Russia, Ohio, met last fall to review this issue and ask questions over pizza. Carl Gebret, youth minister, issued the invitation.

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