In the early 1980s, a trio of Blessed Sacrament religious arrived at Saint Joseph’s Church in downtown San Antonio to begin a new foundation. Their mandate was clear: to establish a Eucharistic center (shrine) in the heart of the city’s burgeoning convention and tourism district. The church, built by German immigrants as a witness of faith 150 years ago, is near the famed Alamo, one of a string of Spanish missions in the area later celebrated in Texas folklore as the site of the epic battle-to-death by patriots during the 1836 revolt against Mexican rule.
I knew these priests well, having lived with one or other of them at various points during initial formation. They were pastoral men and outstanding preachers and liturgists.
One of the things they quickly discovered on arriving at Saint Joseph’s was that they could not “compartmentalize” their ministry and attend only to people’s spiritual needs when the surrounding streets were filled with the chronically hungry and homeless. So, they reached out to ecumenical agencies and civic organizations, and called forth the goodness and generosity of the parishioners, to meet the material and spiritual needs of the poor.
There was good precedent for this in the history of our order. In 1856, when Peter Julian Eymard was hoping to found a new religious congregation dedicated to the Eucharist in Paris, he was challenged by the city’s archbishop, Marie-Dominique Sibour, to care for the growing population of young people who labored at menial jobs and sold scraps of paper and rags to survive. Eymard responded that his religious would not only promote the cult of the Eucharist but also serve such needs. Thus was born the first “work” of the new Society of the Most Blessed Sacrament — the evangelization of the “ragpickers” and their preparation for First Communion.
Besides readying them for Communion, Eymard and his companions fed and clothed these bands of youth and gave them a sense of belonging and dignity in an urban environment that previously only tolerated their existence.
I believe that any priest or deacon or lay minister who has been “salted” with the fire of Holy Spirit — a favorite expression of the late scripture scholar Eugene LaVerdiere, SSS — understands that the Church must serve the full range of human needs, not simply the spiritual, especially when people are hungry, hurting, and overlooked by society and its institutions.
Saint Peter Julian Eymard was equally at home in the sanctuary and in the streets, celebrating the liturgy of each. His grasp of the Eucharist compelled him to do both. He proclaimed the mystery of Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament, deepened his awareness of it in prayer, and served the needs of the body of Christ, the Church, with compassion and care.
In This Issue
The summer issue of Emmanuel focuses every year on the social dimension of the Gospel. Richard Gribble, CSC’s article offers insights into what it means to live counterculturally, in imitation of the prophets and Jesus. Next, I suggest you read Victor Parachin’s essay on Dom Helder Càmara, a prophetic figure of the Church in Brazil, and Peter Riga’s short reflection, “Poor at Heart.” You will also find articles commemorating two August anniversaries: the 150th anniversary of the death of Saint Peter Julian Eymard (August 1) and the 40th anniversary of the passing of Pope Paul VI (August 6). There is “A Poetry Retreat” for your meditation and prayer; also scripture reflections by Emmanuel’s former editor Paul Bernier, SSS. Enjoy!