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NH Eucharistic Conference 2009

I can think of no greater venue in southern New Hampshire to focus one’s attention on Christ in the Eucharist than under the Baroque cover of Ste. Marie’s church in Manchester.  Even the still in-progress installation of a marble floor for the spacious sanctuary could not distract those present from Him who in His Eucharistic Presence is the source and summit of our faith.

Following a breakfast in the hall beneath the church and a brief introduction we started the day with Exposition and Adoration.  There was, to be sure, no shortage of Latin, incense and silence throughout the day.  It is incredible just how quiet several hundred people can become, even in a cavernous and echoing church,  when Christ in all His glory is made present.  Even the pews creaked with sincerity and awe in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord.

After the Blessed Sacrament was reposed we moved to the first talk given by His Excellency Bishop Robert Hennessey, Auxiliary Bishop of Boston.  Let me say here how refreshing it was to see a Bishop in cassock and fascia.  Perhaps I am overly sensitive on this topic, but for me it was a reminder that this was a man serious about who he was and to what he had been called.  I’d been told ahead of time, both here and at the breakfast, to expect a very good presentation and Bishop Hennessey did not disappoint.  I was told later that I looked incredibly intense following him and indeed I was as I scribbled to the best of my ability in a vain attempt to keep up with the nuggets of wisdom he continually offered us.  A few choice thoughts, assuming I can read my more-messy-than-normal chicken scratch:

  • What lesson do we teach teenagers when we push them out the door on Monday and let them sleep in on Sunday?
  • Good love always involves suffering, involves sacrifice.
  • We must distinguish between being holy and being good.  We are never called to be good in the Bible, only holy.  The Church needs not merely good Bishops, but holy Bishops.
  • In the parish every activity should be focused on Holy Week – the other 51 weeks should point the people there. (Me: How often we don’t do this, trying so hard to make each week self-sufficient and self-standing.)

He also asked us to do two things for our priests, and I extend the invitation to anyone who reads this:

  • Make sure your priests pray the Liturgy of the Hours.  Help them keep up the habit for their own good, despite any and all distractions that may come.
  • Make sure your priests go on a retreat.  I believe he mentioned that they must do this at least once a year, but for priests who as a part of their office give all they have and are to others, it can be something that gets put off all too easily.

I have even more in my notes but I don’t want to give away his whole presentation as the entire day was recorded to video and I believe it will be posted sometime soon.

We followed Bishop Hennessey’s presentation with more time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  After a few minutes in silence the Magdalen College choir added a whole new layer to our Adoration with their hymns and chant.  I’ve always preferred quiet in my time before the Blessed Sacrament but their songs were so well selected and sung with such care I almost didn’t even notice when they started – it simply seemed to seep right out of the walls of the church itself.

Next came the venerable Bob and Penny Lord, looking so frail as they slowly walked in before Adoration and yet so very powerful in speech.  I found myself almost immediately more wrapt in following what they were saying that taking notes.  I have to say their ability to talk back and forth with each other, have one finish the other’s thought and the complete trust they had in each other was simply striking.  At the very beginning Bob reminded us that the family is the lifeblood of the Church, and here was an example of what a family could do for each other and for the Church if they are willing.  There is a reason, after all, the family is under such dire attack by Satan and the forces of the secular world.  As goes the family, so goes the country.

After the presentation by the Lords we broke for lunch in the newly renamed Montminy Hall, now named in honor of the priest who had been pastor of Ste. Marie’s Parish for over 20 years and recently took on a new assignment.  I spent as much time talking during this lunch as I did eating.  One thing I noticed immediately was that there wasn’t a single person who sat down to eat who didn’t say grace before enjoying the meal.  Yet another custom that had seemed to be set to the side is slowly making its way back, and none to soon in the opinion of your insufficiently humble author.

After lunch we made our way back to the Church where we started the afternoon with more time spent in Adoration.  Again we were blessed with moving melodies from the Magdalen College Choir.  It’s interesting how when you spend multiple sessions before the Blessed Sacrament in the space of the same day each is a different experience, each unique and blessed in its own way.

By this time we were unfortunately well behind our schedule.  It seems to happen at almost every conference of this size, why I do not exactly know.  Truly though, not a single person was bothered by the adjustments to the schedule.  Well, maybe the organizers were a touch stressed, but with the Eucharistic Lord again and again made present before us even those stresses seemed to be minor.

The final presentation of the night was by Dr. Hugo Poza of Ste. Marie’s Parish; originally there were to be two presentations, his and one by Sean and Marie Poza but they were unavoidably detained by work related to their business so Dr. Poza more than ably filled the available time.  His talk was on the Eucharist in the workplace – a rather curious description until you consider the closing words of the Mass, Ite Missa est. In one translation this is “Go, it is sent”, which must remind us that we must take the Eucharist and the graces thereby received out into the world.  One thinks also of the more proper translation of part of the Lord’s Prayer where we ask God to “give us this day our supersubstantial bread” – our bread for the journey.  We do not “receive and leave”, we receive Him and show Him forth to the world.

Dr. Poza’s life has been one you simply couldn’t script because nobody would believe it.  Born in Cuba his parents managed to sneak him into the United States on a temporary trip from which he has never returned.  His brilliance led him to a life of material success few of us will ever understand, only to watch it get stripped away by the greed of others.  It was then that he realized where his true center was, as so many of us need great hardship to be drawn back to the Lord.  He related how he learned in this time what it truly meant to be a leader of men and not just one who can tell them what to do.  So many things he said I simply was unable to write down, but I did capture the heart of this part of his message, his Six Principles for success:

  1. Be humble, honest and compassionate.
  2. Always take time to thank God during your work day, at least 7 times.
  3. Let your values show at every step of the way.
  4. Share your successes and remember your team members.
  5. Take time to teach and mentor.
  6. Always take time to talk and share yourself.

He also gave us three questions to ask ourselves daily:

  1. From where am I deriving my sense of strength and power?
  2. What am I willing to do to keep the Lord in my life 24×7?
  3. What do I need to do first to bring Christ to work with me?

I think if we can keep those six points and three questions before us each day we might just find new ways to show forth Christ in places we thought we couldn’t.  The Eucharist strengthens us to do just that, and we have no excuse to shirk our duty.

One other quote Dr. Poza gave us really struck me, although I don’t know that he intended at the time for it to become a sound byte.  He said, “Now is the time to let people feel the weight of who we are as Christians, and deal with it.”  I want to let that sit for just a second. …  At some point we have to be who we are, to do what we are called to do, and if people insist on finding fault remember they did so to Him first.

Following Dr. Poza’s talk there was a short time for Confession – the smart people noticed the time and made their way to the back of the church early; sadly I didn’t realize where everyone was going and was unable to get to the splendid Sacrament before Mass.  Bishop John McCormack was the celebrant, with the pastor of Ste. Marie’s Fr. Larochelle concelebrating, and music provided again by the Magdalen College choir.  There is something very special about assisting at Mass with a successor of the Apostles right after spending the entire day focused on the Eucharist.

After Mass there was a splendid catered dinner in the church hall where, again, more time was spent talking than eating.  There is nothing more fulfilling, more filling, than talking about the Lord and His Church with others who are in love with both.

To close out the night the Magdalen College choir gave a small concert in the church.  An interesting feature of the College, according to the director, is that every student sings in the choir so those singing were not just music majors or people who came to the College with finely tuned voices.  To listen to their songs however, one would simply never know.  Included in the concert were splendid pieces such as Gounoud’s Kyrie and Agnus Dei (Convent Mass), All Creatures of Our God and King, Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus, and a Moscow Chant rendition of the Alleluia.  If anyone tells you that this quality of music is too hard for average choirs, I direct them simply to this choir – they show that with effort and dedication and a little talent nothing is too hard, and the Lord will certainly lend a helping hand.  If anyone is looking for a unique small college experience I simply can’t help but recommend Magdalen College.

I drove home after the concert with the scent of incense still embedded in my clothes, the words of these great speakers playing through my mind and the melodies of the choir ringing in my ears.  A few minutes into the drive I realized I had been smiling the whole way.  How blessed, how very blessed we are to have this gift of the Church and through Her the gift of the Eucharist.  The Lord is good.

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