By JAYNA HOFFACKER | Published August 6, 2021
The Eucharist is not solely an end in itself, nor is it a reward for faithfulness or orthodoxy. As the source of our faith, it is a beginning, a starting line for the life we lead after the dismissal at Mass. Like the source of a river, the Eucharist is intended to inspire in us a dynamic, incarnational faith that flows and develops into a life lived for and with others.
This incarnational faith demands that we recognize the face of Christ in everyone and most especially in our poor and marginalized brothers and sisters wherever and whoever they may be. Having received Communion, we are drawn into union with Christ, who calls us to encounter the world as he did by going to the margins and committing ourselves to solidarity with everyone we find there.
“The Eucharist,” the Catechism teaches, “commits us to the poor.” If we do not recognize the face of Christ in everyone around us, then we cannot truly recognize his Real Presence in the Eucharist. As St. John Chrysostom challenges us: “You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother … God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become more merciful.”
The centrality of this commitment is spelled out clearly in Scripture.
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27). The truest expression of our faith is to care for the defenseless and the oppressed. We also cannot seek to only bandage wounds with acts of charity; we must look for and address the root causes that create the conditions for violence, for racism, for poverty, for hunger, for environmental degradation, for any lack of respect shown to the dignity and life of every human being.
In short, we must strive for justice as a requirement of our Christian identity. At a fundamental level, this is the work of justice: promoting and living in right relationship with God, with all of humanity and with the planet itself. We can conceptualize injustice, then, in terms of a rupture in a relationship that creates ripples throughout the whole network of relationships within which we exist.
We work for justice not for ourselves and our own security, however. We are all answerable to and responsible for each other. Like the Good Samaritan, we must not allow injustice and suffering to persist. Pope Francis writes in his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” “We cannot be indifferent to suffering; we cannot allow anyone to go through life an outcast. Instead, we should feel indignant, challenged to emerge from our comfortable isolation and to be changed by our contact with human suffering. That is the meaning of dignity.”
The pursuit of justice is guided by efforts that promote encounter, accompaniment, inclusion and empowerment. To go to the margins and commit to the poor is not simply to commit to check writing and well digging. It is to commit to truly encountering the marginalized, listening to and taking direction from their experiences and wisdom. As with any relationship, justice is not something to be imposed through sheer force of will and nor will it be achieved through passive engagement. It is sought through dynamic interaction and openness to the other.
This is precisely the manner in which we should approach the Eucharist—not with a selfish desire to receive our reward, but with a spirit of generosity and willingness to commit to radical solidarity with the poor and marginalized. It is only through this commitment that the true purpose of the Eucharist is actualized, manifesting itself through us–the hands and feet of Christ–as a visible sign of mercy, of charity and of justice.
Jayna Hoffacker is associate director of Justice and Peace Ministries of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Archbishop Hartmayer recently called for period of eucharistic renewal in the archdiocese.