By KATHRYN BYRNE, Special To The Bulletin | Published June 6, 2013
COLLEGE PARK—Why am I here? Do I have value? Who am I? Am I alone? Where am I going?
Msgr. Glenn Nelson, presenter for the American Sign Language track at the 2013 Eucharistic Congress, gracefully tackled deep questions such as these for the 25 participants of the track, about half of whom were deaf.
The ASL track began with a visit from Bishop David P. Talley, who brought in the Blessed Sacrament for a brief time of adoration by the deaf and hearing participants.
“In the silence of God’s love, our hearts thirst for your love,” the bishop prayed. His prayers were interpreted in ASL so all could understand. In closing he sang a beautiful rendition of the song, “May the heart of Jesus in the most Blessed Sacrament be praised, adored and loved … to the end of time.”
Msgr. Nelson had passed around large white kerchiefs for all of the participants, and showed everyone how to wave them as a sign of their love for Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. He later explained that he had seen this custom in France, viewing a “sea of waving kerchiefs,” and had felt that it would be a perfect visual for deaf people.
Prior to Msgr. Nelson’s presentation, Kathy Daykin, coordinator of deaf services for the archdiocese, introduced Maggie Rousseau, the new archdiocesan director of the Disabilities Ministry.
Daykin, a member of Transfiguration Church, Marietta, which is a hub for deaf Catholics in the archdiocese, has been preparing for this year’s ASL track for many months, lining up numerous interpreters for the morning session as well as the closing Mass, and taking care of the intricate details involved with the track.
Msgr. Nelson began his presentation with an explanation of the Year of Faith, which began Oct. 11, 2012, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. The Year of Faith will end on the last Sunday of the church year, Nov. 24, the feast of Christ the King. The ASL track participants were encouraged by him to listen to the Church and to seek out their life’s meaning through their own personal faith.
“There are 168 hours in one week,” signed Msgr. Nelson. “What do you do with your time?” With a pie chart on his PowerPoint visual, he pointed out that people spend about 32 percent of their time sleeping and 24 percent working. “That’s 56 percent of your life so far!” he exclaimed.
He went on to explain that for most people, about 11 percent of their time is taken with eating, 13 percent with watching TV, 10 percent with chores such as cleaning and laundry, 9 percent traveling and 2 percent exercising.
“So when do you pray?” he asked. “God and the Church ask us for one hour of prayer per week,” he said, referring to Sunday Mass. “Yet that one hour encompasses everything else that we do. Jesus is always with us.”
Msgr. Nelson went on to explain that people are slaves to anger, gluttony, lies, drugs, gossip, lust and greed. People become encumbered by all of these things.
“But the good news is, Jesus forgives us, cleanses us and saves us with his blood—the blood of the Lamb,” he said.
He encouraged those present, “It all starts with the Eucharist. The Eucharist gives us a relationship with God. We need to learn to open our hearts to that relationship.”
As an aside, Msgr. Nelson spoke of his visit to Greece and said that any time the Greek word for “Eucharist” was spoken there, it was accompanied by the ASL sign for “thanks.”
“The Greek word, eucharistia, means ‘giving thanks,’” he explained. “Our (ASL) sign is very appropriate.”
Giving the ASL track participants an enlightening teaching on the Eucharist, Msgr. Nelson explained the many titles given to the Eucharist: Blessed Sacrament, holy Communion, Mass and Holy Sacrifice.
Drawing from verses in John’s Gospel, chapter 6, he mentioned that Jesus’ words on eating his body and drinking his blood were difficult for the Jews to accept.
“In John 6:66, we see that some of the disciples turned away,” he stated. “But we aren’t 666 people! We are 667 people!”
In John 6:67, Jesus asked those remaining what they were going to do. They chose to stay.
To explain the term Holy Sacrifice, Msgr. Nelson stated that the Eucharist is not a “representation” of Jesus’ body and blood. Rather it is “re-presentation.”
He said, “Our Catholic Mass is the same real sacrifice (of Jesus) for the forgiveness of sins. For that to happen we need the actual sacrifice, Jesus himself. That is why we believe that the bread and wine become the actual Body and Blood of Jesus.”
Msgr. Nelson’s tender love for Mary became obvious as he gently explained numerous aspects of devotion to Mary.
“Mary didn’t need to be present at the Last Supper,” he said. “She had already had her first Communion. She was the first to have God inside of her.”
“When people see me in my clerics, they ask, ‘Are you Catholic? Do you worship Mary?’”
He said he explains to them that he loves and honors Mary but worships God alone.
To open the participants’ eyes to the goodness of Mary, Msgr. Nelson explained why she is sometimes called the “Ark of the Covenant.”
He explained that in the Book of Numbers, the original Ark of the Covenant contained three elements: the Ten Commandments, the staff of Aaron, signifying Aaron’s priestly power, and manna, the bread from heaven. As the “Ark of the New Covenant,” Mary carried Jesus, the fulfillment of each of these, as the Word of God, the eternal high priest, and the Bread of Life.
Showing attributes of Mary on the screen, Msgr. Nelson explained that she is courageous, faithful, prayerful and joyful. She took care of Jesus, and she takes care of people now.
He said, “In all of her apparitions, Mary asks us to convert our hearts and pray constantly.” Msgr. Nelson invited all who were participating to reflect on Mary’s roles in their own lives and to recognize that Mary can be a role model for their everyday lives and faith.
Msgr. Nelson is not new to this track of Atlanta’s Eucharistic Congress. He was the main speaker for the track at the 2006 congress, sharing about the beauty and power of the Mass. While he has most recently served as the vice president of the National Catholic Office for the Deaf, representing Region IV, the Great Lakes Region, just after the congress he was named the new president of the NCOD. He has served deaf Catholics in Rockford, Ill., as a priest for the last 18 years. He is also vicar general of the Rockford Diocese.