The Conversion of America Through the Eucharist
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Does anyone doubt that America needs to be converted? When the Holy Father spoke to the youth in Denver in 1993, his urgent theme was to pray that America might not lose its soul. The soul of America is Christianity. Christianity is the principle of our national life. As our nation becomes increasingly de-christianized, it loses more and more of its source of vitality. Unless the moral disease is cured, America as the nation we still call the United States, will disappear.
But there is another, and deeper, meaning to America’s danger of losing its soul. Individuals lose their souls when they die estranged from God. There is such a thing as a second death which means everlasting separation from God in what Christ calls eternal punishment. This is the awful prospect awaiting not just single persons but whole societies, unless they repent and return to the God from whom they have strayed by their stubborn resistance to His will.
It is remarkable what a dream world people can be living in. By all material standards, America is a prosperous country. In terms of financial wealth, the United States is the envy of the world. We are the best fed, most expensively clothed, most comfortably housed, most conveniently transported, most lavishly entertained large nation in human history.
But we are also a world leader in sin. I like St. Augustine’s definition. “Sin” he says, “is nothing else than to neglect eternal things and seek after temporal things.” In other words, the very appearance of our country in having access to so many satisfying creatures here on earth is a demonic seduction that lures people from the love of eternal things.
Where do we begin to describe the sinful state of our beloved country? A fair barometer for making an honest estimate is our media of social communications. What do they tell us in thousands of pages of print in the newspapers each day, in thousands of hours of radio and television time, seven days a week? What is the message? What else? Crime and money, sex and entertainment, sports and business—until the minds of millions of Americans are mesmerized to think of nothing else than what the media want the people to think.
I never tire quoting a single sentence statement of the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan. Says McLuhan, “The modern media of communication are engaged in a Luciferian conspiracy against the truth.” To which I answer, “Amen.”
What has been the effect of this Luciferian conspiracy? Inevitably it has led this country into such an ocean of sin that we have to go back to the worst ages of the pre-Christian Roman Empire to find anything so degraded. Murder is now legalized in the bestial dismemberment of unborn children in their mothers’ wombs.
Sodomy is widely publicized, and sodomists are engaging in a network of sex education programs aimed at destroying every vestige of chastity among the young. Contraception has developed into an exact science and adultery has become a fine art.
But the worst form of sin in America is not manifest in the crimes of lust and lechery. It is especially in the widespread neglect of prayer and the worship of God. A standard book of questions has statements like this:
- “God give me strength not to trust in God.”
- “All the errors and incompetencies of the Creator reach their climax in man.”
- “We must be greater than God for we have to undo His injustice.”
Given these statements expressed in books and monographs in our schools today, is it any wonder there is such indifference to God and His glory? Blasphemies are quoted at pleasure, but prayer in public schools is forbidden by law.
Christ the Miracle Worker in the Eucharist
As Catholics, we believe that when God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, He lived visibly on earth for only some thirty-three years.
He took on our human nature so that He might have a body and a soul that could be separated by death and that He might have a human free will to offer Himself willingly on the cross for our salvation.
But that was not all. The night before He died, He instituted a marvelous way of remaining with us, in the fullness of His humanity until the end of time.
In the Eucharist is the same identical Jesus who was carried by Mary for nine months in her womb before she delivered Him in Bethlehem. It is the selfsame Jesus who died on the cross, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.
Why is Christ here on earth in the Eucharist, in the fullness of His humanity and divinity? He is here because He wants to continue doing now in America what He had done in Palestine nineteen centuries ago.
What does He want to do? He wants to exercise His almighty power by working miracles now, in our country, as He had performed in Judea at the dawn of Christianity.
What kind of miracles do the evangelists record of the Savior in His day?
- There were physical miracles like healing the sick and the blind and even raising the dead back to life.
- There were intellectual miracles like enlightening Elizabeth to recognize Mary as the Mother of God at the Visitation.
- There were moral miracles, as when Christ converted the Samaritan woman at the well; and converted the repentant thief who was crucified with Christ on Calvary.
A moral miracle is an effect produced by God which exceeds all the native powers of the human will. The will remains free but God exercises such influence over it as enables a man to perform humanly impossible wonders of moral virtue.
Once-Christian countries like our own cannot be converted by what may be called ordinary divine grace. Only a miraculous outpouring of God’s mercy can bring so many millions estranged from Him, back to their spiritual senses and restore them to friendship with their Creator.
That is why Jesus Christ, the Savior, living in our midst in the Blessed Sacrament is the Hope on whom we must rely.
He knows, how well He knows, the ravages of sin that have penetrated our culture. Who ever speaks of sin anymore?
On his first pilgrimage to the United States, the Holy Father pleaded with the bishops to “emphasize Christ’s call to conversion.” After all, that is why He became man, to bring sinners back into friendship with God.
But no ordinary power can convert a country that in its highest judiciary and executive powers has elevated sin to the dignity of a national virtue. Nothing less than the power of the Almighty must be obtained to move the mountains of stubborn pride and lust and cruelty and deceit that have come to characterize the American culture in our day.
Where else can we obtain this elusive power to change criminals into humble servants of God? Where else, but where divine omnipotence is available to those who believe what Jesus told us two thousand years ago.
Amen, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it shall move, and nothing shall be impossible to you (Matthew 17:19).
This is the key to unlocking the infinite power of God. Faith! Faith in what? Faith in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ now on earth in the Holy Eucharist.
Why Prayer Before the Blessed Sacrament Is So Powerful
All that we have said so far was a prelude to my principal message to you in this conference. What is the message? That the single greatest need in the world today is the practice of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
How can we say this? Logically! We have seen that the conversion of our country calls for an outpouring of marvelous power from God. Christ promised to move mountains at the words of a person who believes. We conclude: there is no greater profession of faith than during prayer before the Holy Eucharist.
Why should prayer before Christ in the Eucharist be so potent in obtaining miracles of conversion? Because it is prayer that is animated by extraordinary faith.
Faith in the Incarnation. The most basic reason why prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is so meritorious is because it is prayer rising from faith in the cardinal mystery of Christianity, which is faith in the Incarnation!
When we pray before the Eucharist, we profess to believe that God took on human flesh and blood from His Virgin Mother. We profess to believe that the infinite Creator of heaven and earth humbled Himself to become a speechless Child. We profess to believe that whenever Christ spoke in human words, it was God Himself, in human form, who preached the Sermon on the Mount. We profess to believe that when Christ wept over unrepentant Jerusalem, it was God shedding human tears. We believe that when Christ bled to death on the First Good Friday, it was God shedding human blood so that we might be spared the fires of hell.
All of this we believe, as we pray before the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar or reserved in the tabernacle.
Faith in the Real Presence. Another reason why prayer before the Holy Eucharist is so effective is that we thus profess our faith in Christ’s abiding presence in our midst.
Remember what happened in Palestine when Jesus foretold His institution of the Eucharist; that He would give His own body to eat and blood to drink? Many of His own disciples left Him. “This is intolerable language,” they bitterly complained, and walked away.
There is some Latin that every self-respecting Catholic should know. Like the words of St. Thomas in his famous hymn, “Tantum Ergo.” Says Thomas, “Praestet fides supplementum sensuum defectui” (Let faith supply for the defect of the senses).
What we see looks like bread, but faith tells us that it is really a Man, the Man Jesus Christ who is the Living God in human flesh and blood.
Grace Channeled Through Humanity of Christ. There is one more reason why prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is so effective in converting sinners. It is because such prayer professes faith in Christ’s humanity as the channel of all grace to the human race.
What are we saying? We are saying that such prayer is an unspoken expression of faith in the mystery of God’s communication of grace.
All grace comes from God to us. But all grace comes from God through the humanity of Jesus Christ.
All through His visible ministry on earth, Jesus conferred His blessings as God. But He did so through His humanity as Man.
- He spoke with human lips.
- He touched with human hands.
- He told the wind to be quiet and dead persons to rise from the grave—by using His human voice.
- He assured the repentant thief on the cross that paradise would be his that very day—all this Jesus said in human words.
Recall the episode in the Gospel of St. Mark. A woman had been hemorrhaging for a dozen years and no doctor was helping her. She decided, “If only I could touch the hem of His garments, I will be cured.” So she pushed her way through the crowd, and managed to touch His clothes. She was cured at that moment. “Immediately,” St. Mark says, “Christ was aware that power had gone out from Him. So He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” When the frightened woman admitted what she had done, the Savior praised her. “My daughter,” He said, “your faith has restored you to health.”
All through the Gospels, the humanity of Christ was the instrument of great power that went out from Him to work signs and wonders never before witnessed on earth. But these signs and wonders were controversial. The condition was that Christ’s contemporaries had to believe.
The same holds true in our day. There is no miracle too great, and no miracle is greater than the conversion of sinners—provided we believe.
That is why we can say and say with complete security; the single most powerful means on earth for the conversion of America is for Catholic Americans to mobilize a crusade of prayer before the Eucharist for the conversion of our nation.