Tim Glemkowski often wonders: why me?
Today, Glemkowski is the executive director of the National Eucharistic Congress and a Catholic author and speaker, working to spread the understanding of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ multi-year National Eucharistic Revival.
But, as he shared with parish leaders from across southeastern Wisconsin in his keynote address at the Eucharistic Revival Day of Planning for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Oct. 22, that life and vocation activated by faith was not always something Glemkowski envisioned as his future.
Like a lot of his fellow millennials, in his adolescence he seemed destined to become “one of the nones,” or someone who does not profess any particular religion.
“I was just not interested,” he said of the faith in which his parents had raised him.
But that changed when, at age 18, Glemkowski had a profound encounter with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament during adoration at a youth conference. “It changed everything for me,” he said. Instead of an antiquated philosophy or a laundry list of arbitrary rules, he began to see faith in Christ as a relationship, one that “filled my life with joy.”
“I found there was a beating heart to this faith I had grown up in, and it was changing me, it was transforming me,” he said.
But there were so many of his generation — even those who attended the same parish, the same schools, the same classes — who never “discovered this relationship,” said Glemkowski.
“There’s an incredible number of us (millennials) fallen away from the faith. It’s not just young people anymore — we’re adults with families and kids,” he said. “People leave (the faith) and they don’t come back.”
And among those who do stay, an alarmingly low number report a comprehensive understanding of the most essential teaching of the Catholic faith: that Jesus Christ is really and truly present in the Eucharist.
What these statistics reveal, explained Glemkowski, is not just a crisis of faith or a crisis of catechesis, but a crisis of identity — a lack of understanding of who we are as a Christian people.
“Our mission in life flows from who we are and from our identity,” Glemkowski said. “We know what we’re supposed to do when we know who we are. And we are a Church that in so many ways has lost our story and lost the ability to tell that compellingly to the world, to present compellingly to the world a vision for why we exist outside of just an outdated moral system or an antiquated philosophical tradition that doesn’t make sense — all of the things people believe we are.”
Noting that there can be a tendency to view proposals such as the Eucharistic Revival as “just the latest ecclesial initiative,” Glemkowski urged the parish leaders to be mindful of the meaning of the term revival. Far from being just a year of activities planned by the bishops to combat encroaching cultural irrelevance, a revival “is a sovereign act of God in response to sincere and prevailing prayer on the part of his people” — and it is something needed by even the most devout.
“A revival is not something that we do. A revival is something that God does, cooperating with us in our efforts,” he said. “I believe very much in what the Church teaches. And I am in desperate need of Eucharistic revival.”
Echoing the words of Pope Francis in noting that “Christendom is dead … (the world lacks) that dominant imaginative vision … that is rooted in the Gospel,” Glemkowski asserted that “the Church is required in that context to adopt a fundamentally missionary stance to her entire life.”
“If Jesus Christ today, as he was yesterday, is still the answer to every question in the human heart … then we as a Church need to learn again how to invite people into that relationship,” he said.
But in order to do so, we need to be fully transformed by that relationship ourselves, he said.
“We tell people about the what (we believe), and we really struggle sometimes to tell them why. Why any of this matters at all,” he said.
The Eucharist is the answer, he explained. The Eucharist is the why, the how and the who.
“In order to extend (Christ’s) mission to every time and every place after he dies and rises from the dead, he sends a Church. With every possible and available option, God sends a Church, because he wants to save us from sin and death, and fill us again with life,” Glemkowski said.
John Paul II, Mother Theresa and all the great saints of history “were not just slightly more well-behaved people.”
“They were transformed,” he said. And to be transformed “takes the surrender of your entire life.”
“Every surrender we give to God, he wants to give back infinitely more, and the way he wants to give us more, the place (where) that life in the full is poured out into our lives is directly through the Eucharist,” he said. “That’s where he’s with us (until) the end of time. That’s where the love relationship that we were made for in Eden, that’s where the answer to every question and longing of our hearts, that’s what the human heart is uniquely wired for — the Eucharist.”
“Brothers and sisters, the world is hurting,” he concluded. “And the Church which has been sent to address the hurts of the world is hurting. You don’t need me to tell you that the events of the last handful of years have left us wounded; if it’s going to be possible that the Church will maintain the ability to provide a credible witness to the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and is with us still to this day, it’s going to be because we allow the Eucharist to transform us.”