Msgr. James P. Shea spoke to a crowd of about 1,500 on Feb. 21 at the Brookfield Convention Center for the annual Pallium Lecture. (Photos by Joyce Paisley)
At the dawn of the national Eucharistic Revival, Msgr. James P. Shea noted the key conflict in our souls is the battle between the invisible world (heaven) and the visible world (earth).
That “cancer of the eye,” as he called it, was a central theme in his hour-long talk (“Love for the Eucharist in an Apostolic Age”) during the annual Pallium Lecture, held Tuesday, Feb. 21, at the Brookfield Conference Center.
The event drew 1,500 people, shattering the mark of approximately 700 who attended in 2022, which was considered at the time a banner event.
“We were overwhelmed with the response to the lecture this year, and were thrilled to welcome more than 1,500 people,” said Lydia LoCoco, the Director of Community Relations for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. “We are just beginning this work to cultivate Catholic culture by offering new ways to foster conversation through the Catholic intellectual tradition.”
Fostering intellectual conversation was a natural for Msgr. Shea, who became President of the University of Mary in 2009 at the age of 34 and whose short book, “From Christendom to Apostolic Mission: Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age,” provided a framework for the journey through the Eucharistic Revival.
The Eucharistic Revival, which was called for by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, began in 2022 and will run through 2025.
“There is one food that does fill us, and it fills us not only in terms of understanding our position and our direction in this world, but it fulfills us in that longing and desire in us for the next,” Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki said in his introductory comments. “That’s found for us, especially for us, in the Real Presence of the Eucharist, the food that gives life.”
Msgr. Shea said we find ourselves in a time much like the first 300 years of the Church — a new apostolic age — rather than the Christendom culture we were in prior to about 60 years ago.
“There are some moments in history when you can draw a bright line between everything that went before and everything that’s coming after,” Msgr. Shea said. “We find ourselves in such a time.”
He defined a Christendom culture as one in which Christian values, and the teachings and principles of the Gospel, serve as the foundation for the people of society. An apostolic age, he said, is when the Church and Christian principles no longer provide the fundamental infrastructure by which people live their lives and upon which the institutions of human culture are founded.
On the gravity of the times we face, Msgr. Shea quoted Pope Francis, who said, “We do not find ourselves in an age of change but in a change of the ages. We’re living in a time when there are seismic shifts for us as believers. The Lord has equipped us with everything we need — all the grace, all the wisdom, all the resources. Though we might find ourselves inadequate to the task, preach the Gospel and hand down the faith in a new time, a time which is filled with great peril, with stern challenge and epic excitement.”
The Eucharistic Revival was spurred by a 2017 Pew Research study that reported 75 percent of U.S. Catholics don’t believe in the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist — that it is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. The U.S. bishops believe this is a crisis that needs to be addressed, but Msgr. Shea said he suspects it is much higher than 75 percent.
“If the Eucharistic Revival is to light a fire in this country, it has to start with us; not all the bad people out there, but us who say that we believe (when) really we don’t live like it,” he said.
Msgr. Shea said Mass is the Lord manifesting himself in the visible world.
“As Catholics, we have access to God, to his very presence, to his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, and yet so often we act as though we don’t know it,” Msgr. Shea said. “The world wants to know it. When we go to Mass, we have a front-row seat to this great in-breaking of God into the visible world, and yet so often we act as though we do not know it. What is incredibly uncommon becomes incredibly common. What is the supernatural becomes just ordinary.”
That belief in the Real Presence and being close to Jesus is central to the Catholic faith, and we take it for granted.
“So often, God is in our presence and we don’t know it,” Msgr. Shea said. “The Catholic faith has some central teachings upon which all the rest hangs. These are teachings which, if they are not true, everything else collapses around us. Jesus is really, truly and substantially present in the Eucharist.”
Ultimately, a new age calls for bold vision and action.
“The most catastrophic thing would be for the Church to go about business as usual and continue to use the strategies that were once so effective, but won’t have an efficacy in the times in which we find ourselves,” Msgr. Shea said.
The 2024 Pallium Lecture will be held Thursday, Feb. 15, at the Brookfield Conference Center. Famed art historian Dr. Liza Lev will lead a multi-media presentation on “How Catholic Art Saved the Faith — The Triumph of Beauty and Truth.” If you would like to be placed on the mailing list to keep up with future events, email Lydia LoCoco at email@example.com.