SMITHFIELD — On Saturday, March 18, the Diocese of Providence’s Office of Faith Formation held its annual Faith Formation Convocation at Bryant University, with the theme “This Is My Body Given For You,” and centering on the role of the Eucharist in the life of the believer.
The yearly event is directed at helping religion teachers, catechists, and others who participate in various educational and pastoral roles in parishes.
The keynote address was delivered by Catholic apologist, writer and public speaker Steve Ray. A convert to Catholicism from the Baptist Church, Ray has frequently noted that a large portion of his conversion experience was motivated by his attempt to come to terms with the Biblical view on the nature of worship.
Ray has written many books on a variety of theological topics, including a defense of the traditional Catholic view on the Papacy, an analysis of the Creeds, and several Biblical commentaries. He has also done work with Catholic Answers, and frequently organizes pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
The day’s events began at 8:30 a.m., with Mass being held at the Chace Wellness Center. Bishop Richard G. Henning was the celebrant and homilist.
Bishop Henning’s homily focused on the reality of how God’s mercy is capable of bringing individuals closer to Christ and rebuilding communities even in the midst of hardship, and that this reality is something that clergy, religion teachers and catechists in particular must keep in mind.
“You and I, in the work that we do in proclaiming the Gospel and striving to teach and form young people in the faith, we may find ourselves some days feeling like we live amidst the ruins. … We see how many of our brothers and sisters, who we love, are uninterested in the faith,” Bishop Henning preached, going on to note, “God will always bring life. Our job is to discern where that life of God is being planted, and to work towards it, even if we may not see immediate results.”
Steve Ray’s talk, titled “Defending the Eucharist,” was a lively and energetic presentation featuring his retelling the story of how he and his wife came to accept the Catholic view on the Eucharist.
“We thought we knew the Bible alone, and everything we took from the Bible. But little did I know that everything I read came from my Baptist tradition,” Ray said. “Every time I read the Bible, I [would] tell you I read the Bible alone, but I wasn’t. I was reading the Bible from the lens of a tradition, and that tradition overrode, actually, the words of the Bible.”
Ray explained what was at stake in properly understanding the Biblical view on the Eucharist. Speaking of his experience with the theology and practice of the Eucharist in the Baptist Church, Ray said, “For me, this whole idea of the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ was so foreign that I used to call it a ‘cookie Christ.’”
Yet, Ray continued, “But I realized in our conversion that there were only two real possibilities, and there is not a lot of wiggle room in between. It either is the Body and Blood of Christ, or it’s crackers and grape juice. And if it is just crackers and grape juice, we are going to be guilty some day of idolatry and stupidity. But if it is the Body and Blood of Christ, and I make fun of it and call it a ‘cookie Christ,’ I’m going to be in big trouble before God.”
Ray went on to assert that the way to properly understand what Scripture teaches on the Eucharist is through “a Jewish lens” and “a Catholic lens,” that is to say, we must contextualize Scripture within the setting of Ancient Israelite religion, and see how the teachings of Christ and the early Church fulfill what God started among the people of Israel, noting how the teachings of Jesus and the earliest Christians inevitably developed into the modern-day teachings of the Catholic Church.
Over the course of his keynote, Ray went through a series of Biblical verses which showed that the concept of sacrifice was central to the nature of worship. He also went through a series of New Testament verses concerning the Eucharist in order to demonstrate that the implications of such verses inevitably lead to a belief in the Real Presence and transubstantiation and provided a critique of the traditional Protestant interpretations of such texts.
After Ray’s lecture was a brief break, in which attendees could browse a series of vendors selling books, devotional objects, and representing various Catholic schools, ministries and institutions.
Ray then began his second lecture, in which he focused specifically on the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. During this lecture, Ray pointed how the Catholic Church sees the Eucharist as more than simply a memorial of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, but as an actual participation in and re-presentation of Christ’s once and for all Sacrifice on Calvary.
He then analyzed a series of verses from Scripture and quotes from the early Church Fathers which affirmed the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. Also during this time, a series of both Spanish and English language lectures were offered which focused on a variety of different theological and spiritual aspects related to the Eucharist, ways in which the laity could have increased participation in the Eucharist, and explaining ways in which catechists and religion teachers could better explain the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist.
Lunch was also served for those in attendance, and Confession was offered throughout the day. The days’ events ended with Eucharistic Adoration.
Event organizers estimated that there were more than 500 people in attendance, including not only faithful from the Diocese of Providence, but also faithful from Massachusetts and Connecticut, as well as roughly 100 people who helped to organize, plan, and assist with the event.
Many of those present spoke of the profound impact the days’ events had on them.
“Today is a beautiful day when we come to reflect on our faith,” said Father Lazarus Onuh.
He said that the convocation provides the faithful with an opportunity to “reflect on the mission that we have as a Church to go and evangelize, to go and make disciples of all nations, to go and bring others to the faith, and take the faith to others.”
“I think the biggest lesson is the emphasis on the Eucharist, that Jesus calls us to the altar. Jesus is really present, Jesus is not symbolically present in the Eucharist,” Father Onuh said, noting how this was something articulated in a particularly powerful manner by Steve Ray. “It reminded me, of course, of a lot of things I learned in the seminary, but very importantly the challenge of how to utilize it today,” going on to note that Ray “made the message of Christ alive.”
Father Onuh, a native of Nigeria, is currently the administrator of Holy Name Parish in Providence.
Many of the attendees praised Ray’s presentations.
“He’s so inspiring and humbling,” said Rick Parent, a catechist at Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in West Warwick, noting how Ray’s lectures motivate one to reflect more deeply on the extent to which one properly understands and adheres to the traditional teachings of the Church.
For some, this was their first time at the Faith Formation Convocation. Such was the case with Juan Otero of St. Joseph’s Parish in Cumberland.
Otero, who only recently began his journey as a catechist at his parish, hoped to gain more skills concerning how to better communicate the faith.
“This is my first time going to the convocation. I hope to get some basics on how to be a better catechist,” he said.