HILTON HEAD ISLAND —Fire at the Beach speakers told the faithful they have the power to transform their world.
All they have to do is focus on the Eucharist. As the central part of Mass and the core element of the faith, the sacrament also imparts a message of self-giving love and sacrifice over the selfishness and temporary pleasure that is too often part of society.
Participants at the annual conference were energized by the prospect.
Held at St. Francis by the Sea Church on Hilton Head Island Sept. 23-24, Fire at the Beach drew almost 300 people from 47 parishes, plus some out of town visitors.
Martha Fernandez-Sardina, director of the Office of Evangelization for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, offered an opening keynote speech on “Eucharist: Source and Summit.”
“God gave us Jesus on the cross, he gave Jesus in the cup, and he gives Jesus to us in the church,” she said.
“The Eucharist is the source and summit. All of the good of the church is contained in the Eucharist because it is God himself, Christ himself,” she continued. “The more we grow in holiness, the more we take part in the divine life of the church. The more we receive the Eucharist, the more we become the people of God. The Eucharist keeps the church in existence.”
Fernandez-Sardina encouraged the crowd to be sanctuary lamps to the world, showing the presence of Christ to others the same way the red lamps show the Blessed Sacrament is present in a church’s tabernacle. She said Catholics can become more effective witnesses by regularly taking part in the sacraments, reading Scripture and praying.
“We live in a time when a Eucharistic spirituality is all the more important,” she said. “We should be men and women of the liturgy, significantly affecting the fabric of this society. What we do is not just for us, but for the world … we have to be passionate about the Eucharist and passionate about love for our brothers and sisters, so that through looking at us, others may find Jesus.”
Fernandez-Sardina also offered a session for young adults on personal holiness. She said holiness could be hard to grasp in a culture awash in messages of personal gratification, sexual immorality and a lack of commitment.
“God is calling us to be holy because we are His image and likeness,” she said. “Holiness is possible. If it were impossible to control the way we think, God would not be asking it of us. It is attainable and desirable to be holy.”
Simple actions like controlling anger and avoiding gossip and lust can help people become more holy, she said. She encouraged young adults to look at members of the opposite sex as human beings created in the image of God, instead of as physical, sexual objects.
Alice Camille, a California-based author and religious educator, presented “Eucharist and Story.”
She said the power of the Eucharist is wasted if the faithful don’t use the truth of Christ’s sacrifice to reach out with love to others.
She cited recent surveys that show many Catholics do not attend Mass regularly, and said one of the reasons may be that they have either forgotten or never learned how to reach beyond themselves and join others in the communal worship of God that should be embodied in the liturgy.
“If I don’t get anything out of the Mass, I have not crossed the bridge between I and we,” she said. “Perhaps we have forgotten how to be Eucharistic people … when we come to Eucharist only to get something, without a sense of sacrifice, it’s no wonder we arrive and leave empty … the Mass can’t just be a ritual of holy nostalgia. We have to realize that right now we are the body of Christ.”
Camille said people could understand the Eucharist better and be more effective witnesses by focusing on the sacrament’s message of sacrifice, and reaching beyond personal comfort zones to address issues of poverty and injustice.
Father Jeffrey F. Kirby, vicar for vocations, offered two sessions on “The Lord’s Whisper and Our Response: Answering God’s Call in Our Daily Lives.” He said prayer is the most effective way to discern God’s call, but most Catholics still “pray as if you’re in second grade.”
The priest used stories from the Bible to show different ways God interacts with his people, and said the faithful must be prepared to encounter struggles and challenges in their prayer lives.
“God wants an adult conversation with his adult children,” he said. “If we’re not people of prayer, God can’t teach us and can’t reach us … prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours.”
Other small group workshops during the weekend centered on effective prayer, reading Scripture, changes to the English translation of the Roman Missal, ministry to young people and Hispanics, reaching out to the poor, and using social media as a way to evangelize.