“The Eucharist puts the work of social justice at the core of the mission that is ours as the church.” This comment from Charlotte Joy Martin is not a bad summary of a fine lecture offered yesterday afternoon here on the campus of Saint John’s University.
Dr. Martin is a visiting scholar at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. The title of her talk was “Liturgy as the Heart of John Paul II’s Social Encyclicals.” It was difficult for me to fit attending it into everything else going on in my day, but when it was over, I was glad I did.
Martin opened her lecture by explaining how a close study, at the age of 16, of Pope John Paul II’s 1979 speech to the United Nations General Assembly transformed her awareness of the world and her place in it. She went on to offer a wonderful summary of the close connections between the church’s understanding and celebration of the Eucharist and its social teachings (as expressed by JP2). This same connection is exemplified very well, as she pointed out, in the work of Virgil Michel, OSB, a titan of the early liturgical movement in the United States (and the founder of the publishing house by which I am employed).
“Some Christians,” she said, “look at the Eucharist as the last place we’d want to be distracted by concerns about wages, wars, and social structures. But Christians who think like this had better think again, at least if they want to keep up with the thinking of John Paul II…. The Eucharist makes it the business of the church to concern itself with the entire lived reality of each and every human being.”
Another bracing statement she made that I found myself pondering afterwards: “Christians do not think like Americans, leaving American Christians often pretty dizzy … and challenged.”