‘Stay close to the fire’ kindled by the consecration, bishop tells Minnesota Eucharistic Congress

By Deacon Kyle Eller

BEMIDJI, Minn. (OSV News) — “I think one of the best bits of spiritual advice I could give to everyone here is: Stay close to the fire,” Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester told more than 3,000 Catholics gathered at the Sanford Center in Bemidji May 17. “Stay close. Stay close to the light and to the fire.”

Bishop Barron gave the opening keynote address at the two-day Star of the North Eucharistic Congress, hosted jointly by the Diocese of Crookston and the Diocese of Duluth May 17-18.

The event brought people from all over Minnesota and neighboring states, and from as far away as Texas and California, as well as from Canada. A dozen bishops, more than 100 priests and deacons, and people from several religious communities were among them.

Bishop Barron was drawing from a “beautiful image” given by St. Thomas Aquinas, who said that when the words of consecration are said in the Mass, “it’s as though a great fire has been kindled in a new place.”

Particularly in the practice of Eucharistic adoration, he said, people can remain “close to the fire,” which he described as light and warmth in a dark and cold world. He added that it’s a practice he got from his students years ago when he was teaching at Mundelein Seminary, who had learned it watching Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen on EWTN.

Archbishop Sheen, he noted, had always recommended that priests make a daily Holy Hour. “I watched my own students doing this practice of the Holy Hour until I began doing it and found it to be of enormous spiritual power,” he said. “I hope it’s essential to this Eucharistic Revival that we pick up Sheen’s recommendation.”

Following his talk was a Holy Hour, led by Duluth Bishop Daniel J. Felton, who offered short, guided meditations inviting people to open their hearts to Jesus in the places where they needed healing or lacked trust.

Bishop Barron and Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of Crookston have both played important roles in the National Eucharistic Revival. Bishop Cozzens, welcoming participants to the event alongside Bishop Felton, said he was tasked by the U.S. bishops with leading the Eucharistic Revival, but it was originally Bishop Barron’s idea.

However, Bishop Cozzens, who chairs the board of the National Eucharistic Congress Inc., said it was his “crazy idea” to process the Blessed Sacrament across the whole country, starting from east and west and south and north.

That’s how an outdoor Pentecost Mass May 19 in Itasca State Park at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, at the close of the Eucharistic Congress, was chosen as the start of the Marian Route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage.

“Beginning with the Star of the North Eucharistic Congress, we will be traveling many roads, as we walk with Jesus to Indianapolis and the National Eucharistic Congress, like the disciples who walked the road with Jesus to Emmaus,” Bishop Felton said.

The two-day event highlighted some of the strong faith leaders in Minnesota. In addition to the opening keynote by Bishop Barron, the closing keynote was by Father Mike Schmitz, a priest of the Duluth Diocese, who has gained a national following for, among other things, his popular “The Bible in a Year” and “The Catechism in a Year” podcasts and his YouTube videos for Ascension.

Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis was the principal celebrant at Mass on the second day of the congress, and in his homily, he said, “It’s clear to me that there are magnificent things going on in Minnesota. I’m very, very proud to be able to tell people that I’m from Minnesota.”

He said that on a plane trip earlier in the week he had been asked where he was from, and when he was identified as a priest from Minnesota, the first question was “Do you know Father Mike Schmitz?”

He said it’s “about 50-50” between those who ask if he knows Father Schmitz and those who ask if he knows Bishop Barron.

Another speaker, Dominican Sister Jude Andrew Link, who traveled to the congress from Oregon, shared a similar experience, noting that when she told her students — high school juniors — that she was speaking at the same conference as Father Schmitz, her “street cred” went “way up.”

Bishop Cozzens, in a May 18 address, spoke of a walk to McDonald’s the weekend prior to the congress, where he encountered a group of young people.

“I was trying not to judge those young people, and I was actually even trying to be friendly to them,” he said. “But it was clear to me, by their dress, by their language, by the way that they were acting, that they were not young people who value a relationship with Jesus, And of course, none of us would have expected that McDonald’s in Crookston would be filled with young people who value a relationship with Jesus on a Friday night.”

He said as he was praying the next day, that truth sat heavily on him, to the point he could still see their faces.

“And I could see, actually, the emptiness that was beneath their humor, their way of being,” he said. “And I knew that the Lord wanted more for them. In fact, I was praying for them that they would be able to be healed and come to know the Lord.”

He said the Star of the North Eucharistic Congress, with thousands of people wanting their “hearts to be temples of Jesus,” was important for that.

He said Minnesotans know how to build campfires, starting small and building them up. “And that became, for me, an image of what God wants to do,” Bishop Cozzens said. “He wants to start a fire, but not just a small fire, a bonfire, right? And that fire begins with a small fire,” like the few thousand people gathered in Bemidji.

He said that the Eucharist makes present the Paschal Mystery: the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. “Why does God do that?” he asked. “Why does God make his Paschal Mystery present? So that you and I can live it. So that you and I can live from it, and participate in it.”

He said Jesus wants it to be the meaning of our lives, and particularly a way to transform our suffering, uniting it to Jesus’ own, so that it can become part of the redemption of the world.

He said the young people at McDonald’s suffer, and Jesus wants to heal and redeem them, perhaps because someone like those attending the congress will befriend them, which can only work if the Holy Spirit is already working in their hearts.

“The only way that will happen is if someone like you is willing to suffer for them,” he said.

Father Schmitz, delivering his remarks via video due to what he described as an “emergent surgery” on his back, spoke about the passage in Luke’s Gospel of the Road to Emmaus, where two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem after the death of Jesus and he joins them, but they did not recognize him until be blessed and broke bread with them — an encounter with the Eucharist.

Father Schmitz highlighted a detail from the Bible passage, noting that the disciples had already heard Jesus was alive, but they were still walking away, perhaps unable to imagine that Jesus would redeem Israel through his suffering, death, and resurrection, offering only a kind of “conditional” faith based on their expectations.

But when they recognized him, they immediately went back to Jerusalem to bear witness. “The road from Emmaus is just as important, if not more important, than the road to Emmaus,” Father Schmitz said.

He offered that as an encouragement to those at the congress.

“Too often we go back to who we were before,” he said. “There’s no time to waste. … All we can do is tell people what we have heard and what we have seen. You have joy to share, you have a hope to share, you have a message to share. To not share it would be a disaster.”

“I just can’t believe the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that’s been here,” said Foy Cox, who traveled from Grand Forks, North Dakota. “Everybody — the rosary outside for life, Bishop Barron last night, the adoration, the confession. Everything has just been magnificent and the Spirit has poured out. You can just see the smiles on the people’s faces. It’s radiating.”

The sight of so many people living their faith was a highlight for others.

“The biggest joy is seeing all the people and the excitement about their faith,” said Diana Moravitz, from Virginia, Minnesota. “I’m kind of just in awe of that, hoping that each person will be able to go out in their areas and communities and be able to bring Christ to them in a new, exciting way.”

Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross, newspaper of the Diocese of Duluth.

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