“It’s Jesus,” emphasized Bishop Robert McClory in a straightforward manner during his talk on “The Eucharist: The Source and Summit of our Christian Life.” It’s the source because it’s Jesus, who’s the source of our salvation. It’s the summit because there’s no greater gift,” explained Bishop McClory.

      The bishop’s talk, held June 30, was part of the three-part Theology in the Park series on the Eucharist. The series was sponsored by LaPorte’s Holy Family Parish Hospitality and Evangelization Committee. The noontime programs were held at Kesling Park in LaPorte, where participants could gather for a picnic prior to the talks. Rain forced the bishop’s talk indoors at Sacred Heart church. Sean Martin, director of Evangelization, Catechesis and Family Life for the Diocese of Gary, opened the series on June 16, with his talk on “Scriptural Evidence for the Real Presence.” Sister Joan Roeder, Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, finished the series on July 14, with her presentation on “Saints with a Special Devotion to the Eucharist.”

      Bishop McClory alerted the group that the gospel readings begin Jesus' Bread of Life Discourse July 25. The bishop explained how Jesus, in chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, identifies His flesh as the bread “so when we receive what is under the appearance of bread, Jesus is giving His very self…so that we can have life.”

      The bishop reminded the group how “we are asked to believe through the eyes of faith that following Eucharistic prayer what continues to appear to be bread and wine in fact becomes the body and blood of Jesus. It still looks, tastes and smells like bread and wine, but through the eyes of faith we know it’s become the Body and Blood of Jesus. What an extraordinary and remarkable gift the Eucharist is. That our Lord Jesus wants us spiritually fed.”

      Bishop McClory commended the group for the timing of the series, as most are coming out of a period of separation from Mass due to the pandemic. He emphasized “it would be a real sadness if people would begin to think you can truly experience the Eucharist virtually. The Eucharist and all the Sacraments cannot be mediated through Zoom, Facebook Live, or Skype. We receive the Body and Blood of Jesus in church, or in some instance the homebound.”

      Jennifer Feeney, one of the organizers, said the group realized the pandemic may have led to people getting too comfortable with online Masses or may have lost the deeper meaning of attending Mass. Theology in the Park is “a different way we could draw people back to the importance and the meaning in the Eucharist while also reaching other people we may not have normally reached.” 

      George Mearns was one of those they reached. Mearns recalled growing up as a Catholic, attending church with his mom every Sunday “because that’s what we were expected to do.” As an adult and active in various ministries, including lector, usher, sacristan, and Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, Mearns stated he “felt a thirst for deeper information about the Mass and the Church” which has grown more and more.

      The mix of fellowship and learning more about the Eucharist in an outdoor venue was a perfect setting “to ponder the mysteries of God which nourishes and feeds us,” according to Martin. “Since we’ve had a lack of going to Mass and receiving the Holy Eucharist to really nourish our faith and understanding, it’s really important to talk about.”

      Martin connected the dots between the Old and New Testaments which point to the Eucharist. In regard to the Holy Eucharist Martin said, “within the Old Testament we can see some clues, hints, and meanings within some of these persons, places and things. Everything has deeper meaning.”

      Martin explained how, in the first chapter in Genesis, God offered Adam and Eve food in the garden, and they may eat freely, with one exception. “Something about the actual act of eating. If sin enters the world through the act of eating, salvation is going to come through an act of eating,” said Martin.

      Directing the people to Psalm 104:14-15, Martin read “…to bring forth food from the earth, wine to gladden their hearts…” He went on to say, “It says in the Psalms, bread strengthens our hearts and wine gladdens our hearts. It brings joy.”

      Attributing a Pope Francis writing, Martin said, “As Catholics, we come out of Mass looking as if we just came from a funeral, somber, not talking with one another. But the Eucharist brings us joy. It brings us deep joy. Wine is a symbol of joy.”

      During his talk, Bishop McClory said to live a life “infused with the Eucharist is to have a profound encounter with our Lord…and then go forward resolved to share that love with others so that others can receive this great gift.”

      The bishop noted how the Eucharist has become a magnet, having inspired many converts over the years.

      “By having it in the park we’re bringing Jesus outside the walls of the church…breaking the thought that we can only talk about Jesus in church,” said Feeney.

      There were some, like Tori Perez, who felt the park setting was a way of getting closer to Jesus, who did a lot of his ministry outdoors amongst the crowds. She noted that listening to the talks on the true presence of the Eucharist “touches those deep roots of Jesus and hearing this message makes you feel like you’re part of the crowd.”

      “I like that it’s outside at a park. It’s a great way to evangelize as well. My favorite part was opening up my Bible, reading scripture and hearing the kids play and being in their purest form. It was an encounter.”