Father Munjalu Bernard Wakhungu is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, and believes the Catholic Church needs to take a page from the business world and “sell” the Eucharist.
Catholics believe Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, he said, whereas some other Christian denominations believe the consecrated bread and wine are only symbols.
“This is the ‘niche’ we have in the market,” Father Wakhungu said of the Catholic belief in the real presence of Jesus in the bread and wine. “We need to understand our commodity before we sell it. If you don’t love your commodity, you won’t convince someone else to buy it.”
Parochial vicar at the churches of Holy Cross Church in Freeville, St. Anthony’s in Groton and All Saints in Lansing, Father Wakhungu is an extern priest from Kenya who has been serving in the Diocese of Rochester since September 2001. He recently completed a series of discussions about the Eucharist at his three communities as part of their efforts to celebrate Pope John Paul II’s proclamation of October 2004 to October 2005 as the Year of the Eucharist.
Father Wakhungu said the theme of his presentations was “The Eucharist: A gift of the moment, a taste of eternity.”
“During the celebration of the Eucharist, heaven is called down upon the species of bread and wine,” he said. “By so doing, eternity is brought right here and now before us.”
He noted that during his presentations, many of his listeners had “aha!” moments when they realized how significant reception of the Eucharist is. He added that routine reception of the sacrament can make a Catholic forget just how important it is.
“Our goal as believers is really to see God face to face,” Father Wakhungu said. “When you receive (the Eucharist) with the eyes of faith, you are receiving the whole Jesus.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the Eucharist as the “source and summit of Christian life,” Father Wakhungu noted, and the sacrament is “the pivot of our apostolate, the sacraments and sacramentals.” He added that reception of the Eucharist colors our good deeds, making them something more than ethical behavior.
“From the Eucharist we receive graces — we are sanctified,” Father Wakhungu said. “When each communicant receives the Eucharist, he or she is transformed to become a heavenly citizen, yet still living an earthly life.”
Jesus deliberately chose a meal to be the occasion when we receive him, the priest added. The Old Testament has several examples of meals signifying moments when heaven meets earth. For example, he said, the Israelites shared in a meal of unleavened bread before beginning their journey to the promised land.
“The event of sharing in the meal becomes an occasion to unite, bring hearts and minds together,” Father Wakhungu said.
Most importantly, sharing the Eucharistic meal highlights the fact that receiving the Eucharist is about being open to serve others, the priest said.
“We are called to break bread with the hungry, the needy and all that need the love of Christ,” he said. “We are not sent into ourselves, but to others, for that is what the love of Christ is about, service … and the community.”