Talk by Fr. Antoine Thomas
(Founder of Children of Hope)
October 16th, 2004
Witness to the Eucharistic Life in the United States.
Introduction: It is an immense joy and a privilege for me to have been invited to witness the marvels that the Holy Spirit has inspired in the United States with young people, especially since the visit of our Holy Father to Denver in 1993.
One day he said something that greatly impressed me, especially when I saw the world at war everywhere, and with so many terrorist threats.
“There are today more signs of hope than despair” our Pope said.
How can we discover those signs? Well, I tell you they are everywhere for those who have the desire to look for them, and who nourish their Christian faith! With regard to our Christian faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, Haven’t we witnessed countless testimonies of hope this week from so many countries where our Eucharistic Lord is adored, thanked, and loved?
In the United States, the Eucharistic life is amazingly alive in so many parts of the country. It is impossible for me to list the hundreds of truly catholic undertakings that have fostered Eucharistic Adoration among all age groups. They are responding to the wish of Jesus expressed to the Samaritan woman:
“The hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshippers will adore the Father in spirit and in truth”.
Let us now highlight three wonderful signs of hope among so many others. The first is not new, but the other two are.
1/ Explosions of adoration chapels and Eucharistic adoration in parishes.
-During the past few decades, more and more priests and lay people have been establishing Eucharistic Adoration in their diocese. If, for example, we look at the diocese of Lafayette Indiana, we see that among about 120 parishes, around 20 of them have successfully established perpetual adoration programs. And, more and more parishes are trying to start such programs as a filial response to our Holy Father, Pope John-Paul II when he expressed a strong public wish at the International Eucharistic Congress held in Spain during June of 1993: “I hope that this form of adoration, with permanent exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, will continue in the future. I hope that the fruit of the Congress results in the establishment of Eucharistic adoration in all parishes and Christian communities throughout the world.”
2/ What about the age group that often causes the most problems for parents, teenagers? Great sign of hope: the “Youth 2000 Eucharistic Retreats.” Some of us might remember what our Holy Father asked of the young people in his message to them for the 11th World Youth Day in 1996: “Dear young people, I have asked you to be prophets of life and love. I also ask you to be prophets of joy”.
But how can they find joy in this world if they don't know where to meet Jesus? And we know that only Jesus’ presence in us can fill our soul with a real and lasting joy. Like St John at their age, 1,000’s of young Americans have found an answer to the same question: “Master where do you dwell”.
I am just one of many in the United States who can witness that particularly since the 90s', over 160,000 teenagers have found Jesus in His Eucharistic and hidden presence. Thus, they are now able to be witnesses of joy for their peers. The very encouraging initiative now well known as “YOUTH 2000” Eucharistic centered retreats started in 1990 in the United States after first beginning in Europe. It has fostered the faith of numerous American young people in Jesus’ Eucharistic presence. In the course of these intensely Eucharistic weekends, during which Jesus is exposed continually in the midst of them,
hundreds of teens can be seen kneeling, bowing in a deep adoration, and listening to Eucharistic centered talks. (I wish that their parents could discretely witness this with their own eyes!)
In the presence of Jesus, so many of them realize how much they are loved by Him. So many, as a consequence, flock toward the priests present in order to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. So many have discovered, through a personal experience, that personal love that God has for them beyond their sins, imperfections and even deep wounds. I have seen hundreds of them stand up at the end of these retreats, when they were asked to do so if they were considering a possible call to religious life or priesthood!
Yes indeed, numerous teenagers in the United States are implementing that request of the Holy Father made in Rome to them at the 15th World Youth Day:
“Set the Eucharistic at the center of your personal life and community life: love the
Eucharist, adore the Eucharist, and celebrate the Eucharist”.
3/ While there are many churches where Jesus in the Eucharist is adored by the adults, have we been concerned about bringing our children with us?
- 9 years ago, when I arrived in the United States, I felt strongly urged by our Lord to offer young children a special way to discover the loving presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. It seemed to me that the words of Jesus:
“Let the children come to me and do not hinder them”(Mt.19,14) were not being heard by adults.
- Also, the angel of Fatima in his apparition to the 3 children in 1916, taught them to adore our Lord present in the Eucharist and asked them to make acts of Eucharistic reparation. Many American children are now rediscovering that prayer of adoration taught by the angel:
- “I believe, I adore, I hope and I love you, and I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love you”.
- How can we adults not be highly concerned with this great responsibility God entrusts to us to help our children discover His loving presence among them? Do we wait until today's 1st communion age to receive Jesus in their heart? Don't we also remember how our Pope, John Paul II, strongly urged us to form the heart of our children? In 1994 in his letter to the children of the world he wrote:
“How important children are in the eyes of Jesus!” And, “For how many children in
the history of the church has the Eucharist been a source of spiritual strength, sometimes even heroic strength!”
Less than 2 years later, in 1996, from the Vatican, he addressed a strong request to all of us when he said: “I urge priests, religious and lay people to continue and redouble their efforts to teach the younger generations the meaning and value of Eucharistic adoration and devotion. How will young people be able to know the Lord if they are not introduced to the mystery of his presence?
It is my joy to tell you that that request of the Holy Father has been heard in the United States in the last few years! Thousands of children have by now experienced a time of quiet adoration, through Catholic Family Conferences, at their parish and also during the school time. At both the Anaheim, California, and the Midwest Catholic Family Conferences in Wichita, I had the joy of leading between 900 and 2000 children in adoration during one weekend, along with one of my brothers. Also, during Lent of this year my brother and I led over 3,500 children from 6 different Catholic Schools in Wichita, Kansas in just 4 days!
It is so impressive to witness so many big groups of children from 5 to 12 years old, bowing down in silence several times within ½ hour! We need to trust their divine capacity to let themselves be introduced in the silence of Jesus' Real Presence.
Perhaps, we adults, fear silence...and therefore think that children are not going to stand being quiet. Well, it's not my experience with them after 10 years! In order to introduce them in a personal relationship with Jesus truly present in front of them, we need to help them discover the value of silence.
If we adults don't discover the value of silence in a personal experience at the feet of our Lord, or when we pray in another way, how can we hope introduce our children into the mystery of His Eucharistic presence?
I am so thankful to the Holy Spirit for having picked me, poor little monk, to pray with American children for the time being at least, and to develop a special Eucharistic adoration format for them and for all those who wish to start such a program in their parish and at their school. Thanks to Mrs. Sandy Rongish, from Wichita, Kansas, International Coordinator for the “Children of Hope” ministry, and my direct assistant, many other mothers and catechists have successfully implemented regular children’s
Holy Hours at their parish and even invited other parishes to join them. In Lexington, Kentucky, even the bishop came to lead a Holy Hour with the participation of over 500 children!
Families and pastors see tremendous fruits and see the people of their parish rekindled in their faith, in their hope, in their love for Jesus and for one another by observing those young adorers happy to give their heart to Jesus in the Eucharist. Jesus is now setting the fire of His love everywhere in the hearts of those children wherever we adults, help them approach our Eucharistic Lord.
You may say and ask: “All this testimony is beautiful but how do you lead them in adoration for ½ hour or more?”
The first thing Jesus asks is always an act of faith. “Let the children come to me”. It is God's will that we bring him children. Then, a possible format that I have been using with flexibility includes:
To position the children on the floor, in front of the altar and not in the pews like for Mass. They feel much closer to Jesus that way. Then, through sequences of 2 to 3 minutes, you lead them in prayer, first by an act of prostration toward our Lord exposed before them; then you may want to invite Mary to adore with the children. You can signify it by praying a decade of the Rosary; then you may invite them to a personal moment of silent prayer during which they can be alone with Jesus. It's good to allow Jesus speak to them. How do you give Him a voice so that the children can hear Jesus? Simple, you simply read some of his words from the Gospel like:
“As the Father loves me, I also love you”.
Then, like Mary you let them receive those divine words in the depth of their heart. During that prayer time, you may use a few short and meaningful adoration songs that help in keeping them recollected. It is beneficial for their Christian education to play or sing songs coming from the Word of God. We try to develop prayerful and appealing music that is at the service of this contemplative prayer. It helps them to enjoy being there, and to be attentive to the presence of Jesus. I am so happy today to have the immense privilege to share with you my excitement of these 10 years of adoration time spent in the midst of thousands of American children.
To receive Jesus in the Eucharist is great! But for millions of children who are not yet able to receive their first communion, what a joy to see them receiving his Eucharistic and loving presence in a real mystical communion as early as 4 years old! They themselves tell us how they enjoy this special time with Jesus outside Mass who is not hidden and alone in the tabernacle. They say how much closer Jesus seems to be for them than during Mass. It is so obvious to adults watching from the pews that those children experience a pacification of body, mind and spirit. It helps them to progressively live in a spirit of adoration all through out their day as Mary did.
What are other countless benefits 1,000’s American families and Catholic schools have already received by scheduling time for children’s adoration?
Here are a few examples of feedback from parents, catechists, and priests: Eucharistic adoration:
-increases their sense of reverence, and the desire to receive our Lord in their heart.
-fosters unity among the generations and especially within the family.
-is a great preparation for first communion.
-teachers and students become closer when adoration is during school time.
-is a springboard for vocation awareness.
-helps our children to love one another more, and to forgive.
-teaches them the value of silence in contemplative prayer.
I would like to end my testimony by letting American children speak for themselves and witness to you about their experience of adoration; you'll see how those little souls are receptive to the Holy Spirit much more than what we adults are sometimes tempted to imagine! Here are a few examples:
- “Before in my daily life, I didn't take much time to just look at Jesus. Now I can reflect and be thankful that Jesus died for us. I am more God centered now.”
-A child wrote to me one day: ”Thank you for giving me and my family children’s adoration. When you first started the program, I didn't really like going back to church on Sunday afternoon. Now, It is the highlight of my week”
-At adoration, since there is silence, we feel closer to God. I learned that Jesus never leaves us no matter what.
-I think that I was closer to God during adoration than at Mass because at Mass there are so many distractions.
-I think that adoration was an amazing religious experience, and it has taught me that Jesus is the most important person in my life.
When we hear these testimonies by hundreds and hundreds throughout the US, we should all be encouraged to spread children’s adoration everywhere in the world! Has Jesus not asked, through St. Faustina, to bring him the souls of children in particular and to immerse them in His divine Mercy? Jesus added that these souls strengthened him during his bitter agony, and that He saw them as “earthly angels” who would keep vigil at his altars(6th day of divine mercy novena).
-So, after 9 years and having lead 1,000’s of children from 4 to 12 years old to Jesus in Eucharistic adoration throughout the US, It is obvious that these young adorers can fill us with a tremendous hope! That is why I called this program “Children of Hope”! If you would like more helpful ideas and information on this you may visit our website at www.childrenofhope.org.
Conclusion: I would like to conclude leaving you with three questions for our meditation:
To parents: Are your children happier and more at peace with one another and themselves after an hour before the TV set or after an hour of adoration?
To all of us: If St John the Baptist has been appointed by God to prepare Israel for the
1st coming of Jesus Christ, are not the children of our time, who adore Jesus in the Eucharist, the modern “John the Baptist’s” sent by God for us to urgently prepare our world for the glorious return of Jesus Christ?
Finally, if millions of little human beings have been destroyed in the womb of their mother’s in the last few decades, will not our efforts to lead our children in adoration bring some reparation for it and save the world from chaos?
May our Lady of Guadalupe help you all to realize this great mission for the sake of
the children of the 3rd Millennium for the greatest glory of God. Then, these young adorers will truly become children of hope in this gloomy world. And I pray that after this Eucharistic Congress is over, many of you will start leading children into Eucharistic adoration!
May God bless you all! Fr Antoine Thomas f.j.
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