It brings me great joy to see our city and state starting to open up after nearly 1 1/2 years of operating under restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

And it is beautiful to see more and more people returning to church each week. This coming weekend (June 19-20), we intend to open our churches more fully, with the lifting of most remaining state restrictions.

This is a providential moment for all of us to renew and deepen our love for the holy Eucharist.

The Eucharist, as we know, is the great mystery of our faith and the heart of our Christian life. And after the painful experiences of the past year, including having our churches shut down and our access to the Mass and the Eucharist restricted, I pray that we will come to a new awakening of what St. Pope John Paul II called “Eucharistic amazement.”

When we reflect on it, it is truly amazing to realize that the living God, the maker of heaven and earth, comes to be in a relationship with us, with you and me.

That’s why he sent Jesus Christ into the world — to show us the face of God and to show us the path to true love and happiness.

Jesus became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary in order to give his flesh on the cross for the life of the world, and for the life of every person.

Now, he gives his body and blood to us in the holy Eucharist to be our food, to be our strength in the journey of life.

God’s love for us is such a great and beautiful mystery. Why does God care? Billions of people, scattered everywhere in the world. And God loves all of us, he wants to be in friendship with each one of us, personally.

When we come to Mass, we should reflect on this personal mystery of God’s love for us. And everything about the Mass is designed to bring us deeper into the heart of that mystery.

In the Mass we give glory to God and thanksgiving for the gifts of his love. The Mass brings us into personal contact with Our Lord and Savior. We hear his word in the readings, and we touch his body in our communion in the Eucharist. And his Spirit is present with us in our brothers and sisters who gather with us in the celebration.

There is no element of the eucharistic celebration, not a single word, that has not been carefully chosen. Much of what we say and do in our worship has been handed on in the Church down through the centuries from the earliest days. As the Catechism says, it is “the Mass of all ages.”

And, as I wrote recently, the power of the Mass, in all its richness, is to transform us, to make us day by day more and more in the likeness of Jesus Christ. 

As the offerings of bread and wine are changed into his body and blood, Jesus wants to change us through this sacrament. As he humbled himself to share in our humanity, in the Eucharist he is calling us to share in his divinity.

We have come through an extraordinary ordeal in this pandemic. It has impressed upon all of us the fragile nature of our lives, the universal realities of sickness and death.

But in the Eucharist we have the most powerful “antidote.” In the Eucharist, we have the pledge of God’s love and his promise that we can have communion with him for all eternity.

I hope that in these days and weeks to come, all of us will begin to reflect more deeply about our lives. We can get so caught up in the anxieties of daily living, in all the “busy-ness” of the everyday. It is understandable.

But we need to remember that our lives are not random or casual. Jesus shed his blood for you, for every one of us. In the offering of the bread and wine in the Eucharist, Our Lord’s sacrifice is made present again before your eyes — so we never forget this beautiful truth of God’s love.

As we begin “life after the pandemic,” I pray that God will awaken in us a greater desire to be in his presence and to live by the bread that he gives us.

May we live with the same intensity of faith as those martyrs from the early Church, who declared, “It is not possible for us to live without the Eucharist, the food of the Lord.”

Pray for me, and I will pray for you.

And may our Blessed Mother Mary, in whom the Word became flesh, help us to make the Eucharist and the Holy Mass the center of our lives.