Entitled “2001: A Spiritual Odyssey-A Journey Home Through the Sacraments,” Christendom College’s 13th Annual Summer Institute attracted over 400 attendees from across America and beyond. Held over the weekend of July 13-15 in Crusader Gymnasium at the College’s Front Royal, VA campus, those in attendance were treated to seven talks on the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church, presented by such renowned speakers as Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Jeff Cavins, and Dr. Timothy O’Donnell.

On Friday evening, the audience listened attentively to Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, who spoke on the mysterious quality of the Sacraments, particularly, the Eucharist. He explained that in today’s culture, the sense of the sacred and the sense of mystery is almost extinct. “Years ago, we learned it and were taught it. We grew up with a sense of mystery, reverence, and beauty. Today, it is thought that many Catholics do not believe in the Eucharist. It’s not that they don’t believe, they don’t know! It’s not preached. The reason it’s not preached is because people can’t deal with mystery,” he said.

He continued by stating that most religions have a sense of mystery, in fact, a religion without mystery is indeed pathetic. He gave an overview of the belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and showed how each false notion of the Real Presence came about through the denial of mystery. “Once you depart from the mystery given by Christ and passed to the Early Fathers of the Church, you’re out in the sea without a compass and a map.”

The first of Saturday’s conference speakers was Sr. Timothy Prokes, FSE, Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College (NDGS) Professor, who gave a presentation on the importance of Sacramental celebrations. She reflected on the important characteristics of all Sacramental celebrations, namely that “each Sacramental celebration is woven of signs and symbols, their meaning is rooted in creation and human culture, and is revealed in the person and work of Christ.” The words used in administering the Sacraments are “very precious.” They are efficacious because “Christ Himself is personally present at each Sacrament,” she said.

Following Prokes was Fr. William Saunders, Dean of the NDGS, who spoke on the subject of the priest acting in the person of Christ. He explained that Christ commanded His Apostles to act in His very person, through the sacrificial priesthood. He gave the Apostles “holy orders” to preach the Gospel, to baptize, and to forgive sins. The priest, when ordained, enters into the true unique eternal priesthood of Jesus. “We should be so thankful for so many priests who have taken a vow of celibacy for you! The Church should be thankful that they dedicate their whole lives to the faithful,” said Saunders.

On Saturday afternoon, Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, Christendom College President, delivered a powerful talk on Christian marriage and the role of the family in today’s society. According to O’Donnell, “The key to the Church’s teachings on marriage and the role of the family in the world lies in the family’s identity as a Church in miniature: the Domestic Church.”

“Very little is said about the sacramental nature of marriage, which, in turn, secularizes marriage as can be seen in today’s culture. We have lost the supernatural vision of grace; we are becoming blind to the natural order of things, like the ends of marriage being children and more children,” said O’Donnell. He emphasized that spouses are called to make each other holy, and lead their children to sanctification. The separate, yet complimentary, roles of father and mother need to be realized and lived.

Dean of the Summer Institute and NDGS professor, Tim Gray, gave a very insightful lecture on the parable of the Prodigal Son, or as Gray calls it, “The Parable of the Running Father.” According to Gray, the real hero of the story is not the penitent son, as most people believe, but rather, the loving father who forgives his son. The talk focused on the idea of forgiveness and the need to go to Confession to be brought back into the grace of God.

After a beautifully prepared banquet dinner, courtesy of College Chef Ron Steckman, the conference participants were honored to listen to the inspiring presentation given by author and EWTN host, Jeff Cavins. Cavins said that it was only recently that he came to the realization that it is through suffering that we are able to share more deeply in the life of the Trinity. Cavins underwent serious personal suffering throughout the past year and it was through this ordeal that he now has “an understanding of the inner logic of the Trinity as it relates to suffering and a self-donation of love.”

“I want to encourage you to do what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemene. Enter into the ordeal, call upon the Father, call upon His grace and unite your will with His and make this count for eternity: eternal fruit in Jesus name,” he concluded.

Following Cavins’ talk, the conference attendees participated in a candlelight Eucharistic procession, led by College Chaplain Rev. David Rahn.

After Sunday morning Mass, Christendom College Professor, Dr. William Marshner, spoke on the concept of “Church as Sacrament,” explaining that it wasn’t until recently that this idea began to take root in the thought of many theologians. According to Marshner, it is theologically impossible to take the “official, scientific, technical theology of the sacraments and apply it to the Church. Each Sacrament is a visible ritual event in which naturally meaningful material or gestures are specified in its meaning by spoken words which accompany it.” He said that although the Church uses many rituals and has many events, the Church Herself is not a ritual event and therefore “can’t begin to meet the requirements of being a Sacrament in the proper sense.”

The weekend concluded on Sunday afternoon with a “Question Box” period where the Institute speakers answered a variety of questions posed by the audience. A set of audio tapes of the Summer Institute presentations, produced by Cana Communications in association with Lilix Light & Sound, can be purchased from Christendom Press.

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