I came to Catholicism late in life.
An elderly friend asked if I would mind taking her to Saturday evening Mass one day. She hadn’t attended in years and was yearning to return. (The Saturday night Mass is called the Vigil Mass and attending it is considered as fulfilling the Holy Obligation of Sunday Mass).
I took Vera to Mass for many years. We sat on the very last pew on the right side of the sanctuary. We would sit through Communion, then quietly leave. I never did figure out if she didn’t receive the Eucharist because she hadn’t been to confession for years, or if it was the vanity of having people see her using her walker.
It may have been a mixture of both. One of the things I loved most about Vera was that she would go nowhere — not even to the grocery or the doctor — if she wasn’t perfectly coiffed, fully made up, and wearing her cutest togs.
Yes, she was a ’50s housewife throwback and she presented herself unashamedly as such. She was also completely charming and captivating to others because of it.
I already considered myself a Christian. I was 10 when I received my call to the altar — a tradition in some Christian churches in which those who wish to make a new spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ are invited to come forward publicly. I was baptized by my Navy chaplain friend, Skip, when I was 22. Outside of the Navy, he was a minister of the Disciples of Christ church.
I already knew the movement of the Holy Spirit within me. I already loved Jesus wholeheartedly.
Over the years, I searched many different types of church for my “home” among others, looking for my unique place in God’s spiritual universe. Everything from Pentecostal to Unity and beyond.
But nothing lasted until those years I sat in church with Vera, sitting together as others lined up for the Holy Eucharist. There my longing to partake of Christ in this unusual way grew until I finally took the steps of studying for a year to be able to become a member of the Catholic Church.
The Eucharistic Supper is considered the “source and summit” of the Mass. You have to appreciate the mysticism of the transmutation of the host and wine to become the literal body and blood of Christ to understand. It requires what writers and filmmakers call “the suspension of disbelief.”
So when I partake of that mystery, I am literally taking Christ within me. I figure it is as close to walking with Jesus this side of heaven that I will get.
I would have loved to have lived in the time when I could have walked with Jesus as my rabbi. The Holy Spirit moves within me whenever I imagine being next to him that way, walking the dusty roads of Galilee.
But I live in the here and now, and once again the Church is facing a schism because some bishops and priests are adamant that President Joe Biden, only the second Catholic to hold the presidency in the more than 240 years of our country’s history, should be denied the Eucharist because of his political shift on the issue of abortion.
Some in the Church hierarchy in the U.S. tie themselves up in tautologies and drape it in the Stars and Stripes rather than the garment of Christ.
Like Biden, I hold a personal faith belief that life begins at conception. And, like Biden, I don’t believe the government should be in the business of dictating faith to its citizens.
Faith is about choice — it is about choosing to believe in and love a God who is invisible to us and whose impact on your life you often don’t see except in hindsight.
It is also my deeply held belief that no one should be denied the Eucharist. You don’t bring people to Christ by withholding Christ from them.
I realize this is not the Church’s teaching. But it is something I feel with calm certitude, and I am certain Christ would agree.
Jesus affiliated himself with sinners to whom the Church would deny him in the host until they had first confessed and repented of their sin.
But he gave himself to those same people FIRST; he healed them FIRST. He died on the cross for them BEFORE they had ever even sinned in atonement for what he knew they WOULD still do. So great was his love of us all.
Jesus would never withhold himself — and my church has no business withholding him now, from the president to the worst sinners to walk the earth.
For me, the Eucharist is meant to heal and bring people to confession and repentance…not the other way round.
And I believe Christ never withholds himself from us, no matter how many times we fall into sin.
My church has a history of its own riddled with some of the gravest sins of all mankind. It shouldn’t pretend to be so puritanical it places Christ beyond the reach of anyone else.
Physician, heal thyself.
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