I’ll see you in the Eucharist

It was March 19th, 2004.  Emotions ran high as we prepared to watch my 19 year old sister enter a Carmelite cloister.  The morning hours were spent with the knowledge that these would be some of the last moments when we could have physical contact with her.  Postulant garb was laid out in one of the bedrooms and we helped my sister assemble her outfit.  There were no instructions and we weren’t extremely skilled in habits, but it did provide some amusement.  We gathered to take our final pictures together and we were doing so well until my emotions got in the way.  Each of my other sisters managed to smile and have beautiful pictures but with me, I just began to weep.  These emotions were re-echoed on the faces of everyone else in the room.  Even my dad returned with reddened eyes and I had only once seen him cry at this point.  Eventually I pulled it together for a terrible picture and we proceeded to the chapel. 

In the chapel we prayed a prayer together as a family.  Then we said our goodbyes and it was a funeral of sorts.  With a twinkle in her eye, joy evidenced by the peace in her countenance, my sister glanced back at us and spoke her last words to us before entering the cloister:

I’ll see you in the Eucharist.

My sister was instructed to knock on the door with the strength of the banging on the door being equal to how long she desired to stay.  The door was lucky to remain unscathed.  Cloistered sisters with long veils lined the inside of the hallway once the door opened.  A small sister, the Reverend Mother, stepped forward and instructed my sister to kiss the cross and then kiss the floor.  All too soon, my sister was swept inside, the door closed, and the singing of the sisters faded and we were left only with aching hearts and wet faces. 

At that time, the words she spoke did not resonate in my heart or bring me any consolation.  Instead, I almost felt more of a sting from them.  What was that to me when what I wanted was my sister present to me in her humanity, in her voice a phone call away, in her embrace when I was crying, in her presence at Christmas?  I wanted her physical presence not simply a spiritual connection.

Over nine years have passed since this blessed day and the Lord has worked wonders in this heart of mine.  Yes, I do still desire the presence of my sister when I think of getting married or having children.  Of course I would want her to visit my house or hold my children.  But I have come to understand this mystery of the presence of the Church in the Eucharist.

This past semester I taught the New Testament and I realized the profound beauty that is found in the book of Acts.  We were covering the part where Saul encounters Christ on the road to Damascus.  Saul hears this Voice ask, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  One of my favorite lessons was talking to my students about how Christ associated Himself with His apostles and that to persecute the Church was to persecute Christ.  This lead to talking about how if the Church is the Body of Christ, then when we receive the Eucharist we receive Jesus and the universal Church.  Of course they began to wonder how we can be eating each other, but I stressed that when we receive the Eucharist we are united to the entire Church–the Church Triumphant, Suffering, and Militant.  And then I shared with them the story of my cloistered sister and how this beautiful mystery of the Eucharist is what helps me endure our separation.

The beauty of receiving the Eucharist is of course found in the reality of receiving Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  Yet I think Our Lord reveals His deep goodness in that by receiving Jesus we are intimately linked to one another.  When I receive Our Lord I am connected with my sisters in religious life, with my friends scattered across the country, with my grandparents hopefully in Heaven, and with the saints who have gone before me.  I’ve come to understand this unifying aspect of the Eucharist through my travels to Europe as I encountered the beauty of Christ in basilicas, shrines, and places of martyrdom.  I deepened this understanding as I met the Church in Honduras and realized that we are one body, that though I may never see them again we are united through Christ, but tangibly through the Eucharist.

Each Catholic has their own special devotions but mine is to Our Lord in the Eucharist.  I love priests–because of their kindness and holiness but primarily because they make Our Lord present to me.  They make tangible Christ’s love by giving me the Body of Christ.  They make tangible Christ’s forgiveness as they absolve me from my sins through the ministry of the Church.  I remember sitting in Honduras with the pyx in my hands that held Our Lord and wanting to just rest forever.  I’ve heard stories of people being martyred for the Eucharist and I desire the same.  A group of sisters came and spoke at my college one time and they said their fourth vow was defense of the Eucharist with their lives.  I found that incredibly attractive.  At times I’ve thought that my love for the Eucharist should lead to me being an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion but I nearly shake when I think of holding Jesus and giving Him to others–I’m not certain I could remain calm throughout that.

On this Solemnity of Corpus Christi, I encourage you to renew again your love for Our Lord and to remember that each time you receive the Eucharist it is a personal encounter with the living God.  Yes, the consecrated host tastes the same as bread but He is truly present.  A student of mine argued with me that Jesus was spiritually present but not physically present.  Not so.  He is physically present albeit in a different way than the physical body we have.  It is a mystery of the Church.  Christ understands humanity through and through.  He knows that we need Him and that we desire a physical presence.  Deo gratias!  He gives us that presence by leaving His very self.

Wherever you are—regardless of the time difference, physical distance, or culture–we are united through the power of the Eucharist. 

I’ll see you in the Eucharist.

Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, take me into your very self and open my heart to the love that surpasses all understanding. 

Grace-filled Moments

 I stepped out of the humble house and into the early morning air.  Although I didn’t know what time it was, I knew that is was early despite the warm sun that was steadily filling the village with light.  Embracing the time of solitude, I walked to a hammock and prayed morning prayer, with pauses to watch the water crash on the rocky coastline.

Perfection. 

No, perfection was when I finished prayer and spotted a little boy who was creeping around, casting side-long glances at me.  After going inside to get my camera, I had a mini photo shoot with him and his friends.  They were adorable.  One moment they were posing for pictures and the next they were crowded around my camera, only to double over with delight as they saw themselves on the little screen. 

Or perhaps perfection was the feeling of being loved and acceptable absolutely as we entered a village unannounced and were immediately given food and shelter.  Each meal was the best that they could offer–we even had lobster for breakfast one time.  It was being invited to a captain’s house and hearing him explain that he would have been at Mass the night before but that he had been out in the water and didn’t know about it. 

Or perhaps it was the ride in the rickety old boat that seemed ill-suited for six people and backpacks.  It was a simple boat with a motor strapped on the back that cruised over impressive swells.  The water sprayed my face, the sun kissed my fair skin, and my excitement was mixed with silent prayers that we wouldn’t sink.  But then someone spotted a dolphin and soon after I viewed a wild dolphin racing in the water.

Or perhaps perfection was the joy of hiking through the coastal landscape–crawling over rocks, racing up steep inclines, stopping to enjoy the glories of coconut water while sweat ran down my face and back in rivulets.  The moments of pausing to dip our bottles into the cool springs so that we could filter the water to be suitable for our weak stomachs.  Walking to villages to which no cars can arrive simply to bring the best one could offer–Christ present in the Eucharist.  Watching the people unlock their churches with a sense of pride that is difficult to find in the “developed” world and then hearing them spread the word throughout the village that a priest was in their midst.   

Perhaps, in my mind, Honduras is perfection in every aspect.  I understand that the country is going through difficult times, that the homicide rate is one of the highest in the world, and that poverty is abundant.  But I experienced so much grace and perfection in Honduras.  The Lord blessed me with being able to go to Honduras twice for spring break mission trips in college.  As I saw the poverty of the people, I saw a simplicity that made my heart ache.  It made me want to return home and give all of my extra possessions away.  It made me want to become a missionary after college.  And right now it fills me with a desire to return to Honduras someday. 

Honduras has been on my mind lately because in just a few days another mission trip will be launched to that beautiful country and my heart aches to be with them.  Yet I can go back and embrace the memories and for a moment, I am in that grace-filled place again, walking through the coastal land, eating fresh seafood, celebrating Mass with people who manage to praise God in the midst of adversity. 

Heaven is indescribable.  I like to think that Heaven will be like all of the beautiful, grace-filled moments of my life linked together…and then more.  It will be the sum of beautiful adoration hours, hikes in foreign countries, the smell of incense, the feeling of a bed after a long day, the delirious joy of the Holy Spirit, the thankfulness of a student, the embrace of a cloistered sister, the glory of a sun-bathed afternoon, every delightful food, and the reunion of each beautiful friend…and more. 

In the midst of times that seem less grace-filled, it is nice to be able to go back and re-live some moments where I knew the Lord was working and present.  Yet not to get lost in them.  Simply to experience the joy and then return to the present with a renewed vigor to pray for God’s kingdom to come now…in me and in this world.