The continued emptiness of my prayer-life increased even as we attended Sunday Mass and assisted in a Faith Formation (Sunday school). Although I experienced the predictable awkwardness associated with any new comer to a community, this could not account for the emptiness in my relationship with God. Not even walking forward to receive a blessing lifted the barrenness of my heart.
I wondered how could Jesus, whom I loved and to whom I had committed my life, place me in such an unreasonable place. I longed to be at His table. How could He who said that those who believe in Him must eat His body and drink His blood, now engineer a situation where I could do neither?
I accepted that God had moved upon Rich in such a way as to change his understanding of Holy Scripture passages from a Protestant interpretation to a Catholic one. Rich’s love and desire for Communion (the Eucharist), and his deepening prayer life, were indications to me of a move of the Holy Spirit.
In contrast, my relationship to God seemed a rock-strewn path with signposts that advised me to “Pay attention, examine yourself, and follow Me.”
But, follow where?
I had wrestled with my past and present only to realize I was who I was. That was all I could be. Nevertheless, I was exhausted with the struggle that ended in discouragement. Even reading the Scriptures provided no comfort. All I could see in those words was a persistent directive to love.
But God, being rich in mercy, knew what He was doing. Until the Holy Spirit opened my eyes, my situation resulted in an ever-deepening longing for Jesus, even as the strain of abandonment grew in intensity with each Sunday Mass.
Then, one Sunday Morning in July 2005, I sat in the pew next to Rich half-listening to the lector read the Scripture. The second reading in our Missal was from Paul’s letter to the Romans. “Brothers and sisters: What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37-39).
I had memorized those passages as a young Christian, but had never experienced the extreme need that would propel my soul to cling to those words and their offered gift of God’s love. I rolled the text over again in my mind: “For I am convinced . . . that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I interpreted that to mean nothing can separate me from Jesus. Jesus was here at this service for me. He had not kept himself from me. However, my blindness to His love had kept me from Him.
I wondered, was He telling me He would never refuse His body and His blood to me? Would I come to Him, who promised to cast no one away, who approached Him in complete surrender? I didn’t hear much of the homily (sermon) that morning because my thoughts had fixated on the idea that nothing, nothing could separate me from my Savior.
And at that moment I remembered an incident that had occurred years earlier. In 1968, prior to my commitment to Christ, I sat with my parents in an unremarkable Sunday Service at the Congregational church we attended. As a young adult who believed myself to be a Christian because I had been raised to be one, I was welcome to take Communion.
It was Communion Sunday. The small glasses of grape juice and plate of broken unleavened bread had been passed through the congregation. The pastor had already intoned, “This is my body given for you . . .”
I chewed the bread and reached for the cup sitting in its holder on the back of the pew in front of me, but before my hand touched the glass, the thought dropped into my mind, “That’s the blood of Christ.”
Mystified, I picked up the tiny cup and looked into the sparkling liquid, which seemed to thicken and deepen in color. The pastor spoke the words, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood . . .”
I didn’t know what to do. Should I put the cup down? What would I tell my parents – that there was blood in my cup? They would think I was insane. So, I drank it. It was an awful, gagging, difficult thing to do. A black revulsion gripped my heart. I wanted to flee. My spiritual eyes had opened for the first time in my life and I saw I was filthy with sin.
After that Sunday, I avoided Communion for six years. Not until I repented of my sins, asked Jesus to forgive me, and by His mercy obtained forgiveness, did I receive Communion or desire it. When Jesus gave me new life, I became a beloved child of my Father in Heaven. I was buried with Him in my Baptism and raised to newness of life in Him. And with that new life came a deeper understanding of the special sacredness of Communion. I had not forgotten His blood in the cup, nor the need to be clean before Him.
So now, as I stood during the Mass, I wondered if Jesus indeed wanted to give me Communion. Was He asking me to trust Him for something that only He would provide for me? Could I accept as true that all I had to do was believe that He wanted to do so?
Fear enveloped me that somehow I had misunderstood. Yet, spurred on by hope in His love, I would take a leap of faith.
During the Offering, I examined my conscience in preparation for communion.
I knelt as the priest held up the Host and said the same words that my Protestant pastors intoned for years during Communion. As our priest spoke those words and consecrated the host, I accepted the idea that Jesus was giving me His body. I swallowed and recited, “Amen.” Then the priest took the cup, elevated it above his head, and repeated the words of the Lord. And once again, I chose to believe Jesus' offering to me. I swallowed and said, “Amen,” once more.
I felt nothing -- much as I had felt nothing the evening I gave my life to Christ.
However, for the first time since we had attended a Catholic church I did not feel conflicted when Rich went forward for the Eucharist and I for a blessing. On the way home, I sat quietly next to Rich, ruminating on a small kernel of peace, pondering what I had done. For the first time in two very long years, I thought I might feel at home once more in church.
It would not be for another several months that I would learn about Spiritual Communion. By that time, the Lord had radically changed my life.
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