Monday, November 19, 2007

Reviewing the Past

I first realized the significance of the Sacrament of Communion when I attended confirmation classes as a teenager. I was 14. Our family had recently started attending a Congregational church when the class began. I remember long, boring monologues by our instructor, and the blue sky through the window above his head where my eyes continually wandered. When our class covered the subject of what our Protestant denomination believed about Communion, I vaguely remember the words trans-and consubstantiation. Most important, though, we learned Congregationalists didn’t believe in either.

Our teacher, a man with graying hair, doubted the validity of scripture, and viewed the miracles of the Bible with cynicism -- especially the story of the Nativity.

My parents, though, had taught me the opposite – that I should trust sacred scripture, and that Jesus – fully God and fully human – came to earth to die for my sins.

But sin was a subject I wished to ignore – and I was glad our confirmation teacher never spoke about it. The lure of worldly attitudes, such as pride and self-centered importance kept me from seeing my need of repentance and obedience to the Eternal King of Glory.

When the time came for my fellow students to be baptized and confirmed into the Congregational church, I decided not to follow the group. Much to my parents’ disappointment, no amount of pressure – not even a visit with the pastor – would change my mind. My parents had planted in my heart as a young child the idea that to commit to Christ in baptism must be with my whole being. That good sowing bore fruit. I knew I was not ready to make such a commitment. It took a very long detour of 13 years before my rebellious heart was ready to hear the urging of the Holy Spirit to come to Jesus.

I was 26-years-old, when I committed my heart to Christ. It was for Him alone I was immersed in the baptismal water on June 12, 1974 at a Disciples of Christ Church. I wanted to be baptized as an act of love and obedience toward my Savior and as a promise to the Lord that where He led, I would follow.

And to the best of my ability, I did.

Thirty years later, He led me to attend Mass with my husband, whom God had directed into the Catholic Church. That’s how I found myself excluded from the Table of the Lord each Sunday. (I still find it mystifying and humbling that Jesus offered me a way to meet Him each Mass through what I later discovered was called Spiritual Communion).

Through the spring and summer of 2005, I attended services with Rich, but always with great reservations, feeling myself an outsider, held at a distance from the living body of Christ. After weeks of social isolation and spiritual drought, Jesus came to find me and to nourish me with Himself. Once again, I felt like a participant in the worship of our Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Slowly, I began to grow as I received spiritual communion. I didn’t know it at the time, but spiritual giants such as St. Catherine of Siena, St. Alphonsus, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. John Viennay, had written of such communion, and of what would happen to those who drew closer to Christ through a complete desire to receive the Sacrament.

Little by little, understanding penetrated my heart and the Mass began to come alive for me. I listened to the words of Scripture, the hymns and congregational responses. In them, I heard a new voice speaking – not the voice of a priest, reader, or parishioner – but of my Lord. What had seemed like a programmed hour of rote responses scripted to move from point A to B with ordered regularity, now sounded like a loving conversation between members of a family.

Moreover, as I listened to the prayers, responses, and songs from week to week, it became apparent to me that everything I heard, and all that was said during the Mass was full of Scripture. The lavish use of God’s word made my spirit rejoice. I found myself responding in my spiritual language (what Pentecostal Protestants and Charismatic Catholics call “tongues”) or I simply exalted Christ quietly with joyful peace.

Yet along with joy were the pricks of pain as I remembered that Rich and I were parted at our spiritual core. I was mindful of this especially as we sang songs about the Bread of Life, or lyrics stating, “All are welcome” to the table. I stood empty-handed. I could not be offered a piece of bread or a drop of wine. If the Lord had not provided His spiritual communion for me, I would have completely lost courage.

The Lord’s wonderful gift enabled that courage to empower me to seek His plan for my life within the Roman Catholic Church. I came to accept that He had placed me as a Protestant, with all the warts associated with that label, to be right where I was – in the pew next to Rich.