---St. Benedict of Nursia
During the summer of 2006, our priest welcomed Rich to teach a study of the Lord’s Prayer. It seemed natural for me to be present at the study since it was held right after the 10:00 Mass we attended.
For a year I had found my vertical relationship with Jesus growing, while my interpersonal relationships with members of our congregation remained superficial or nonexistent. I’d given up trying to get to know people and had settled into the mold of an unseen persona. I wondered out loud to Rich if a Protestant at his study might be disruptive. Rich assured me he was able to keep everyone focused on the lesson. From our experiences with Bible studies in Protestant churches, I knew he could do that.
Had the pastor’s invitation to Rich occurred a year earlier, I might have spent that hour in the car or at a nearby coffee shop. I would have found references to Mary, the Sacraments, the Magisterium or any number of other Catholic beliefs that were bantered about during the discussion, very uncomfortable. But because Rich and I had agreed to remain together at the same church, I had become accustomed to hearing about those beliefs. Although I did not share them, I believed they were valid for Catholics because they represented facets of a Roman Catholic’s spiritual relationship with God.
I am sure those few weeks would have been only another interesting inter-church experience for me had it not been for two things. First, Rich engaged me in the discussions as he did the others around the table. I was forced to participate and, in so doing, the men and women at the study learned I was a Protestant. (I was nervous about that discovery because of what I had experienced previously.) These people were surprised to learn I was not a Catholic, but as the weeks continued, they went out of their way to make me feel welcome. Second, what these people did not know was God had given me a love for them.
That love had flooded into my heart weeks earlier on Divine Mercy Sunday, which is the first Sunday after Easter. Our parish had an Adoration planned for that afternoon. Adoration is a time set aside to worship the living Christ who manifests Himself within the consecrated host . . . the Bread of Life physically present with us. Catholics meditate on this spiritual idea, seeing beyond the natural, and believing Christ’s word in its literal meaning . . . this is my Body. This is similar to the Protestant view of a literal seven day creation, the Flood, or the parting of the Red Sea.
Rich decided to attend, and I thought I’d go along, too. Rich’s description of his initial experience with Jesus at an earlier Adoration had intrigued me. I hoped to spend some quiet time with Jesus, much like I did each Sunday when we entered the church before Mass.
We sat near the back of the church and could barely see the white circular host in the golden case called a Monstrance – from the Latin, meaning, “to show,” and defined as, “A receptacle in which the host is held.”
I remember kneeling in my pew and praying in tongues (a charism of the Holy Spirit) for a few minutes. Soon, my knees hurt and my back was getting tired. Several women were praying the Rosary, which seemed to go on and on. I longed for them to stop, simply because their vocal prayers intruded into my mind and made it difficult for me to form my thoughts into prayers. I wondered, perhaps coming to the Adoration was not such a good idea.
Ending my prayer, I remained on the kneeler. My mind wandered, but I tried to keep it focused on that little white disk in the Monstrance. I believed Jesus was there. (Months earlier, the Holy Spirit had taught me that Jesus is present within the consecrated host). I had long ago learned to be quiet before The King of Kings in my personal devotions and to wait upon Him. This was such a time.
And then, somehow, inexplicably, as I knelt, Christ’s love flowed into me until I thought I could hold no more. It left me breathless.
The Holy Scriptures describe an account of two disciples on the road to Emmaus who meet the resurrected Jesus. When He made Himself known to them at supper, and then vanished, they turned to each other, realizing who had walked with them that afternoon. "Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?" they exclaimed. (St. Luke 24:32, NASB)
In a similar way, I found Jesus before me that Divine Mercy Sunday, and in revealing His presence, my heart indeed burned with His love.
I sat back in my seat. Rich was praying. I was dumbfounded and strangely energized. I looked anew toward the Altar. As the recitation of the Rosary continued I wondered, “What is happening?” No one else seemed at all affected. I prayed silently and fervently, “I love you, Jesus. What is this?”
I was so full of energy I could not sit still. I knelt again. I sat. I knelt once more and silently praised the Lord, though I wanted to shout. A second time, the Holy Spirit pressed Agape love into my heart. In it flowed with compassion, joy, and peace. The Holy Spirit gave my heart “ears to hear.” By the time we left the sanctuary I’d “fallen in love” with Jesus again, and with His Church – all of His Church. Any lingering doubt that I should continue to attend Mass with Rich had vanished.
I cannot explain the how or the why of this heart change, but it altered my life. I have never been the same since. Shortly afterward, I wrote a friend,” Just as when we close our eyes and turn our face toward the sun, then turning away and opening our eyes we see the world around us as a pale image of unreality, so my view of my former walk in Christ is a paler image of what it is now.”
The reality of this heart change manifested itself as I sat in Rich’s study of the Lord’s Prayer, listening to him and the other Catholics comment about the Scriptures, the Catholic Church and her teachings – and even make a few unflattering comments about Protestants – yet I was not offended by it all. I had found myself filled anew with Agape love as soon as I entered the room.
This was a sea-change for me, and evidence that Christ’s love had entered my heart.
I soon discovered I liked listening to their conversations. I also felt a bond of fellowship in my heart for each person. And as we studied the Lord’s Prayer, I found myself listening in on the heartbeat of the Roman Catholic Church. It was a deep, steady beat of constant love and devotion to the Trinity – the loving Father, Christ, the suffering Savior, and the wonderful Holy Spirit.
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