Our bishops have called us to a renewed understanding and belief in Christ’s Real Presence in the consecrated host. As I’m sure many of you have done, I’ve spent some time recollecting my early understandings — and my misgivings — of this church teaching. As a convert of about 20 years, I personally struggled with the concept.
The story that follows offers a glimpse into the nature of hubris and humility, which I needed to understand better in order to finally give in to His grace.
Waves of Grace
Against a brilliant background, there she stood. The mounds of reds and yellows, greens, oranges and purples tantalized my senses with promises of Romas and romaine, parsley, peppers, eggplant and onions.
Like an angel in my mind’s eye today, her soft, strawberry blonde hair shimmered, framing her face, as light surrounded her. Her smile was, as it always had been, bright and warm and welcoming.
I didn’t realize until later that Betsy’s presence there in our local grocery store was a gift from Our Father, an answer to prayers prayed earlier that week. Over the two decades since, I find I’ve received His gift in waves of grace.
I had prayed for clarity and direction in my struggle with the church’s teaching on the Real Presence — in believing that I was receiving Our Lord’s real body and blood in the consecrated host and wine offered at Mass. In my prayers I longed for something solid, something stable, some rock on which to stand and to understand.
Betsy had been my RCIA sponsor a few years earlier. We had become friendly during RCIA. But shortly after my confirmation, when I fell away from the church, our friendship withered.
Regardless, on this sunny afternoon, our conversation ran long. We each put one foot and then the other up on our respective shopping cart rails to ease our backs from the strain of standing. Finally, giving into the demands of our lives outside that holy serendipity, we parted, agreeing to have lunch soon.
And so it was that I was glorying in the beauty of a sunny day as I drove to meet her a few days later. Sun in the Pacific Northwest is not a blessing to ever be assumed and we agreed to enjoy our food and friendship al fresco.
Our conversation turned eventually, as I knew it would, to the Real Presence. I don’t remember if Betsy had yet begun teaching catechism classes for our young first communicants. But she did eventually. It’s a role for which God formed her with an abundance of wisdom and patience.
This day, she listened with grace to the facts and fictions of my months of struggle. Living all that time in the aridity of my self-inflicted alienation had hardened me and I sought to justify myself. It was then, just before we were preparing to pay our bills, when I blurted out one last blunt question: “How are you able to believe it?”
There’s no certainty so certain than that of one unwilling to accept a truth rejected. Surely, I thought, my question would strip away all the under brush and detritus of this issue and expose a forest of dead stumps. Instead, God’s grace intervened, revealing His beauty at the root of it all. Betsy’s answer still rings for me today.
“I try to leave room for God’s mystery.”
In just those eight words, God’s grace pierced my heart. I didn’t yet understand, but I knew. In His time and through His grace I would find the understanding I sought.
As time has passed since, He has blessed me with a certainty beyond dogma that He is indeed present in our host. Belief in this simple truth would eventually bless me further with the grace of an ever deepening humility. And this humility would in turn begin to soften my heart, so that I might receive more fully the love He longs to share with each of us.
The first step for me back then was to reconfirm my faith in His Son, who gave His life for us, and to commit to living and learning more about Him in community with His One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
More recently, just after receiving Christ’s body at Mass, He shared this with me:
Oh My child,
Be stunned by Me and My love for you.
I am in you now. Be in Me too.
As you walk back to your pew,
Abide with Me along the way.
Hold onto Me.
Focus on My goodness and compassion.
I am with you now. This is a holy time.
I’ve chosen you.
Now it is your turn.
(Versions of this writing have appeared at www.walkingwithmybrother.net.)