Monday, June 8, 2009

A Sleepover To Remember

Recently, my daughter spent the night at a friend’s house. She has only done this one other time; I used to do it on a regular basis when I was growing up. Some sleepovers are more memorable than others. Like the night I got homesick and had to wake my friend’s parents in the middle of the night and beg them to take me home. Or the night many years later when we had a huge slumber party on the night of the high school dance. Five girls in one bedroom, all putting on make-up and comparing outfits for the big event.

Somewhere in between these two slumber parties, I spent the night at Lori’s house – I was in middle school, I believe. It was a Saturday night and her family was Catholic – Catholic enough that they went to Mass every weekend – not Catholic enough to explain to me that Holy Communion was not open to Protestant preacher’s kids who stayed over for the weekend. In my preacher’s-kid-mind, I believed I was entitled to participate in every faith event. I considered myself to be one born into a spiritual lap of luxury. No holds barred.

In the middle of the Mass, my friend Lori leaned over and asked me if I knew about Communion. “Yeah, we have it at my church.” I said.

She nodded her head as if to say, that’s cool. I watched and waited for the moment the ushers would pass the bread and grape juice around. Instead, everyone started standing up and walking forward. I had the terrifying sense of being carried along by the wave of people and I knew that it would end with me standing in front of the priest, feeling like an idiot who has no idea how to pass through the process smoothly.

I turned to my friend and whispered, “Wait! We don’t do it like this! What do I do?”

Lori gave me the quickest catechesis in the history of humankind. “You hold your hands like this.” She put one upturned hand in the other. “You bow, say amen, and put the Eucharist in your mouth with the bottom hand.”

And that was it.

I felt the heat of embarrassment going up my neck and into my face. Suddenly, my self-assured spiritual pride was gone. I wasn’t even familiar with the terms Lori used. Eucharist? What was that?

Half-way down the aisle, I thought of my parents, and I wondered if I really should be doing this. I probably should have stayed back in the pew and waited. Too late now, I thought.

And then it was my turn. I don’t remember if I followed proper protocol. But somehow, I made it back to the pew and kneeled beside Lori. I stayed there for a moment and wondered what I had done. What was that whirlwind of Communion all about?

The priest took Lori’s parents aside after Mass and asked about me (so I must have drawn attention to myself after all). He told them that non-Catholics were NOT to receive Holy Communion. What were they thinking? They felt duly chastised, and I was left with a completely confusing memory.

Years later, when my journey of grace led me into the Catholic Church, I was properly catechized. I discovered that the Jesus I had loved from childhood was waiting for me in the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist, this Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord.

It wasn’t a symbol. It didn’t remind us of something that happened 2000 years earlier.

It was my Jesus, truly present.

Do you know what that discovery was like for me? Absolutely beautiful. But there was that memory, and that memory still haunts me. When I thought back to that Mass, I realized what I had missed.

It was like attending a passion play in which you think the death and resurrection of Jesus is being re-enacted. The words are the same, but it isn’t the same. It’s not really Jesus; it’s an actor reminding us of those long-ago events. At least, that’s what you thought when you were there.

And then, decades later, you learn that you weren’t really attending a play at all. You had a front-row seat and participated in the re-presentation of the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That once-for-all-time sacrifice was made present for you, and you were clueless. It was real. You had stood at the foot of the cross, you had traveled to Calvary, you had encountered Jesus, and you didn’t even know it.

And you want to go back in time. You want to make the wrong into a right. You want to be told the truth, so you can run home and tell your family. Hey guess what, Jesus is there. He’s really and truly there.

Mere symbols are gone. It’s Jesus!

A year ago, I shared my conversion story with a parish in Oklahoma. When I came to this part of the story, a seemingly insignificant moment in my childhood, I wept. To have come so close all those years ago, and missed the point altogether. It was an ache - still is an ache - that doesn’t go away.

I encourage you to invite a guest to come to Mass with you. If you do this, please take a moment and explain to your friend what you are receiving – who you are receiving. And that only those who are in communion with Our Eucharistic Lord Jesus Christ can receive this Sacrament. To receive communion, you must be in union. . .

And make sure they know one thing above all other things. The Eucharist is Jesus. Not a symbol. Not representational. It’s the Lord. And when they look at you in disbelief, suggest they read the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John.

If they wonder why they cannot receive, tell them it is for their own good, but to consider studying the faith a bit more. Ask questions. Let it be an opportunity for questions and answers, because that is how the faith is passed on. Until they are fully catechized, though, you must remember the passage in First Corinthians:

I Corinthians 1:27, 29

Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. For he that eateth and drinketh, eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself, if he discern not the body.


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