When I receive a contributor’s copy of one of my published articles, I usually read it over once and file it away in my office cabinet. It will stay there, collecting dust, until I die and my children sort through the things I have left behind.
No, I don’t have a terminal illness. And I’m not trying to be morbid. But I think it is a safe bet to assume I will die one day, and when that happens, there’s something I want to leave behind for my children. Like Elijah to Elisha, there is a mantle I want to pass on to them.
One day, my children will dig out everything I’ve ever written (which they didn’t have time to read when I was alive) and study it like it contains a directive from the Great Beyond. They will do this in hope that something I have written at some point in the past will ease their pain and make the grief endurable. I know they will do this, because it is what I did when my father passed away.
And when they open the drawer and pull out the file, I’m praying they find this article in the stack, because there is something I want them to know. At this point in their lives, they just aren’t ready to embrace it, but one day that will change.
The year before the crucifixion, Jesus tried to tell the disciples about Holy Communion. They weren’t ready to listen either. Hundreds of followers left Jesus that day. The remaining twelve didn’t really understand, but after His death, eleven of them would begin to make sense of that Most Holy Mystery. They would remember Jesus’ words, and the divine epiphanies would come over them in great waves. They would remember the night He was betrayed. How Jesus had offered Himself to them at the Last Supper. The Eucharistic Meal. Take, eat. This is my body. Take, drink. This is my blood. And they would remember back to the moment a year earlier, when He promised to give them His Flesh and Blood (John 6). Finally, it would begin to make sense.
Catholic Christians believe Communion is a symbolic meal. I can no longer accept that theology. When a dying person contemplates his final words to those he loves, he doesn’t usually think it’s a good time to play a game of let’s pretend. It is time to be real. It is time to give those who remain what they need to make it through the dark night. And people of faith take that moment very seriously.
What we say when we are about to die has staying power. There is a reason why people make deathbed requests. There is a reason why survivors keep deathbed promises. Final words are powerful.
When I die, if I have a moment or two with those I love, I want to convey something important, something that will help them through the sorrow and suffering they will face. I want to leave them something that will bring us together again one day. And the one thing that can do all this is Our Eucharistic Lord. Unless you eat the Flesh there is no life in you. That’s what I want to tell them.
While it is a safe bet to assume that I will die one day, it is not a safe bet to assume that I will have a few moments alone with my children to share this important message. And so, I file away the articles. And say a prayer.
Jesus Christ had that perfect moment with His followers. As the Second Person of the Trinity, He’d had all eternity to plan what He would say at that Last Supper. And the message He had to share was the most important message of all time. It was time to usher in a New Covenant. It was the last quiet moment that He would have with the disciples before they scattered and He made His way to the cross. This was no joking matter.
It was time to offer to them the Bread of Life.
Because I may not have that perfect moment with my children, I keep that powerful message safely tucked away. My hope is that one day, when I can no longer share my faith by simply inhaling and speaking, when my fingers are still and my computer is in a landfill somewhere, when my life is just a memory to a handful of people, those dearest to me will pull a tattered article from the cabinet and the
Catholic faith will begin to make sense to them. And I pray that in that moment, they will understand what Jesus meant when He gave the disciples his Body and Blood. And I pray that the Eucharist will call to them, speaking above their grief, and say come this way. I pray that they will find their way home through the path of grief, to find Jesus Christ waiting for them in the Mass.
And by grace, I will meet them there as well.