I went to mass twice today. Now don’t go thinking I’m holy yet as I’m sure that after you finish reading, you’ll realize I’ve got a long way to go to holiness. I sing in the choir so I attend 8:30 mass. I’m a morning bird so it’s no big deal to me to get up while it’s still dark, get ready and leave the house at 7:30. My daughter, on the other hand, would rather die than to voluntarily wake up with an alarm, on her only day to sleep in. 11:30 mass is her thing. She asked me to go with her today because my grandson wanted me to see his new hairstyle. I’ve done this a few times so it’s no big deal to go to two masses. I totally need it!
So, after mass today I had time to kill and decided to grab breakfast before heading back to the church. I got back around 11:15, grabbed a pew and waited for my daughter to arrive. Eventually mass began and I was still sitting alone so, don’t judge me, I texted my daughter and asked her how much longer until she’d arrive. The opening prayers, the kids excused for Children’s Church, the first reading…where is she?! Eventually she texted that she was lost because of a road closure and new detour on the way to the church. I gave her the correct directions, got a bit antsy and then waited some more. Responsorial psalm, Gospel…and I get a text that she had turned around and gone home. She had been trying for forty-five minutes to find her way there, started crying and eventually gave up (based on the empty spaces in the church she wasn’t the only one to have gotten lost and turned around). She was extremely frustrated and so, while I was as well, I understood.
As I was sitting in my pew going through my second mass in three hours, I began to regret going. I started thinking about all of the things I needed to do back at home that I wasn’t able to do now because I was sitting alone in a pew annoyed. Of course, that wasn’t enough for this sinner. I then started considering whether or not I should get up and leave, or maybe wait until after communion, or…
And then it hit me. It had taken me just over two years to recognize my lost appreciation for that precious and invaluable gift I was now considering giving up—a gift I promised God I would never again take for granted.
Let me explain. When the Covid craziness first took place and we were locked out of our churches I was angry. Oh, not at first of course. I, like everyone else, figured it needed to be done and just watched Holy Mass at home in front of my TV like every other good little Catholic. We dropped to our knees, prayed the prayers and learned the “Spiritual Communion Prayer” which, like for most everyone else, was unheard of before that season. We worshipped the best we could as we stayed locked behind the invisible bars imposed on us by Global elites and that crazy little man whose name begins with F. While I missed receiving our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, we accepted our powerlessness to change the situation and did our best to worship God while we waited for normalcy to return. As the weeks passed, the enormity of that which we were missing out on began to grow and grow and I began to take a look at our Lord, the Church, and that Holy Meal which I had, after nearly half a century of easy access, taken for granted.
I’d like to take you back to May of 1973. I was so excited! It was my First Communion Day and I had been awaiting this day for the entirety of my second-grade school year, well, actually, since my older sister had made her communion two years earlier. I wanted what she had!! We had studied it, talked about it and practiced it with Sister Emily for so long we could now taste it! Pun intended. I even remember playing Holy Communion in my backyard with my sisters and neighbor girls who also attended the Catholic school with me. It was a big deal and that day could not come soon enough! Eventually, it did.
All dressed in my white finery, gloves and veil and all, I sat and listened anxiously for that special moment to arrive. I was very attentive to every word prayed by Fr. Yaniak as if he were Jesus himself. (Priests were kind of like Jesus to an eight-year-old anyway, you know). As the holy moment arrived, I folded my hands (fingers pointing to heaven like Sister Emily taught us), walked up to the priest, stuck out my tongue and received my Sweet Savior for the very first time in my body. I will never forget the awe of that moment. I got back to my pew, kneeled down, bowed my head and whispered elatedly inside my head
“I have JESUS in my tummy!!”
It was such a special moment that I was excited for my second Holy Communion and my third and maybe even my fourth. I used to count them in the beginning.: fifth communion, sixth, seventh. I was eight and I knew I was receiving a holy gift. I guess it’s why Jesus loves the little children so much.
But that “Jesus is in my tummy!” moment has never left me. I don’t know why, but I have never forgotten uttering that phrase to myself. Perhaps it was for such a time as this when that childlike awe has shamefully dissipated and the immensity of the gift that the Eucharist is has been eroded and taken for granted. It was a sad realization that makes my next story even more, well, sad as it makes me shake my head with even more shame.
As the lockdown of 2020 continued and the number of weeks lengthened in which we were forbidden from receiving my Blessed Lord in the Eucharist, I grew angry, sad and anxious. I wanted to leave my living room and Eucharist-less “mass on TV” and run back into the church. I wanted to be in His presence for real!! I was over it!! With each passing week I became acutely aware that I had, for the preceding half century, taken My Lord and this Holy Meal for granted.
It made me think about all those newly baptized Catholic Christians of the Early Church who had shed their blood rather than denounce their faith in Jesus Christ. It made me think of the Saints who came after them who would risk their lives going into war zones to valiantly fight for Christ and his Church. It made me think of Fr. Damian of Molokai who had voluntarily gone into a leper colony to distribute Holy Communion to lepers despite the fact that he, too, would very likely contract the deadly disease—which he did. It made me think of the holy Priests who, during other “real” pandemics, risked their lives to go and distribute Holy Communion to those dying of the Spanish Flu or the Plague. Why? Because they knew that this meal was life giving—that this meal was the only meal that was ever truly necessary to give us the nourishment needed to get into heaven. They’d rather have died than let their flocks go hungry. And finally, it made me think of the poor Catholics in the underground church of China today who are risking their lives to receive Our Lord each Sunday despite the threat of torture…or even death.
I had been humbled. The Lord had re-opened my eyes to something I had long taken for granted and I was ashamed. How could I have let that happen? I knew better! I was a cradle Catholic and I knew that was the Body and Blood of Christ on the altar that I’d had the privilege of ingesting each and every day of the week! The King of the universe had made Himself bread to feed me and I had barely even seen it as a meal anymore. What was wrong with me?!!?!?
By the middle of May, two long months after the Church doors were first locked, the announcement was made that the churches here in my diocese were reopening on May 24th!!! I was so happy! I couldn’t stand it! My flesh and my soul literally hungered for the Eucharist, probably in the way the Lord wished we’d all hunger for Him each and every day. Oh Jesus, PLEASE forgive me!! I will never take You for granted again! I promise!! Not realizing that not all dioceses were opening their churches, my husband and I proceeded to head to our planned trip to Florida to take care of his recently deceased mother’s house so that we could prepare it for sale. We were in Florida on that Sunday, May 24th when we learned that their churches would not be reopening until the following Sunday May 31st.
It was like being told you could open all your Christmas gifts, were all dressed up, holding them in your shaking little hands poised to yank the bows off each and every one when they are abruptly ripped from your hands and you are told you need to wait another week to open them. I know this may sound crazy, but rather than watch one more stinkin’ mass from another TV, I told my husband I needed to be as close to a church as possible. I just could no longer bear to be so far away from my Lord and somehow being outside of a Catholic church would somehow fill the aching void in my gut.
So we drove to the local Catholic church, pulled up a Holy Mass on my phone and sat there in his truck watching…and crying. I could take it no more. My tears would not stop. The pain began to accuse me of my wretched lack of appreciation. I cried some more. The pain did not dissipate. I got out of the truck and literally ran to the doors of the church. Maybe I was hoping that somehow, they’d be open. Maybe I just needed to touch that building—Christ’s house—like a grieving widow that needs to cling to the shirt of her deceased spouse just to smell his smell or feel like he is somehow still nearby, just one more time. I looked into the church and there at the front I saw that beautiful tabernacle that housed the Body of my Savior, glistening gold, spotlight upon it and I pounded on the doors like a crazy lady in the movies who’d lost her mind. But I hadn’t lost my mind. I’d found it.
As I sat there sobbing, I fell to my knees with my body pressed up against the doors of that holy place and I prayed. I begged the Lord to forgive me for all the times I could have received Him and did not. For all the times I did receive Him but was quickly thinking about the next thing I’d do that day as I returned to my pew. I begged His forgiveness for taking Him for granted, for not realizing that of all the meals I would ever eat in this world that this one was Sacred, that this one was His greatest act of humility as not only did the Word become Flesh and dwell among us but that He’d also left behind Himself physically in the form of bread and wine so that I could be strengthened each and every day to carry my cross because this meal changed my DNA each time I ate it.
As I sat there sobbing, I promised the Lord I would do my part to never again take Him—in the form of the Holy Eucharist—for granted. Jesus, I am sooo sorry! Jesus, please forgive me! Jesus, I promise to do better!
So now you understand. Now you see why I’m not so holy after all. In just over two short years I had already forgotten that tear-soaked promise made outside the doors of a locked church to never again take my Lord for granted. I had again taken Him for granted.
I suppose it’s not all bad though. I’m kind of glad now that my daughter didn’t show up—only kinda. Had she been there I’d have likely been distracted by my adorable grandson and the hair that he curled to be like his brother, listened to the homily and walked up for Communion with no recognition that I was about to receive a blessing of incomprehensible worth—I was about to receive Jesus in my tummy!!!
Jesus, I know I’m not perfect. I’m sorry for taking you for granted. Please forgive me. I’ll do better next time. Jesus, if I could ask another favor, please don’t ever let me forget You again! Deep down inside I'm still that eight-year-old girl who was so excited to receive you for the very first time. Please continue to remind me and don't ever let me forget! Thank you for being Bread from Heaven. Thank You for coming into my tummy.