Not long ago I was at a conference which was held at the St. John Center in Plymouth. The St. John Center is an old converted seminary, surrounded by a golf course, a beautiful place. And at one of the presentations a psychologist by the name of Andrew told us his conversion story. And I’m such a geek that I took notes about his conversion. Andrew began his adult life by pursuing the gay lifestyle to the utmost. He was a great proponent and defender of the life-style. After nearly a decade of doing whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted and with whomever he wanted he began to feel that something was missing. This so called freedom, he was living felt empty and meaningless, it felt like a dead-end. One night after getting drunk he wandered the streets not really knowing where he was going and he ended up passing by a tent revival of some evangelical Christian group. They were loud, singing and praying at the top of their lungs. And they were joyful. And Andrew thought to himself, “What have I got to lose?” He went into the tent, and in that tent, he found a community, and he found love, he found real love, and most importantly he found Jesus.
That was Andrew’s turning point. He joined that community, he left behind his old life. And he pursued Christianity with gusto. He prayed, he went church services, he researched and he studied. He studied everything he could find. Even studying the earliest Christian writings. And in those writings he read of the Eucharist. He read of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. And he was intrigued. Now he knew that Catholics believed in the Eucharist but he wasn’t ever going to become a Catholic, they’re crazy, all those outdated beliefs. And so he did the next best thing, he said, he joined an Episcopal church. But after a few months that just didn’t seem right either he said. And so one Sunday he did what he thought he’d never do, we went into the Catholic Church down the street from his home. And in that church he saw a tabernacle for the very first time.
At this church during communion time the priest left the tabernacle door open. And this caught Andrew’s attention. Week after week that open door beckoned him. He began seeing it as an open doorway to Heaven, Jesus was there, he couldn’t take his eyes off of the open door and the Inhabitant of that gold box. He was beginning to ache to receive the Eucharist. He really believed that this was Jesus in that tabernacle. And so he reasoned with himself, “If I can believe that the Church gives me Jesus in the Eucharist, then why can’t I believe that the Church gives me Jesus, the way of life.” In other words if I can believe the Church when she tells me Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, then I can believe everything else she teaches. He eventually did, and through the RCIA process, and a big dose of grace, he came to believe everything. And at the next Easter vigil he made his first Holy Communion. And as he walked back to his pew, after receiving for the very first time, he said he felt a fullness, and a satisfaction, and a sweetness like he had never felt before. He was home.
The Eucharist is the center of our lives as Catholics. Objectively speaking, there is nothing that we can ever do in this life that can compare with what happens when we receive communion. There is an intimate union of hearts. By the power of the Holy Spirit, ordinary bread and wine are changed into the Body, Blood, soul, and Divinity of Jesus. So when we receive the Eucharist, we feed on God, we feed on His divine life, his power, and his love. That’s why we don’t chew gum when we come to communion, and why we wear nice clothes when we come to Mass, because nothing can compare with this. And yet, often times, for many of us, we don’t leave full and satisfied and filled with a sweetness.
How can we change this? Let me make three suggestions. Let me suggest we all make an effort to do three things and see if Mass changes any for us. First, let’s try to get here a few minutes early. And when we get here, let’s take some time to pray, to ask God to help us understand the Mass; let’s ask Him to help us to encounter Him; lets ask Him to reveal Himself to us with all of our cares and concerns. Second, don’t leave early. What could possibly be more important than saying “Thank You” to the One who made you, loves you, and has just given Himself to you to eat? So take a minute or two to say thanks, and to reflect on what has happened and who has just entered into you. And we’ll try to be quiet here in the church. Third, make an effort to read the Gospel before coming to Mass. Come prepared, and come both hungry and expecting to get fed.
God has so much more for us than what many of us are settling for. As you approach the tabernacle remember, he’s been waiting for you for twenty centuries. He always does His part. Let’s try in the weeks ahead to work more on our part.
Pax et Bonum,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley