A Lenten Note to my Fellow Catholics…

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.

After dropping off my son Zach at school on Tuesday, I headed over to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church to attend morning mass.  Things don’t always go according to plan.  Deacon Paul Lunsford greeted us after having received a text message which he described as an “SOS” from Fr. Richard at 3:30am.  It turns out the good padre was sick.  There was to be a communion service instead of mass.  Deacon Paul did a lovely job, and folks were gracious and appreciative, but he sensed the disappointment in the room and spoke of it saying, “You know, your somber faces are sort of inspiring actually.  You people wanted to see the miracle this morning.” 

Exactly right.

Daily mass people are unicorns.  Sure, they’re a room full of screwed up sinners just like all the rest of humanity.  Their defining difference is that they know about the miracle and understand what it means—at least enough to force themselves out of their pajamas and into a church building before 8am.  Let’s be honest, that’s no small thing for a group largely comprised of retirees.  It’s cold in Indiana right now.  It’s snowy.  It’s icy.  Those are the exact things folks like me who are old enough to need “progressive lenses” will do almost anything to avoid.  Yet there we are.

You guys, I have a confession to make.  I’m writing today in reparation.  I need a “do-over”.  Ash Wednesday wasn’t my holiest day.  It started out fine.  I went to grab a quick coffee with a friend to celebrate her birthday, then we headed to mass.  I was ready for Lent, and truly happy to be there…or so I thought.  The fantastic John and Donna McCurdy meandered in before me, and they invited me to sit next to them.  In came Jeff and Pat Kniola next, full of smiles and hugs.  A woman I apparently met once at a tennis match was seated behind me and introduced herself again.  Because I have total recall of about 30 seconds, I admit that now I cannot remember her name, but I do remember her sweet son…an 8th grader named Max with mad tennis skills who will be a Golden Eagle in the fall.  We chatted before mass began, and my disposition was positive.  There were still a few minutes yet before mass and (as if possessed by the devil?) I glanced down at my phone and began scrolling. 

I found a tweet sent by a prominent Catholic school administrator.  “The most powerful part of mass this morning was when the student musicians stopped singing to receive communion and the entire body of K-3 students lifted their voices to continue the song beautifully unaccompanied.  Wow.”

The sweet moment described, charming though it may be, was most definitively NOT the most powerful part of mass.  I was bugged.  An experienced Catholic school teacher replied to the tweet, “that’s always my favorite part of mass too!”  Now, I was both self-righteous and on the peck.

At this point, calling me “Judgy McJudgerson” would be completely appropriate.  It’s an endearing disposition with which I entered into Lent at Guerin Catholic’s all-school mass. NOT.  That probably explains why I was pre-disposed to crabbiness when dozens of folks were unable to receive Jesus at this mass because the supply of consecrated hosts fell short.  The same goes for my less than gracious receipt of the typical Ash Wednesday wondering by a fellow shopper at Meijer about the disgraceful state of my “dirty face”.  I tried to answer kindly, and I think I managed to be convincing?  My son later told me that Jesus was distributed at lunchtime to the students/staff who missed their opportunity at mass.  I must have been “hangry” because I was interiorly all horns and rattles, just like at Meijer.

My inner voice said snarkily, “Jesus with your grilled cheese, son?”  Yes, I realize this does not paint me in particularly flattering light.  Thank you, God for Your grace which preserves us, often in spite of ourselves. 

At some point, the profoundly false sense of moral superiority with which I was conducting myself washed over me.  I think exteriorly I mostly pulled it off yesterday, but ultimately all these things are between ourselves and the Lord, and I knew I had failed.  Picture how one might look in the “surrender cobra” position while watching your favorite team blow a big lead? Yep. That was me.

My heartfelt act of contrition as well as this little post is my attempt to enter into the Lenten season anew while being gentle and fair with myself, a thing I struggle with greatly.  I’m hoping you’ll stay with me a few moments more and allow me to explain myself.

A Pew Research Center study came out a few months back which knaws at me, and I think I’ve been in denial.  It might be partially responsible for the fire breathing I did yesterday.  It revealed that 70% of Catholics don’t believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Most apparently think Jesus is only symbolically present in this sacrament through the bread and the wine, including those Catholic educators whose tweets I read before mass.

Umm. Houston?  We have a problem. 

I’m with American novelist, Flannery O’Connor, (who often reflected her Catholic faith in her work) on this when she famously said, “If it’s only a symbol, I say to hell with it!”  It’s the source and summit of Christian life.  It’s not a bland symbol.   If it’s just a priest telling us a story about the life of Jesus, then really who cares about the mass? But if it’s a priest speaking IN PERSONA CHRISTI (in the person of Christ) then it’s of crucial significance—and I want it like a starving person.  I want it for you too.

Books and words are my jam. I read fast and devour all sorts of language—mysterious, symbolic, sexy, and descriptive. I adore many differing genres—some of it is actual literature and some is more of the trashy beach read variety. What can I say? We all have vices. I digress, but ask me anytime if you need a good book recommendation! I know that language can be active and transformative. I’d guess you do too at some level. Has anyone ever said something to you that made you fall in love? Have you been deeply wounded by the spoken word? Has a stranger made your soul smile? Human language can be not only descriptive but deeply transformative—it can change reality.

Imagine then what God can do with words? I mean, unlike us, He’s God, people! He spoke the world into being. “Let there be light.” There’s also this one, “Lazarus come out” and then a dead man came out!! What God says IS. Jesus is not just one human figure among many. He is the Word Made Flesh.

Have you ever been nearby when someone was dying?  Very few people reach my age without such an experience.  Those last words and final actions stay with us.  They’re inevitably memorable because they are special.  We attend to them, because humans don’t waste last words.  Our truth and essence are spoken in those moments.  That’s why it seems so fitting to me that Jesus established the Eucharist the night before He died.  Jesus Christ himself took bread and said, “This is my body”.  He literally speaks His presence into being under the appearance of bread and wine. 

There are lots of other reasons why I believe in the unsurpassable presence of Christ in the Eucharist.   If you ever want to talk about it, I’ll be glad to chat with you about John 6, Eucharistic miracles, or the doctrine of transubstantiation.  However, the senses must be informed by faith.

I screwed it all up yesterday being judgmental and ill-tempered.  I’ve been known to let my mama bear claws come out in defense of my three sons in unattractive ways, too, but ultimately my failures were usually about love.  The same is true here.  I am profoundly and intensely in love with Jesus.  It changes everything.  That’s why I want you to know Him in a vividly personal way too. I’ll be praying for that in a special way this Lent.

Thankfully, today is another chance– to be forgiven, to be the face of Christ for another.  I’ve got my food for the journey today and I wanted to tell you why in case one of you needs to know or can be helped by hearing it.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.

Our Lady, Mother of Mercy, Pray for Us.

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