When Your Soul Wraps Around What Your Mind Cannot
The very first church I remember belonging to was so new we smelled the paint on the walls. It had yet to build classrooms, so we had little to no resources for formal faith formation. “It’s the job of the parents,” the pastor said. The same pastor to usher in my first communion, ‘penance’, confirmation, and even marriage.
At this parish, we celebrated First Communion before Reconciliation, and the parents decided when their child was ready. The pastor gave my mother a book of cartoon bible characters as an aid. I particularly remember the page where Jesus sat at a long table at the Last Supper with the apostles. This blond-bearded man held up a frisbee-sized piece of bread and said the words, “Do this in memory of me.”
At some point my mother said I was ready, and putting on my last year’s pink Easter dress, at a random Mass, I received the Eucharist in a class of one. The deacon announced my name to my church family, and I went in line first.
The pastor explained to my mother that a second grader couldn’t understand The Sacrament of Reconciliation, or Penance, as they called it, but by fifth grade, we could. By then small groups of 11-year-olds met at one of our houses, and we sat around a kitchen table with popcorn and Kool-Aid and read from a similar cartoon book. Mostly scripture stories about Jesus and all his miracles. Pure magic. No wonder we were still talking about him in the year 1976.
On the day the parish scheduled the fifth graders for Penance, my mother drove me to church.
“What am I supposed to do?” I asked.
“What?” My mother sucked in air. “Didn’t 'they’ teach you?”
“Teach me what?”
I think she gave me the quickest tutorial on the logistics of the sacrament ever.
When it was my turn in the corner of the small chapel, two chairs were dimly lit by votive candles and the priest asked for my Act of Contrition.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“What do you want from this sacrament today?” he asked.
I remembered my mother’s words. “Well, I’m truly sorry for my sins, and I’d like to be forgiven.” Then I added my own thoughts. “So I can be in heaven with God forever.”
He gave me absolution, then I told him I really wanted to learn more about what just went on.
“You know enough,” he said.
Afterward, my mother called the pastor to chat about my lack of formation. He said it was her job.
But my mother did form me, she formed all of us. We never missed Mass. Ever. Before each meal, we said our blessing, always adding a Hail Mary at the end. We lit candles in an Advent wreath every year and fasted during Lent.
She modeled honesty, hard work, and kindness. And still, with me today is her advice, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
When it was time to get married, I was excited to have a Mass said just for me and my husband-to-be, Galen.
At the time he was in graduate school, and we were at a gathering of grad students. Anna, the youngest of 10 in a Catholic family, and smart as a whip (later a professor at Berkley), asked me if I really was going to remain Catholic.
“Of course,” I said.
“Why?” she said. I must have look dumbfounded. “Do you really believe that the Eucharist is the Body of Christ? His actual physical body?”
“We believe that?” I said.
And what does a young girl do? I ran to my mother. “Is it true that as Catholics believe the Eucharist is actually the physical body of Christ?”
Again, that sucking in of air. “Of course,” she said.
“How come I didn’t know that?” I asked, face hot.
“When you go up there, they tell say: this is the Body of Christ.”
The Catholic Faith was precious to me, special. But why, if I didn’t even understand the sacraments, did it pull my heart so hard? I had to unfold these mysteries, and my hunger was deep. Why did I love my church so much? Why did I feel chosen?
The first order of business was listening to the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass. Before it was rote, the same ole same ole, repeated over and over and giving me nothing new.
Until I listened to it. Really listened.
After we offer the simple bread and wine to the altar, we thank Jesus for breaking the bonds of death. We ask that our gifts be made holy like the dewfall. (And how is the Eucharist like dewfall?) The priest repeats the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, not so much for us to remember, but so we experience this moment, as if we are really there, because we are, in God-time. It is for me that Jesus died and conquered death, but he did it for many. For those living past, present, and future.
The priest asks the Holy Spirit to come down and make the simple bread and wine Jesus by lifting his hands up
high over the gifts and praying for the Holy Spirit to fill them, then the priest seals the deal with the sign of the cross.
Next, we proclaim his death, and profess his resurrection, until he comes again. And as a corporate people of Christ, we share in God’s beautiful promise.
As we celebrate, we ask that God take care of us, the Church, spread throughout the world, and that He remembers the servants both alive, and those who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection. We pray with Mary, the Apostles, and all the saints, and all we share forever with.
Finally, the priest, for us, offers back to God the Bread and Wine, now the Body and Blood of Christ. In unity with God, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, together we proclaim the Great Amen. We believe.
Then we receive that gift of Jesus. His entire being. His physical body.
And it becomes our turn to do something.
At some point, my soul wrapped around a reality my brain could not yet absorb. I named it Faith and believed.
But God wasn’t done with me yet.
He threw me a ball, and although not very athletic, I caught it. That ball was the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS).
This space in my heart, named faith, needed me to explore more deeply and share. God called me by name to be a catechist.
The completeness of this CGS formation, where we take the Holy Scriptures, the Liturgy and Catholic traditions, reality and our life, then present it in its most essential forms, continues to make me suck in air.
The youngest children are close to the simple gifts of God and understand deep mysteries as they experience them. They are thankful for their family, pets, the earth, their bodies on the playground, the food on their plates, and for Jesus, who gives all of himself to us, and teaches us how to be joyful by living like him.
Have we not all been delighted when we see things through the eyes of a child?
They appreciate the protection of the Good Shepherd and cherish being called by name. The children understand the Kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a large bush, but someone needs to plant that seed and tend it. They joyfully grasp that God is the vine grower, Jesus is the Vine, and they are the branches and how they want the Holy Spirit to travel through them, so the vine can grow more beautiful.
They want to be with Jesus forever in heaven.
And they long to know . . . how the world works, and their place in it, so they can live well, live joyfully as Jesus proclaimed his desire for us. Is that not similar to what each parent longs for their child?
So cherished friends in Jesus, if you have an unnamed space in your heart, a longing, start with listening.
To the prayers at Mass.
To the children and their actions and prayers.
To creation—all the gifts that shower you every day. Really, you’re not too busy, too cluttered to notice. It simply takes intention.
And trust your heart. There are treasures ready to be discovered.
I pray, if you’re searching, you find those hidden gems God longs for you to enjoy.