Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Holy, Blessed Communion

I was confirmed this last Easter. It took me quite some time to decide that I wanted to be confirmed, during which time I met my husband (confirmed the year we met), attended mass with him, married him in the Church, and baptized our four children in its beautiful tradition. Eventually, I realized that I had become Catholic in my heart. (I am not trying to convert you. I am Catholic now, because that is where God wants me to be. If you are seeking God and listening to His Spirit, you are where he wishes you to be...or you soon will be.)

That is quite a transformation, actually, because when I first found out the man my sister had set me up with was Catholic, I was pretty near horrified. I laugh now at my ignorance, but then I had many of the Protestant misconceptions and superstitions about Catholicism: They worship Mary and idols! They pray to saints as if they were God. They love ritual and leave no room for the movement of the Holy Spirit. They think the Pope is all powerful and all knowing.

I don't address those misconceptions except to say that they are false and based on prejudices that have survived for hundreds of years. Anyway, when I said to my dad in dismay, "Dad, he's Catholic", I was really taken aback by his wise response, "Hillary, that's the oldest Christian Church there is." 

What truly drew me into the Church was quite simply the Liturgy of the Eucharist. When I witnessed it in person, I was awed by it immediately and was deeply appreciative of its faithfulness to Christ's words and actions. In fact, in the Creed and the entire liturgy, I was surprised to find the Word of God so manifest. Ironically, though, the Blessed Sacrament that I love and revere so much would give me a great deal of trepidation before my confirmation into the Catholic family.

I had made a mistake in ignorance, perpetuated by pride concerning this Sacrament. For me it was not an option to conceal this mistake. I am a very open person, and I despise giving others a false impression of myself. I told one priest in person, who dismissed the mistake with his nonjudgmental gaze, and then another in an e-mail. I was left alone to contemplate my folly, because a slew of RCIA classes (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults - required before confirmation to learn the theology and traditions of the Church) were canceled; the first priest who led them experienced a serious injury due to a fall, and the second priest, taking over the classes, was out of the country when I sent my e-mail.

I spent days in uncertainty, and one day in my anxious solitude, I finally broke down and wept over my unfortunate mistake, completely abased. Yet, when I shed those tears, I felt that I had done what God expected of me in acknowledging my fault, and that He, most importantly, had already forgiven me for it.

The second priest, whose lecture on Christian morality had in part inspired my contrition, decided to reschedule a RCIA class that had been canceled - I think because of my desperate e-mail.  It was awkward when I came in a little later than I had hoped. I could tell that he had indeed reviewed my lengthy e-mail and disapproved of the decision-making I had revealed in it. Still, I was there, and I was determined to thrust forward through any obstacle. He recognized that in my demeanor, I think, and we both settled in with the rest of the class to discuss the history and significance of theTriduum - Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday Night.

Soon after I attended Holy Thursday Mass for the first time in all my ten plus years of attending Catholic Church. I would do it a great injustice if I tried to describe its beauty and solemnity here for you, but it suffices to say that I hope never to miss participating in it again.

Then came Holy Saturday night, my confirmation night. Excited, nervous - flipping out at intervals - I showed up at church and waited with a small crowd for the Easter candle to be lit and passed on. When it was done and the light began to travel from candle to candle in the congregation, I was unable to follow the priest into the church with the rest of the candidates and catechumens as I was meant to. Instead I had to force myself to the front of the church later with my sponsor and try to claim remaining room in the seats reserved for us. The only room left was in the very front pew on the aisle. I am not sure whether others had refused that place, nervous about its prominence, but my sponsor and I took it gladly.

At first I felt the service did not live up to the one I had attended when engaged to my husband in San Antonio, but then the musical director began to sing the Litany of Saints for all the unbaptized (catechumens) standing before the gathered parishioners. It was beautiful and moving as she proceeded through apostles and archangels to saints who followed later. I was enthralled, and when it was my turn to stand at the front and be confirmed before all, I was joyous.

But what I will always remember most about that night is Communion. I have told you that I was seated in the very first pew. The catechumens and the candidates were to receive the Sacrament first. When the priest came down from the altar, I looked across the aisle to the catechumens, not wanting to jump before others. They hesitated, because many of them were young kids, and Father hastily motioned me forward. In that moment, my lovely sponsor stepped out of the way to let me proceed, and I realized I would be the first in my parish to receive the Eucharist at Easter Vigil. It didn't strike me fully until after I had received it and returned to the kneeler. Then moisture leaked from my eyes, and unfortunately my nose as well, in a flood. I offered up a spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving, God is merciful. His Mercy endures forever. Thank you, thank you for Your mercy. While doing so I glanced up to see my little children, who had behaved so well at such a late service, receive a blessing from the priest and watched my husband receive Communion, and my gratitude increased. (My eldest son would himself be confirmed in another month. I had for some time held the hope that we could be confirmed in the same year.)

Things got too moist and messy, and not knowing how else to battle my wet face without lifting up my skirt, I begged several tissues from my friend and sponsor. I felt embarrassed; I was the only one who seemed to be reacting in such a powerful and obvious way for others to see. Still, more than embarrassment at having my emotion exposed, I felt God had conferred on me a special blessing that night. In that holy gift of His Son, He was telling me my mistake no longer mattered, His love for me was boundless, and His mercy truly does endure forever.

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