“My deepest vocation,” spiritual writer Henri Nouwen said, “is to be a witness to the glimpses of God I have been allowed to catch.” Here’s one:
I attended Mass recently at the Cathedral in San Francisco where I live, and even though the space is lovely and the experience of worship good, since I had been in an ebb time, spiritually speaking, I didn’t expect to run smack into the Holy Spirit.
A priest who believed
“The body of Christ,” he said, offering me the host. Truly the priest before me believed it was. I could see the faith, the hope, the expectation in the eyes which met mine.
I always like a priest who will meet your eyes when saying to you, “The body of Christ.” This moment is intimate. This sharing of what is most essential to Catholic faith. Most essential to many lives, including mine.
“Amen,” I said, and my spirit responded to the spirit of belief evidenced in this man’s eyes: tears came to mine. These moments are gifts. When the belief we see in another triggers our own deepest beliefs, our hope, and our truth…
But what made this most amazing was who this priest was and how—just moments before—I had been trying to figure out a way not to go to him for communion.
This mass was being celebrated with the cardinals of the United States in a prelude to a fundraising dinner for the Catholic University of America . Helping a friend set up for the liturgy, it seemed appropriate to stay and join in.
As the liturgy unfolded it became clear that Cardinal Bernard Law—who resigned as Archbishop of Boston in disgrace last year—was to head the line to which my section of pews would file.
Now, no matter what you think of the sexual abuse scandals that are calling the Church to reform, Cardinal Law has certainly been made the poster boy for appalling prelate behavior. And I’m no different from anyone else in my aversion to contamination by another’s scandal and sin.
So, as I saw people a few rows up, sneak out the opposite side to another line, I think I know why and I was tempted to join them.
Pray all the way
So, what does one do in moments of indecision like this? Well, I sent up a prayer to God to help me. I prayed to be able to approach this priest, this cardinal of the Church, with as much faith in the Eucharist as I could muster. I prayed for the openness to be able to meet his eyes and treat him as I would want to be treated if my sins were made public in the way his have been.
I walked slowly behind the other communicants. I prayed all the way up the aisle.
Who is the body of Christ?
The host held out, the sad eyes, the hope and expectation relayed in a moment’s glance.
What is the body of Christ? Or rather, who is? Surely this priest was the body of Christ in that moment: the wounded Christ. Jesus was guilty and innocent. Guilty of inciting insurrection, of criticizing the authorities. Innocent, however, of any sin, of anything that merited death—a final cutting off from the community.
Ah, but that was then, you say. We wouldn’t do that today, of course. Yet, I’m sure if I had been there, I would have been one of the crowd screaming, “Crucify him.” I’ve got that in me. I’m aware that I am the teeniest bit judgmental. I like to think I’m not, but then I notice myself thinking oh so negative thoughts about certain drivers or people with 17 items in their shopping cart in the 10-item lane.
Of chickens, dying, and rising
Jesus said, love your enemies. The writer Annie Dillard reminds us, “There were no formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure generation. There is no one here but us chickens, and so it has always been: a people busy and powerful, knowledgeable, ambivalent, important, fearful, and self-aware; a people who scheme, promote, deceive, and conquer; who pray for their loved ones, and long to flee misery and skip death.”
But Jesus didn’t skip death. What was that all about then, if not to show us that there can be resurrection after the death, whatever the death may look like?