My husband and I recently had the honor of attending the First Communion for one of our son’s classmates. His face was lit up with anticipation as he waited for his turn to receive the Eucharist. When he puckered his mouth after drinking the wine, I felt grateful to witness this part of his story with Christ.
But the delight of the sacrament faded in the coffee hour that followed it, as an acquaintance leaned over and whispered to me, “My cousin is always complaining about the Church but went up for the Eucharist anyway.” I stiffened listening to this. I knew the implication. In her eyes, this cousin was not worthy to take the Eucharist.
My body tensed because I have felt the unworthiness she was projecting. I recall times friends would invite me to coffee and then bring up some sin they thought they saw in my life. They perceived that my walk with God was not “Christian” enough for them and it was their duty to correct my path. In their eyes, I was not as spiritually mature as they would have liked me to be. A friend recently confessed a similar impression she got when out with certain friends. “Sometimes I just want God, not a to-do list to make others more comfortable with where I’m at spiritually,” she said.
During those coffee dates I was startled by my friends’ judgments. At the time, I was growing quickly in my faith, making it more my own — not that of my parents or my community. I was excited to learn and delighted to nurture my own devotion. Their judgment stopped me in my tracks, caused me to second-guess myself, and made me uncomfortable at church. I wanted to be loved by the Church as I felt loved by God. I wanted to be forgiven. Those friends didn’t deter me from seeking God, though. God is big enough to lead us to Him.
That evening, I read to my sons before bed. Shasta, a character in The Horse and His Boy, from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia books, is feeling very sorry for himself as he thinks of all the misfortunes he has experienced. In his sadness, the great lion Aslan, who represents Christ, reveals that what Shasta saw as misfortune was Aslan protecting him all along. Then Shasta asks why Aslan wounded his friend Aravis, and Aslan replies, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.” In other words, focus on your own journey. I was grateful for the simple explanation.
Time has given me compassion for those judgy friends. And of course, I’m not innocent: I’ve also spoken too quickly about someone who annoyed me, rubbed me the wrong way or, yes, who I thought was sinning.
But St. Paul reminds me that this is an issue that has existed since Jesus’ days. In his letter to the Romans, he writes that you “have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else… because you who pass judgment do the same things… not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance.” (Romans 2)
Have you ever met someone who inspires you to be a better person? This person doesn’t point out where you fall, but inspires you to be who you’ve always wanted to be. That person is reminding you of the goodness of God.
Sacraments are meant to have an evangelistic aspect to them. We are reminded of our own sacraments, our own story with Christ, as we participate as do those who have fallen away. We are reminded to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8) I lay in bed that night, recalling the light in my son’s classmate’s face as he took the Eucharist for the first time that morning. Next year my own son will have his First Communion. Even his story is not my own, yet I fall asleep praying that God might use me to show my son His goodness. I feel unworthy for the task.
We are all unworthy and yet Christ kindly invites us again and again to participate in His goodness. I want to be someone who reminds you of your story with Christ. It’s a beautiful story. One where what you thought was misfortune, God used for good. One where God met you at your level and, with His kindness and goodness, invited you to grow. In this story, we are supporting characters who watch lovingly with anticipation as Christ leads us to Him, to be the people He created us to be.