As a Baptist, my baptism at the age of nine allowed me to begin participating in the Lord’s Supper. We observed this ordinance once a quarter and it was always at a Sunday evening candlelight worship service. The Pastor would say things at the beginning I did not understand. He would begin by saying some version of, “We do not believe the bread and juice mysteriously turn into the body and blood of Christ.” Alternatively, he would say a few words to emphasize that the bread and juice are only seen as symbols. A few minutes later, he would read from the Bible where Jesus says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” The tray would pass with the tiny Tic Tac sized bits of unleavened bread. I’d quickly scan the tray for the largest bit. I took mine and passed it on. Here would always begin my meditation. I closed my eyes to vision the crucifixion and the torn body of Christ. “Eat of my flesh” Jesus says and I would imagine the bread as His body. “Take and eat” the Pastor says and we all eat the bread. I take my cup of juice from the tray. “This is my blood” and I hold it into the candlelight and will myself to see real blood. “Take and drink” the Pastor says and we all drink the juice. It was not until I was older that I pondered the introductory statement made by my Pastor regarding symbolism. Telling me that we do not believe this to be true has the effect of telling me someone else does. Why don’t we take Jesus to mean exactly what he said in the scripture? I continued this deep meditation of body and blood at the Lord’s Supper throughout my young life and into my adulthood. I don’t even think I was aware that I believed something different from those around me. I just know that I was striving to reach as deep into Communion as I could get.
In the late 80’s, I entered a Catholic church for the first time. It was to attend the memorial service of a co-worker. I walked from my office to Sacred Heart in Atlanta. While waiting for the service to begin, I was impacted by the ornate decor of the sanctuary. It was the first time I was confronted by a near life size crucifix with Jesus on the cross. The image sent me into the same “Lord’s Supper” meditation of the body and blood of Christ. I wrote a short reflection of the experience and tried to submit it to a Baptist publication house for their Singles’ magazine. It was rejected.
In Nov 1995, I made my first International trip to Italy. The Italy by rail trip took me to Rome, Pompeii, Florence, Pisa, Venice, and Milan. I realized there was a lot I didn’t know about by Christian heritage. I saw the Roman Catholic Church as something of God’s preservation foundation. I couldn’t gloss over the fact that St. Peter’s Basilica was over the tomb of the Peter from my Bible. I returned home with more questions and a growing dissatisfaction with the church of my childhood.
It wasn’t too long after this that my career took me in a new direction. I changed departments and ended up on a project team with an evangelical Catholic. He was perhaps the first Catholic I knew who seemed joyful about it. I don’t believe I ever had a full understanding of the separation between Protestant and Catholic. I had no ill feelings toward Catholicism. In fact, I already held a healthy admiration and respect for Pope John Paul II. When I detailed my Lord’s Supper meditation to my friend and proclaimed that the scripture must be true – I meant literally true – my friend was amazed. He gently – not too pushy – explained the Real Presence and transubstantiation. So, my pastor was talking about the Catholics then. Wow. Nevertheless, the Bible says… I continued to say. If Jesus’ followers didn’t take him literally, why did a lot of them leave? My friend said I should be Catholic if I believed in the Real Presence. He suggested I visit a Catholic Mass to see for myself. I did just that. I contacted another Catholic friend and asked her if I could come with her one Sunday. It only took one Mass at St. Philip Benizi to open my eyes wide to what I’d been missing. This was the real meal deal. Super size me please….
My first Mass is an experience I will never forget. I was first transfixed on the massive Crucifix. No church should be without this image. I was captured by the formality and absolute grandeur of the service. I heard scripture and the homily touched me. I followed along with my friend for the appropriate times to kneel and she whispered explanations to what I was seeing. I felt the Holy Spirit moving. I had heard nothing that contradicted what I thought to be solid Bible teaching. Better still, the Homily was a “pure message.” There was no preacher putting his own interpreting spin on the scripture. It was plain and simple. I was already feeling emotional when the Liturgy of the Eucharist began. I recognized many phrases and responses by the Priest and congregation as coming straight from scripture. As the Host was held up, I felt the veil falling from my mind and I was totally opened to what God was showing me. Never had I seen the body of Christ given such honor and respect. Everything on the altar table was cherished and handled with great respect. It was so holy and I thought of the cardboard box containing the Lord’s Supper supplies shoved into the closet of my church.
As the Lamb of God was sung, the knot in my throat was choking back tears. I could see John the Baptist standing by the banks of the Jordan pointing at his cousin, Jesus, shouting, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” I bet John reeled from that moment. “Jesus, my cousin, the Messiah?”, he could have thought. I don’t think he had a clue before the Holy Spirit had suddenly revealed it to him. John was born for that very moment and he had prepared the people for the “one who was to come after him.” This was his moment to point the way. It brings me back to my Nativity reflections. The mothers – Elizabeth, an older barren women, and Mary, a young virgin. John, a wilderness nut, crying for the people to repent and be baptized. Jesus, crying the Kingdom of God is at hand. John, born to point the way and die. Jesus, born to be the Way and die.
I wanted to fall down in front of God at that moment and weep. I was a child again who would close her eyes tightly during the Lord’s Supper and trying to imagine being at the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. I remembered holding the tiny bread and thinking of Jesus’ torn body and the little cup of grape juice trying to see blood. The difference here was that, if I closed my eyes, I might miss something. This was a visual feast and the scriptures were coming alive in front of me. At that moment, I knew this was the Communion I was destined to receive. This is where I’ve been trying to get to all my life. This is the first time I ever felt as though I were at the original last supper table. I couldn’t take my eyes off the people as they came forward to take the bread. I went for a blessing – the first of many. I remember returning to work on Monday and asking my friend how an adult Protestant becomes Catholic. All the Catholics I knew were raised in Catholic families. He explained the next step is the Inquiry class. Being Catholic isn’t like being born Jewish — I can become a Catholic.
Afterwards, I was compelled to return each week to hear the homily and receive a blessing. I quickly found the Inquiry class by calling a phone number in the parish bulletin. Once I began attending Inquiry classes, I realized there are many people who come from other religious faiths. We were asked to introduce ourselves and make a statement about what brought us to the Inquiry class. From the first night, I said, “I want to be Catholic.” So, I began the classes in the summer of 1998 and was received at the Easter Vigil in April 1999. So, I now enjoy the full meal deal as often as I receive it.