Hem of His Garment

Another Atlanta Eucharistic Congress has come to a close.  I’m always a little sad when it is over — a little glad we’ve been given next year’s theme — the promise of another congress next year.  My experience every year is different.  This year I was focused on not missing any of Fr. Leo Patalinghug’s presentations — he gave three different talks at three tracks — Young Adults — Teens — Adults.  He was the keynote speaker of the Friday night Young Adult Revive track.  I had a dilemma.  Also at the same, Fr. Jack Durkin, Pastor of St. Monica’s in Duluth, was leading the Healing service.   I’ve been following Fr. Leo for about two years.  I was introduced to his Grace Before Meals mission at the first Catholic New Media Celebration in June of 2008.  He was the keynote speaker.  Fr. Leo has recently gained more recognition since beating Iron Chef Bobby Flay in a fajita throw down last Fall.   I’ve known of Fr. Jack since the time I was newly Catholic and attending Catholic apologetics series at our Cathedral.  He is a gifted speaker — a gifted homilist.  I subscribe to his homilies and download them via iTunes.  I was looking forward to hearing him at the Healing service — but, Fr. Leo is speaking at the same time.  After the opening Mass, I decided to run down to the Young Adult track to hear Fr. Leo.  As soon as Fr. Leo was stepping off the stage, I was off and running again — hoping there was still some Healing service to attend.  I was not disappointed.

As I returned to the main hall, I saw people gathered up front as Fr. Jack was walking back and forth, holding a monstrance that must have equaled him in weight.  He had invited those for healing to come forward and touch the humeral veil.  He spoke of the woman with the issue of blood who had faith that, if she could just touch the hem of His garment, she would be healed.  As the crowd pressed around Jesus — the woman reached out and did touch His hem.  He felt the power go out of Him and he asked “Who touched me?”  We were invited to be that woman and touch the humeral veil in the same manner.  This is my most favorite miracle and I instantly choked back emotions that came to me.  Jesus heals.  I think this is the most astounding statement regarding His divinity — Jesus did not make eye contact with this woman.  No prior knowledge of her illness is given.  Jesus did not choose to heal her.  He even asked, “Who touched me?, I felt the power go out of me.”  By the mere virtue of His divinity, He does heal. The great I Am is the great Healer.   And so, the ushers made a path for Fr. Jack to come down the middle row. With many of us lined up on either side, like Jesus, he made his way down through an ever pressing crowd — wielding the heavy monstrance — bearing a very large consecrated Sacred Host — the face of Jesus made His way down aisle.  The monstrance was heavy and Fr. Jack seemed nearly to fall over with the people pressing close — he didn’t fall.  On my knees, I prayed and thought of the woman — how her story has touched me for so many years — I reached out and gently fingered the hem of the humeral veil as Fr. Jack passed by with Jesus.  This was such a precious gift to me.  And so, Fr. Jack processed throughout the hall for quite some time.

I laugh to think my biggest Friday night decision is making up my mind on which priest to listen to.  I think even if George Clooney had walked through the door as I was running down the hall — I would’ve kept going.  My celebrities — my stars — are those that bring me bread from heaven — a Eucharistic meal.

Fr. Leo Patalinghug and Me


Living Bread

I recently attended the Annual Regional Gathering of my Secular Franciscan region.   I shopped in the Franciscan book store and signed up for adoration.  We had perpetual adoration throughout the weekend.  I bought a book, “Quiet Moments with Padre Pio,” and took it with me to adoration.  I took several things with me to the adoration chapel — expecting to read, or, pray the rosary.  But, I’d just come from a session that talked about the discipline of listening.  Where best to listen than in the adoration chapel.  I opened the Padre Pio book to the first page and read:

Don’t Worry About Tomorrow – July 4, 1917 letter to Capuchin seminarians

I recommend to you to have a firm and general proposal to always serve God with all your heart; do not worry about tomorrow.  Think about doing good today.  And when tomorrow comes, it will be today and then you can think about it.  Trust in Providence.  It is necessary to make provisions of Manna for only one day and no more.  Remember the people of Israel in the desert.

I closed the book and looked at Jesus exposed in the monstrance before me — I thought of the living bread from heaven discourses in our Gospel readings.  I began to talk to Jesus in my journal.

What if God has given me more Manna than I need?  I desire to share my portion with those I love.  But, what if I must hand them chopsticks with which to eat and they do not know how?  Do I find the fork and a knife?  Do I get a spoon and feed them like my child?  How do I share my great portion with those who do not know how to receive it?

I wept bitter tears of sorrow over the things which I have no control.

Today we read John chapter 6 — “Eat my flesh” repeated over and over.  “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”  So, I recall the days when I tried to see this — to understand this — to realize that I already believed.  Today, I realized in a different way what a special grace it is to move from symbols to True Presence.  Today, I also learned the answer to my question; I use the spoon.

10th Catholic Anniversary Reflections

So, I have not blogged since Easter Sunday.  I’ve had a lot of time to reflect over the last ten years — I’ve been Catholic now for ten years.  I’ve not been disappointed, or ever doubted my calling — the way in which I ran into the arms of the Roman Catholic Church.  There is no other way to come in — when you already believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  At least I already believed enough in order to seek the rest of the story.  This year my Easter Vigil was extra special — knowing the Elect and Candidates through my participation on the OCIA team this year.  Ah.. Easter Vigil — I come for the smells — the bon fire, incense, and Chrism oil.  I come for the baptismal water and a renewal of promises.  I even come to hear a large portion of Bible read — from Creation to Resurrection.  It makes it all so real for me again — something the Catholic Church does well — making things real again.   I feel that my spiritual life was rescued the day I sat in my first Inquiry session and said, “I want to be Catholic.”   I was very hungry — starving — raised in a tradition that lacked vital nutrients.  Every day I fall more in love with heaven — my heaven has more people in it now that I can talk too. <grin>  Where ever I’m at, I can pause, close my eyes, I can literally taste the heavenly meal — the Eucharist. 

In the last ten years,  I attended World Youth Day in Toronto, made two pilgrimmages to Italy and one to the Holy Land.  I made two trips to Assisi.  I completed a year of Pastoral Ministry Formation  and then went on to finish my bachelor’s degree in Management.  I became a professed Secular Franciscan — that to which I was asked if I was moving too quickly, to be so new in the Catholic Church and then into a religious order.   To that I can only say, “You are saying I cannot live the Gospel life?”  I do understand the questioning — it is a serious life long commitment — a religious profession.  Being a Franciscan is not simply about the Gospel — it is about being in relationship with a community of people — Franciscan family.  Every one who aspires to St. Francis’ spirituality is not meant to spend several years becoming a professed Franciscan.  My whole Christian experience from age 9 forward has been about discovering what Jesus has said in His Gospel.  In my own Southern Baptist experience, I learned nothing of Saints.  Having been brought into the Catholic Church in a Franciscan parish, I was bound to learn about Saint Francis of Assisi.  He was the exclamation point for all that I’d read and studied — the Gospel lived according to Jesus — indeed.  Sometimes, you have to join the family to continue in conversion.  I saw that in him — a model of continuing conversion.  The Christian life is a narrow road.  What does Jesus mean when He says, “Follow me?”  It is a different calling to each of us — you must listen and He will speak.

I feel I should say something profound about my future expectations.  I’m looking forward to the Archdiocese of Atlanta Eucharistic Congress in June.  I’m excited to see Greg and Jennifer Willits will be official speakers.  There is something else I’m looking forward to as well — as God so wills it —  but — I’ll save that for much later.

Holy Land Pilgrim Journal – Day 2

Continuing with excerpts of Day 2 of my February 2000 Jubilee pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Day 2 – Wednesday, 2/16/00 – Nazareth/Yardinet

I am wide awake at 4 AM.  There is a lightning storm and it is raining hard.  I pull the curtains back to watch the storm over the Sea of Galilee.  I’m thinking of the words to a song my dad likes to sing called, “Walking the Sea.”  The verse goes, “out upon the Sea of Galilee one night, angry waves dashed in maddening height as the disciples sailed in fright over the deep.  Rowing against contrary wind, knowing not what might be the end, Jesus came He their dearest friend, walking the sea.  Walking the stormy sea, walking the rolling sea, Jesus at night came unto them walking the sea.”  I open my Bible to read Mat. 8:23-27.  I hear Jesus more often reminding me that “Lo’ He is with me always.”  Though I feel especially close to Him at church, meditating before the crucifix, or, in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel during Adoration; Jesus reminds me that I should not lose sight that He is always with me.  He comes to us just as He came to His disciples so many years ago.  He walks with us and I feel that presence more every day.

Today Mass was at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.  I slipped back down to the grotto of Mary’s house after Mass and prayed a decade of the rosary.  Today we also visited the Jordan River.  Some like to be re-baptized here.  But, my childhood baptism is so etched in my memory [and a Polaroid photo] that I’ve no desire to be dipped in the Jordan.  I even surprised myself to realize I feel that strongly about it.  We are all baptized in the same water – once for all time.

I’ve been reflecting on the words I wrote in regards to feeling especially close to Jesus in church.  I do feel the presence of Jesus in the Catholic Church in a way I never felt it in my Baptist church.  In February 2000, it was all still so new to me.  It is hard to describe.  I was on staff at my Baptist church and had a key.  I spent time in the sanctuary alone.  After completing my weekly bulletin printing, I would often walk in to the sanctuary and sit.   It was a profound emptiness when compared to the feeling I get upon entering a Catholic Church.   I can’t stress enough the fact that Jesus is fully present in the Catholic Mass and in the Tabernacle.  We are invited to a meal, a banquet, and the Host is there. 

There are things I recall which I did not write.  We were scheduled for Mass at the Church of the Annunciation.  When we arrived, another pilgrim group from New York, led by our same tour company, was preparing to begin Mass in the same chapel.  After some quick inquiries about the schedule conflict, it was decided we would join them and our priests con-celebrated.  Never in my life could I have imagined myself in Nazareth, at the place venerated for the Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, with a group of strangers from New York — celebrating Mass.  That may have been my first “a-ha” understanding of the Universal Church.

The other thing I recall and did not write — the baptismal site at the Jordan River smelled really bad.  I wrinkled my nose and managed to get close enough to fill a few small bottles.  That was close enough for me.

The Real Meal Deal & Why I Am Catholic

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.