(a written adaptation of a witness I gave)
I have been very blessed to grow up in a Catholic family. The values and virtues that come along with being a part of a family where keeping the faith is the absolute center has benefited me in more ways than I would have ever thought. It’s given me many opportunities like being blessed enough to attend Catholic school from Preschool through high school & allowed me to attend a Catholic camp each summer since 5th grade. It’s through these specific opportunities that I have been able to meet Christ in the Eucharist.
My first encounter with the Eucharist was my 1st communion & as a 2nd grader, my childlike faith was the fuel in my fire of faith. I was free. Free to choose with no worldly influence. I trusted whatever my teachers said without a doubt & because of that I fully believed that what I would consume was Jesus’ body. I remember I was so excited for my 1st Communion, now whether that was because I thought it would taste just like the m&m’s we would use in class to practice with, I can’t say for sure, but I knew deep down it was because I was going to have my first real encounter with the Lord. From that moment on things changed. I felt different. I felt His presence.
As the years went by, the Eucharist seemed to be easily cast aside. All the excitement & preparation to receive my 1st Holy Communion diminished as I watched people go to receive Christ weekly at Mass without a care in the world. There’s not that same reverence as there was when we were preparing for the Sacrament. Coincidentally, I too have fallen into that trap… the way of the world was telling me that Christ wasn’t truly present & I had gotten caught up in the motions of attending Mass & just let everything slip by me without a care in the world.
I still saw the Eucharist as something sacred & holy, but I had never really experienced people truly making their experience reflecting those values, until I attended Camp Tekakwitha. The first time I went to camp was 5th grade & I was blown away by how nice & faith-filled everyone was. It was apparent that their devotion to the Lord was important & it was very evident when they went up to receive the Eucharist. Many of them crossed their hands over their hearts after making the sign of the cross, while others kneeled to receive. It was very genuine & unlike anything I had experienced before. These college students showed me it’s cool to be Catholic & reminded me of the gift of the Eucharist. From that moment on, I wanted to be just like them & exhibit that same kind of reverence.
Although I have never fully understood the mystery of Eucharist, many times in my life have led me closer to experiencing what it’s like to see the Lord, as the true source & summit of the faith, through the Eucharist.
Ever since attending Camp Tekakwitha, I have become very familiar with Eucharistic Adoration, and this has continued since St. James Academy offers it weekly during school and once a night monthly. My first time experiencing this type of prayer at “Deep Prayer Night” my 7th grade year at Camp was summed up as an experience of tears. For the first time since my 1st communion, I remember feeling “reunited” to Christ and encouraged as I watched many of my peers and role models worship before the Lord in the Eucharist. It was powerful and I still hold this evening very close to my heart because it was the first time I felt like I truly witnessed Christ. Amidst the tears and comforting words spoken over me by a friend, I felt Christ’s love. It was evident that Christ was present. He was with us.
One amazing thing about St. James is that every year you and your class attend a retreat. This is an opportunity to build community as a class while also growing closer to Jesus. At all of our class retreats we have one night dedicated to Adoration in the chapel at Prairie Star Ranch (explain what this looks like – where there long drape clothes hanging off the altar & people are invited to come up and touch the cloth symbolizing the hemorrhaging woman in the Bible who touched the cloak of Jesus & was healed). I specifically remember Freshman & Sophomore years, the talk around school was about how the experience would make for a good “crying session” or how watching others cry would make another cry. But the conversations were never the reason behind the tears, it was something bigger. Similar to my first experience in this form of Adoration in 7th grade, I can’t say exactly why I cried. Sure it was the first time I was really experiencing the Lord in this special way, but I was also so overwhelmed and very young. My faith was smaller than that of a mustard seed and our time in Adoration seemed very lengthy to me. Once my Sophomore year retreat came around though, I was surprised that I never cried. Now, I say that like it was to be expected, but for as much as people talked about it prior it seemed to be. My sophomore adoration experience was different from the past 3 times. I did not cry, but rather…
I just simply used that time to pray & worship the Lord in Adoration as I would in the chapel here at SMA. I was in a place where emotions and feelings were different for each person, and my faith had grown the most in the fall semester of my Sophomore year. My relationship with the Lord was forming as I found friends who wanted to walk alongside me in my journey. I was more mature in my faith journey. And I want to make it clear that I am not condemning those who do cry in Adoration because I have had those very powerful experiences myself as well; rather I want to declare the fact that my faith was becoming more than nights of crying with the Lord in Adoration, but a genuine friendship with my Father in the Eucharist. Since that Sophomore year retreat, I continued to grow that relationship with Christ in the Eucharist. And sure I have still had my points where I do cry in Adoration, but that’s out of the desire to know and choose faith. Earlier in my life, I was too young to understand the gravity of a relationship with our Lord, but as I have gotten older, I have come to see it as one of the most important things we can do in our lives.
This kind of Adoration has become more of a regular thing in my life as my Campus Ministry class goes every day we have class. There’s just something about sitting at St. James and spending more time in front of the Eucharist that has continually brought me a new sense of peace and comfort. Over the past year now, I have spent a large majority of my free time in the Chapel. Many days after school or practice, I’ll go sit in there just to relax in the silence and love of the Lord; whereas other days when I’m having a tough time, I visit because I know He is the only one who can fill my cup up & sustain me.
And the crazy thing about this time I spend with Him is that everything freezes. On our senior retreat this fall when it came time for Adoration, I did some praying and journaling, and once I went back to go to a prayer team, they told everyone to go back to their seats. I couldn’t believe it because the time we had spent before Christ in the Eucharist seemed SUPER short. After the conclusion of Benediction, I was able to get prayed over and I mentioned to one of my greatest mentors that this year’s adoration seemed very short compared to in years past because many of my friends were buzzing about it. She told me that it was actually the same length as all the other Adoration’s we had had at Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior retreat, which really surprised me. I was told that the reason we felt it was so short was because we are now more closely united to Christ in the Eucharist. Man. Crazy to think about how much I had grown in 4 years. My mentor continued to explain that since there’s no time in Heaven, this is our closest encounter to unite ourselves to Christ there. We essentially experience something we don’t have the capacity or time to understand. I was blown away by this considering that my faith had to have grown a lot over the course of my past 4 years to experience an Adoration that just seemed to be getting shorter. Even though it seemed shorter, the time I spent in there was way more fruitful than 45 minutes of prayer my Freshman year was.
In response to really enjoying Adoration and finding great peace in it, I decided to go to daily Mass twice a week. By the end of my Junior year, my friends and I committed to going to daily mass everyday of Senior Year. In the beginning, I was nervous about having to get up early, but now it’s become a routine. Honestly, I could give another whole witness about my experience choosing to do this this school year, but I’ll spare you from all the minor details; however, committing to this has shown me what a blessing it is to receive the Lord. There is usually a difference in how my day goes based on whether I go to Mass or not. It has become a sort of fuel for my day, and though it’s very hard to get up early, it gives me an extra boost that another 60 minutes of sleep could not do. Consequently, since I have been doing this for the past 8 months, I have fallen into a lot of traps of laziness. After a while, it seemed like something to check off the to do list and I stopped being present in the Mass. Just a couple weeks ago, I found myself not paying attention during the consecration, and felt bad because our ability to experience this glimpse of Heaven is something not to be taken for granted. And of course out of all the parts, I was ignoring the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist.
For so long I have wrestled with reasoning that this little cracker can be consecrated and transformed into the Lord’s living flesh. As with most things in our faith, we will never have a complete understanding of specific truths, like the Eucharist, but we can choose to actively seek it in order to learn more, which is what I chose to do. I decided that right after the priest raises both the Body and Blood of Christ to be consecrated and genuflects, I too would bow my head with the others in the congregation and say “You know I believe, help my unbelief.” Now this verse has been very prominent in my life since high school. I end every journal entry with it because I know I’ll never fully understand Christ, but I’ll seek with my whole being to try and get a better glimpse at the truth He is striving to share with me, hence why I am now doing this. As I say those words, I feel more connected to Christ because He sees my striving heart.
Through my time in high school, I have become very ashamed that I could not grasp how Christ was present to me in the Eucharist. I thought that everyone else just understood and I was all alone. Well in the past 4 years, it’s become apparent to me that my friends, mentors, role models, and educators have been experiencing these same feelings for a long time too. It’s a back and forth feeling because the fullness of God’s power is just so vast, that to fully understand would knock us over in love; yet, I know that my pursuit in looking to find Him in the Eucharist unites me in a way that is unique to my relationship with Christ.
As seniors, we are required to take 2 religion classes with one of them being “Apologetics,” which by definition of our teacher is “the art of showing why the faith is reasonable, credible, and not blind.” In this class, I was challenged to seek the truth of Christ deeper as we hit on some pretty tough topics and engaged in great conversations about how faith is something to take seriously. Specifically, we spent one class talking about the significance of the Eucharist being the source and summit of the Mass. I had heard this term several times prior, but this one stuck with me. Our teacher explained in great detail how the altar very much resembles that of the “Garden of Eden” spoken of in the Bible. In general, altars are higher above the people, surrounded by plants and flowers, and the Lord is at the center in the tabernacle, the highest point. Complimentary to the “Garden of Eden,” whose altar and fruits of the garden towered above the normal mountainsides with beautiful greenery and flowers, and Jesus reigned at the top of it. Both references are the same in all characteristics, yet it’s a powerful image to know both the tabernacle and the Lord coming from the mountain are the source and summit. It’s portrayed very symbolically and clearly was done to share that the Eucharist is not something to just blow by. It is present in both the Old Testament and the New Testament to show its power. The Eucharist is the source and summit as it surrounds and breathes life into all things.
This past spring break, I was blessed to be able to travel to Rome with St. James for a pilgrimage. While there, we got to visit Scala Santa, which translates to the “Holy Stairs” and is the same staircase Jesus walked up to meet Pontius Pilate before His condemnation. This is a sacred and special place. Because of its holiness the only way you can make it to the top of the 28 stairs is by going on your knees. As our group of 36 people prayerfully made our way up these blessed stairs, it was very moving. Each step I went up, I tried to think of a new person and/or situation to focus on and be grateful for, but then also pray about. About halfway up the stairs, I got super overwhelmed as I slowly understood the gravity of what I was experiencing. I realized I was doing something He once did for me. Thousands of years ago, Jesus walked up these stairs with me in mind. And He walked up them with you in mind too. So kneeling in reverence, going up these same set of stairs and thinking about Him, and in a sense returning my “yes” to hand over my life to Him as a servant was probably one of the most powerful moments of my life. When I saw the glass coverings that marked splotches of Jesus’ blood, it became so evident that this body of His that He freely gives to us in the Eucharist was very much alive and present here on Earth. Once at the top with the last blood marking and a cross to indicate where He stood, I came to understand that He truly gave His whole life. Every drop. Every piece. It was all for us.
And He wants us to experience that same conversion through receiving Him in the eucharist as often as we are able. Next time you are struggling to see the Eucharist as the Lord’s body, blood, soul, & divinity I encourage you to think of this depiction, it helped me understand this better. If you are willing, please close your eyes. Imagine you are in a huge room filled with 5,000 people. Wall to wall, people are sitting down focused on the altar at the head of the room. There is a monstrance, but you are far away so you can’t see it in detail, but you know it’s the Eucharist; however, you can’t focus on the thing you can’t see. So you look above the tiny host to see a larger than life depiction of the crucifix. His sacrifice is visible. That’s His body present below. Now you can open your eyes, if you chose to close them.
The truth is, whenever we are struggling to understand the sacrifice the Lord made for us, look up. Most churches have a crucifix on the altar, and looking at this after the consecration is powerful. It unites us to His continual sacrifice, and reminds us how worthy we are that the Kings of Kings would make Himself present in a host, for us to experience His love more fully. When you think about this, know I am walking alongside you and together we can grow in our desire to receive Christ in the Eucharist.