By John Cooper
(Editor’s note: This column by John Cooper, pastoral associate at St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, follows up an earlier column that appeared in The Catholic Messenger.)
It had been 97 days without holy Communion for me. Then, on June 22 during the 12:05 p.m. Mass, I received the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus that I had longed for in these days of pandemic.
At the beginning of this long time of waiting to receive Jesus sacramentally, I wrote about whether reception of Communion had become too easy and commonplace for me. How would I handle the wait? Would my longing for the Blessed Sacrament subside or become more intense?
Unlike most of you, I had access to receiving Communion throughout this stretch without public celebration of the Mass. Each week, I served and lectored for our videotaped Mass. With the exception of a few days, I had access to the Real Presence in the tabernacle. I decided to remain in solidarity with you, my brothers and sisters in the Catholic faith, who didn’t have access.
I spoke freely about this, especially on Zoom video conferences with those in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program waiting to sit at the sacrificial table of our Lord. I told them that it was getting harder each day not to receive Communion. Todd Hamann, who has since then been received into the church, said several times, “John, God only gives us what we can handle.”
On several occasions while in the church alone, I said to myself, “It doesn’t make any sense for you to not receive holy Communion. Your fellow parishioners would want you to receive Jesus. They would tell you that if they had the opportunity, they would do so.”
I resisted those voices in my head. What are my takeaways from this sacramental desert experience? Three things:
First, I think the lessons from this hunger for Christ will unfold in the days, months and years ahead. It has been too profound an experience to have it come to me all at once.
Second, I am glad I waited. The precious Catholic faith we share is communal at its foundation. We never receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus just for ourselves. At our best, we do it together.
Third, my patience was tested. The same impatience that causes me at times to be humdrum to the most awesome miracle in front of me at Mass. Like a runner training to complete a marathon, I am now more committed to striving to reach that finish line where I truly and fully comprehend and appreciate the great mystery of the Real Presence.
I recently received a voicemail from Jeff Mason, a parishioner and good friend. Jeff had also attended the 12:05 Mass that day. He said, “John, I just wanted to tell you that was one of the most satisfying Masses that I’ve ever been a part of. It was really meaningful to me. I wanted to thank you for holding solidarity with those of us in the parish….” When Father Brian (Miclot) handed you Communion, it just looked like it was so meaningful to you and such a relief.”
Jeff’s words meant so much to me, for he was describing what I felt in that moment! Bishop Robert Barron sums it up very well when he says, “It’s a tragedy of the first order when so many Catholics don’t come to Mass. The Mass is the privileged encounter with the Lord Jesus.”
Bishop Barron says that inviting people to Mass is the number one thing we can do as Catholics to evangelize. For all of us who have been longing for Jesus in the Eucharist, let us recommit ourselves to inviting all those around us to the Mass, the source and summit of our faith.
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