Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Eucharist and Transubstantiation

I promised to write this post in another posting to hold me to it. I'm not an expert on Catholic dogma and I fear I will misspeak, but I'm going to give it a shot.

First off, I love converts to Catholicism. I'm not trying to put down "cradle Catholics", and I don't think we take everything for granted, but we're so milktoast about our faith, particularly the celebration of it. That's right, I said celebration. The celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The biggest reason I've heard from other Catholics as to why they don't attend mass is that they find it boring. I think a lot of the blame is on our approach. I've been to those masses where the majority of the congregation mumbles their way through the responses, absolutely refuses to be involved with anything resembling a tune, and makes a b-line for the door right after they receive communion. Now I will admit, I have been to mass and "clock-watched". There are many reasons to count the minutes on Sunday morning. Mine are kick-off times, boring homilies, and hangovers.

OK, so I love, LOVE, converts. There is a show on EWTN that makes me feel good every time I catch it on. I don't even know the name of it. It's just a simple interview format, with a host and a guest. The guest is always someone who not only converted to Catholicism, but had to make huge sacrifices in their lives to do so. We're talking protestant ministers or ministers' wives or people who's faith practice was so ingrained into who they were as a person that it seemed that only an act of God could separate them from their current situation. To hear them talk is to truly see the Holy Spirit at work in the world. They sound like a little kid explaining Christmas morning, "And then Jesus loved us so much, that he gave us his own body and blood, to sustain us until we can be with him in person." or "How could Jesus leave us alone after he ascended into heaven? Of course there has to be a Pope!" These things that used to be anathema to them, for some even defining their faith, now are proclaiming it on a level unknown to most lifetime Catholics.

It was such a person that said something so beautiful that I can't get the image out of my mind. And it wasn't just what he said, but how he said it. It's completely inconsequential to the story, but he's the son of "Night Train" Lane, the running back for the Rams. It's not so inconsequential that he was a Baptist minister, before his conversion. He said that the best criticism he ever heard about Catholics was from an atheist author, who said that 76% of Catholics don't believe in the transubstantiation (that's the bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Jesus Christ). You're probably thinking the same thing I was, "What the crap is this? Are you serious?!" It was right then that he dropped the bomb on me, "only 24% of all Catholics attend mass every Sunday!" And that's when he threw himself on the ground, and began pulling himself across the stage, "If Catholics really believed that their God was making himself present to them in the sacrifice of the mass, they would be dragging themselves on their hands and knees every day, let alone once a week, to see Him!" It was such a powerful image. And it was an image that I think only someone who has viewed Catholicism from both sides could bring to us. For us cradle Catholics, it's always been that way, "Yup, I go up and get the little wafer. Uhuh, it's Jesus. That's what they told me in third grade." His take was completely different. He couldn't help but look up at the tabernacle, at the priest in front of the altar, at the re-creation of the last supper, and think, "That's God! Right here in front of me! Not someone who lived 2000 years ago, or that is light years away, or in some other dimension that only exists in thought or some spirit-world. He's right here, in a physical presence! In our corporeal world!" What must that have felt like, when he first came to that realization? Here's my lame allegory: I grew up always knowing that Vader was Luke's father. I don't know when I learned it, but it was just part of the Star Wars story. I wasn't old enough to have seen Empire in the theater. I've always wondered what it would feel like, the shock that someone felt, sitting in the theater hearing, "Luke, I am your father!" That's the best I've got, sorry. But that doesn't mean that his explanation hasn't opened my eyes to the reality of Christ's presence in the Eucharist. I've always believed that the bread and wine really become the body and blood, but I never reflected on the enormity of that fact. I find myself moved to tears now after I return to the pew after receiving communion.

Look, I know not everyone that reads this is Catholic, or even Christian, or even believes in a higher power. But my hope is that you discover something in your life that is "sacred". That makes you feel that sensation of pure joy, that you hold up as supremely special and that it gives you a deep and profound sense of being. If you don't know what I'm speaking about, read a book called Racing in the Rain. It may be one of the most poignant and touching books I've ever had the privilege of reading, and I think it demonstrates the idea of sacred in a very sincere way. It overwhelmed me the way that I think true believers should be overwhelmed by those holy moments that give our lives meaning and purpose.