“My deepest vocation,” Henri Nouwen says, “is to be a witness to the glimpses of God I have been allowed to catch.” Here’s one.

I attended mass recently at the Cathedral, and even though the space is lovely and the worship good, since I had been in an ebb time, spiritually speaking, I didn’t expect to run smack into the Holy Spirit.
“The body of Christ,” he said, offering me the Host. Truly the priest before me believed it. I could see the faith, the hope, the expectation in the eyes which met mine. I always like a priest who will meet your eyes when saying to you, “The Body of Christ.” This moment is so intimate. This sharing of what is most essential to our faith. Most essential to our lives.

“Amen,” I said and my spirit responded to the spirit of belief evidenced in this man’s eyes: tears came to mine. These moments are such gifts. When the belief we see in another triggers our own deepest beliefs, our hope and our truth.

What made this most amazing to me was who the priest was and how just moments before I had been trying to figure out a way not to go to him for communion.

This mass was being celebrated with the cardinals of the United States in a prelude to a fundraising dinner for the Catholic University of America. Helping a friend set up for the liturgy, it seemed appropriate to stay and celebrate with those who would come out on a rainy day in support of Catholic education in America.
As the liturgy unfolded it became clear that Cardinal Law was to head the line to which my section of pews would file. Now, no matter what you think of the sexual abuse scandals that are calling the Church to reform, Cardinal Law has certainly been made the poster boy for appalling prelate behavior. And I’m no different from anyone else in my aversion to contamination by other’s scandal and sin. So, as I saw people a few rows up, sneak out the opposite side to another line, I think I know why and I was tempted to join them.

So, what does one do in moments of indecision like this? Well, I sent up a prayer to God to help me. I prayed to be able to approach this priest, this cardinal of our Church, with as much faith in the Eucharist as I could muster. I prayed for the openness to be able to meet his eyes and treat him as I would want to be treated if my sins were made public in the way his have been.

I walked slowly behind the other communicants. I prayed all the way up the aisle.
The host held out under sad eyes, the hope and expectation relayed in a moment’s glance. What is the Body of Christ? Or rather, who is? Surely this priest was the body of Christ in that moment: the wounded Christ. Jesus was guilty and innocent. Guilty of inciting insurrection, of criticizing the authorities. Innocent, however, of any sin that merited death; a final cutting off from the community.

Ah, but that was then, you say. We wouldn’t do that today, of course. Yet, I’m sure if I had been there, I would have been one of the crowd screaming “crucify him.” I’ve got that in me. I’m aware that I am the teeniest bit judgmental. I like to think I’m not, but then I notice myself thinking oh, so negative thoughts about some drivers or people with 17 items in their shopping cart in the 10-item lane.
Jesus said love your enemies. Annie Dillard reminds us, “There were no formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure generation. There is no one here but us chickens, and so it has always been: a people busy and powerful, knowledgeable, ambivalent, important, fearful, and self-aware; a people who scheme, promote, deceive, and conquer; who pray for their loved ones, and long to flee misery and skip death”.

Jesus didn’t skip death and what was that all about if not to show us that there can be resurrection after the death; whatever the death looks like?

I’m comforted by words from chapter two of Isaiah: “In days to come, The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: ‘Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain…. That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.’” We don’t have the answers yet: the instruction is still to come. I, for one, hope I’m climbing the right mountain. That moment with Cardinal Law – that moment gives me hope that I’m on the right mountain. But who can know for sure?

Good Grounds colum for the San Francisco Catholic newspaper
June 2003

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