Today I experienced a remarkable thing in an unremarkable place during an otherwise unremarkable but holy miraculous occasion. Before any of this makes sense, I must give you some background first.

I remember my First Communion. While most of the other children were talking about and fussing with their fancy new clothes, I only wanted Jesus. I remember being so focused on Him that I felt as though I floated back to my pew. For months I counted the number of times I had received the Blessed Sacrament. I longed for a way to give back to Jesus in some way for what He had given me. I wanted to be close to Him, to serve Him, and to bring others to Him. I tried to join the choir, but it was only for kids who went to the parish school. I tried to become a reader at Mass, but I was told I was too young.  When I was older I joined the youth group, but quit after the 1st meeting because it was a clique and all they did was arts and crafts.

The desire to do something special for God never went away. Eventually, my parochial vicar noticed my desire and gave me some responsibilities. I helped decorate the church, I became a reader, etc. Eventually, it grew into an actual job as a parish organist and soloist. I was in complete awe that I was able to participate in such a holy and miraculous event as the Mass in such a way. Through music I was able to give a part of myself to God in the most holy way possible and at the same time, help the congregation give themselves to God as well. It was everything to me.

I began work in a new parish and it was lovely, until the Christmas eve that changed everything. As the organist I was stuck in the choir loft for every Mass, but I made a habit of asking the priest for Communion after Mass. There was never a problem, until this night. After the Vigil Mass, I asked and the priest responded rather harshly and refused. “What do you need that for”, he said. I was crushed and I begged and pleaded with him and he gave similar faithless responses. Finally, he begrudgingly agreed and I was able to receive. Within a week, the priest was gone. He had abandoned his ministry and apparently his faith as well.

What he didn’t know is that the event changed everything for me. I suddenly found myself questioning things I had never questioned. The Mass that had brought me such joy now echoed with the former pastor’s horrible words. Even though we had a new pastor, I was still too afraid to ask for Communion. “Why bother”, I thought. “I have been so foolish, even the priest doesn’t believe”. My teenage mind tried to make sense of it all, but I couldn’t. All I knew was that I didn’t feel it anymore. I didn’t feel anything anymore. I kept going through the motions and I wondered why. My music was no longer for God, but it became for me. I played because I got paid and because it was an opportunity to perform.

The whole time, I mourned what I had lost. The emptiness was so great that I don’t think there are words to describe how I felt. It was as though a very large part of me was suddenly taken away. I had always felt God’s guiding presence, but not I felt alone. I searched for Him. I spoke with several priests and they all told me the same thing, “Forgive”. That wasn’t what I needed! I had forgiven the priest. I knew he was a troubled man who was fighting his own demons, but that didn’t change that his words had scarred me.

Finally, after 10 years I called a wonderful, wise priest who agreed to work with me as a spiritual director. He explained that faith wasn’t a feeling, it was a reality. There was nothing wrong with just going through the motions as long as I asked God to help me. With the help of this priest, I discovered  that I hadn’t lost my faith after all, I just needed to learn to live with a different type of faith. In a way, I had to will to believe. He helped me accept that the feeling of God’s presence was gone and that it may or may not return, but that at least I had been blessed to have experienced it. I offered the spiritual Communion prayers he taught me and I was able to return to a faith life that wasn’t filled with pain.  

Since then, there have been slight glimmers of the sense of faith I once had, but they faded quickly and I returned to the feeling of isolation, but they were enough to sustain me. The priest explained that I only felt isolated because God had revealed himself to me so intimately. Had that not been the case, I wouldn’t have thought there was anything wrong with my faith.

So why am I telling you all this? Fast forward to today. Four years after finding some sort of healing and accepting my new intellectually based faith I had an amazing experience in the most unlikely of places. A a religious education convention, in a college gymnasium, kneeling on a wooden basketball court floor, at a Mass with hokey music with questionable lyrics, celebrated on what appeared to be a banquet table covered with a white tablecloth to which fabric had been added, I experienced God.

As the Cardinal held the bread and wine that would become the sacred Body and Blood of Christ, the bishop of the diocese and a retired archbishop stood on either side. The Cardinal recited the words of institution and I felt my entire body begin to tremble. I couldn’t do or say anything except to whisper over and over “I believe! It’s You, my Lord and my God!” I went up for Communion and as the Cardinal placed the Sacred Species on my tongue I felt such warmth. I returned to my place and knelt again on the wooden floor. It was as though the other 999 people in the auditorium had disappeared and it was only Jesus and I there. Far off in the distance, I could hear the people seated beside me asking each other “Why is she kneeling”. I wanted to say, “Because Jesus is here!” but I couldn’t move. I just allowed Him to overtake me. Finally I opened my eyes and I was surprised when tears began streaming down my face.

Now, I looked up at the Cardinal giving Communion to all the people the thoughts flooded my mind again. “There is Jesus and His Apostle”. Suddenly, the eternal continuity of the Mass all made sense. This Mass wasn’t just the Mass in this gymnasium with the hokey music and the shabby altarcloth. It was eternal! These were all things I knew, but never understood except in my mind. Now my understanding was real and coming from elsewhere.

I trembled before the majesty of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, I felt the union with God in His loving embrace, and, for the first time, I truly recognized the holy man I had spent so many years working with as the Apostle of Christ and now as a representative of Christ. I looked at the three bishops who concelebrated the Mass and saw the Church. As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in this letter to the Smyrnaeans, “Where the bishop is, there let the people be: as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church”.

I don’t know if this wonderful feeling of faith will remain, but I do know that I am blessed to have had the opportunity to experience it. I feel healed from my previous scars and I must attribute this entire experience to the Holy Spirit. I pray that by reading this you may be edified in your faith.

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