When I visited with Julia earlier this year, we talked about everything, but especially about faith, and she and her husband took me to Mass with them. I was awed by the beauty of the Catholic Easter, but still a country mile off in understanding. Just before I left for New Zealand, I said, sadly, "I can't be a Catholic: I can't understand the Real Presence." (I meant, of course, I can't believe the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist - because who could ever understand it?)
Then, in June, I stumbled across the "Called to Communion" website, and read the three big articles, "Ecclesial Deism", "The Canon Question" and "The Visible Church." They blew my Reformed Protestantism out of the water. Simple obedience and love of Jesus required I draw near Him in His way, not mine. I had well and truly removed any possible plea of invincible ignorance, as a defence against joining His Church. I emailed Julia, saying, "I think I have to become a Catholic. I can't believe I just typed that."
So I started limping off to daily Mass, feeling shell-shocked and mortified, wondering if I'd ever feel whole again, or if I'd just be walking wounded for the rest of my life. I believed, as hard as ever I believed anything, that I had to be there each morning, that the Mass is the prayer of Christ's people, but secretly I doubted that I'd ever be given the gift of faith in the mystery. I feared I'd always be kneeling at the back, hiding from direct view of the altar behind someone else, in case God saw me there, a bacillus on the Petri dish, desperately afraid of the penicillin.
For this I had paid with the loss of a close and fervent church community, one friendship completely lost, another permanently bent, a son alienated and slightly disgusted, a daughter saddened and confused, and, oh, yes, after the Reformed Church discipline process is complete, I will be officially excommunicated and the church members will be obliged to treat me as a "publican and a sinner." I can't deny that it has seemed hard.
Well, in case you didn't know this, the Lord is merciful. Stumbling in the dark, I came across my next hand-hold.
On his surpassingly excellent apologetics blog, "Shameless Popery", Joe Heschmeyer recommended a book, "The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist," by Rev. James T. O'Connor. I ordered it, and accidentally had it sent by fast post. (Cost of book, $12; postage, $30: this is the price we pay for living in Narnia/Middle Earth.)
This book has been a well of wonder, as it shows the Fathers from the earliest times paying homage to the daily miracle in terms of Eucharistic realism.
I had come from a Memorial Supper tradition, where the elements, ineffective and earthbound in themselves, serve to remind us of our God-given faith. I had advanced so far as to regard the Eucharist as a miracle on a level with the Incarnation.
"Why," I thought to myself, with the lofty insights of Epistemology 101 and Metaphysics 102, "just as God's naming of Christ as the Logos is His pre-emptive refutation of Wittgenstein and the Logical Positivists, establishing ultimate meaning at the heart of the universe, so the Incarnation is God's pre-emptive refutation of the English Empiricists, with their doubt that the supernatural can ever impinge on the natural. And the Eucharist is God's (almost humorous) repetition of the feat, as He enters His world, over and over again, in rooms great and small. Why didn't I ever think of that before?"
But this book teaches me that the Eucharist is even more: it is the prime miracle; it is the reason the Incarnation happened - to enable this even greater thing, a running tap of grace, which is made available to ordinary men and women, every day. Even I, non-partaker that I remain for now, am blessed by it. Even those who don't know that they are blessed by it, like my brothers and sisters at Reformed, cannot remain untouched.
About a Protestant Lord's Supper, Fr. O'Connor has this to say: "Such celebrations are certainly opportunities and occasions for receiving divine grace, even though they are not the efficient and effective causes of such grace as is the case when a valid sacrament is celebrated. Although the Catholic Church believes that the Lord is not corporally present in such celebrations, he is surely spiritually present and prepared to bestow on those who participate worthily and with faith a share in the immeasurable abundance of blessings that his Passion and Resurrection won for the human race. In their own way - comparable to a para-liturgical action within the Catholic Church - such celebrations may even be said to participate in the efficacy of the Eucharistic Mystery and are surely a means that mysteriously and gently orients the participant toward full union with the Catholic Church and the Sacrament that creates the Church and that she daily celebrates." pp164-165.
So here, as in so much else, those of us who are still afar off look up to see that the grace available through the Protestant churches is a gift of the true Eucharist.
Well. My world is well-lost for this.
[I just got a phone call from my RCIA leader. I will be received into the Church on Oct 15. Padre Pio, pray for me.]