“As two pieces of wax fused together make one, so he who receives Holy Communion is so united with Christ that Christ is in him and he is in Christ.” —St. Cyril of Alexandria
I have to tell you, sadly, ever so sadly, the ubiquity, online at least, and I am sure in person mirrors exactly, of Catholics who are ever so quick and witty and apparently theologically gifted and well-trained living saints (you have to be a saint to be a doctor of the Church) and doctors of the Church and strident to judge another soul’s worthiness of receiving Him is scandalous to me as a life-long Catholic; you fellow sinners, you scribes and Pharisees. Grievously scandalous, it is. I pray upon my and their deaths, our Lord is not so quick to as they do note others’ unworthiness. I pray. Lord, have mercy on me, for I am a sinful man! Depart from me, Lord! For what sinner can remain in Your presence and live? Theresa Noble got the same treatment, you may read. Shame, shame, shame on you. None of us is ever worthy!!! Or, ever will be!! Domine!!! Non sum dignus!!!
–an excerpt from an article by Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, (Daughters of St Paul) a former atheist who, thanks to the grace of God, has returned to the faith she was raised in and now tries to help others bring their loved ones back to the faith. A few years after returning to the Church, she heard God calling her, so she left her job in Silicon Valley to join the Daughters of St. Paul. She now lives in Miami, where she prays, evangelizes, bakes bread, and blogs.
“…One day while I was wandering around, I noticed that the main church at the center of the campus was bustling with people. I saw a man with billowing white robes standing outside.*
I was intrigued. I knew he must be a priest of some sort but I had been away from the Church for too long to understand much else. (Isn’t it kind of funny how intelligent, educated people feel that learning even the most basic things about Catholicism are beneath them?) Anyway, I looked at his face.
He was young, handsome and really happy.
I stood there gaping at him for much longer than is socially acceptable. “Strange.” I thought. I stepped into the church, half expecting sirens to go off.
“Warning. Warning. Atheist in the church. Warning. Warning.”
But nothing happened. A lady smiled at me warmly.
I took a seat in the back of the Church, near the door. I figured I would stay just for a few minutes. But the moment I entered the Church, I felt a Presence. It was not the presence of the other people; I could physically locate this Presence. It overwhelmed everything else in the room. It was like a giant magnet drawing me toward the area of the altar. I kept looking in that direction. I saw the tabernacle and my formerly Catholic mind registered the fact that these people believed that God resided there. I pushed that thought away. But the Presence did not go away.
When it came time for Communion, I considered sitting in my seat. “I don’t believe this stuff,” I reasoned. But I went up.
All the while, my head and my heart were ferociously at war.
I received Communion and as I did I remembered a friend of mine who had told me about the time one of her friends went to a Catholic funeral and received Communion, not knowing what it was or what she was doing. When she got back to her seat, she thought, “I must not be meant to eat this, it tastes like cardboard!” So she took the Eucharist out of her mouth and put it on the bottom of her seat like a wad of gum.** I remember my friend laughing when she told me the story. I did not believe in God at the time so I should have found it funny. But I only felt sick to my stomach, terror, and a deep sadness. All of these memories rushed into my mind, overwhelming it for a moment.
When I got home my boyfriend asked me, “What were you doing?”
I told him I went to Mass.
He looked shocked.
My head responded, “The traditions soothe me, it is like a lullaby…but I don’t believe any of it.”
As I said this my heart began beating wildly.***
* Several years later I met the man I had seen with the billowing white robes outside the church that day. He is now a Dominican priest and we are godparents to a beautiful little girl named Theresa.
**This is hopefully motivation for any priests reading this to verbally instruct Mass goers on proper reception of the Eucharist at funerals and weddings and other similar events.
***It would be several years before I would do things right and formally return to the Church. But it would be just months before I began to believe in God again. I can only believe that my recognition of the Presence on that fateful day was a seed planted that would eventually break the hardened earth around my heart on the day of my conversion.
Love, and always praying for the grace to more fully realize His Presence,