‘Can I hold my Jesus?’ The Eucharist gave my nana peace in her dying days. She wouldn’t want it to be politicized.
The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Catholic faith” as well as the heaviest anchor of mine. However, for most of my life, I could not articulate why. How could I express that no matter what, the Eucharist unceasingly calls me back home to the Catholic faith? That’s why the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ recent decision to draft a document on the Eucharist shakes me.
If the Eucharist becomes a way to exclude and not a way to deeply connect, if I have to be concerned about my worthiness before God, I don’t know why I would stay Catholic. Maybe the document that the bishops plan to draft will help me to speak more clearly about the sacrament. But right now the thought of it just gives me anxiety.
At best, the document from the bishops will help create a stronger understanding of the sacrament. At worst, it will tear us apart, exclude and push us away from the Eucharist entirely. They are touching the most profound part of my faith, the very reason I’m Catholic.
Graduate school allowed me to explore Eucharistic theology, and I am beyond grateful. Thousands of years of Catholic thought, prayer, theological reflection and wisdom provided the words to articulate this gravitational pull toward the Eucharist and the academics to back it up. Frankly, I felt like less of a weirdo for believing this piece of bread and cup of wine are actually the Body and Blood of Christ. Eucharistic theology fortified my faith.
At best, the document that the U.S. bishops plan to draft will help create a stronger understanding of the sacrament. At worst, it will tear us apart, exclude and push us away from the Eucharist entirely.
Yet, in addition to Eucharistic theology, a second track, equally as mighty, danced around my heart. It focused on how to live because of the Eucharist. Sometimes these two tracks grazed one another, and sparks reverberated all over my spirit. But I couldn’t manage to merge them consistently—until my nana showed me how. She didn’t require a document, just a few simple words.
My nana went to a hospice house in the early summer of 2018. She had cancer all over her body except for her brain. My most trusted safe place, truth-teller, spiritual advisor and personal chef was about to leave me.
Of course, the campus minister in me kicked in. Intellectually, I knew: I couldn’t fix this, God was with us, I could only accompany her to the end, blah blah blah. But I wasn’t used to seeing her afraid, so I grasped for a task to provide her comfort in a time we all must face: the anticipation of death.
My eyes down, hands wrapped around the wooden bar at the bottom of the bed frame. I couldn’t bear to look at her. It wasn’t her bed in our house. She just kept deteriorating in front of my eyes, and I was at the mercy of it, thoroughly useless.
The only thing I could muster from my 27 years of faith was, “Nana, do you want me to bring you the Eucharist?”
Relief flittered into the room and over her face. “Yes.”
If Jesus wasn’t presented to me in the flesh, in front of my very eyes, in such a concrete way, I don’t think I could have seen him at all.
Those moments in the morning—the routine of driving to Mass, picking up the Eucharist and gently placing it in the small golden pix, rubbing my fingers together to ensure not a crumb of God stayed on my fingertips—anchored me. It was a daily encounter with Jesus reminding me, I’m here. I’m right here. Because honestly, if Jesus wasn’t presented to me in the flesh, in front of my very eyes, in such a concrete way, I don’t think I could have seen him at all. I was too engulfed in her dying process; the grief and stress it caused us was consuming.
Before she received my grandmother received the Eucharist, we would sing a song and read some scripture.
“The Body of Christ.”
It was a declaration.
We did this each morning for a month, and then things started to turn. I wondered how long we would really have, and I dreaded the day when I wouldn’t have to fill up that little pix.
Then something happened.
As I pulled the Eucharist out of my bag, she meekly whispered in desperate longing, “T, can I hold my Jesus?”
“Of course,” I replied.
She took the pix in her hand and simply held her Jesus close.
I lost my breath. And it all merged. This connection to the Eucharist that I’d felt my whole life: eucharistic theology, praxis and spirituality, all colliding in one moment. And I changed.
She was about to meet Jesus on the other side, but she understood in the depths of her being that this was the closest she would get until then.
Because I witnessed what she recognized and lived out in her dying. She was about to meet Jesus on the other side, but she understood in the depths of her being that this was the closest she would get until then.
Jesus is with us here on earth in a way that we can sit with, be with, worship and consume. This is a God who is everlasting bread for the world, so we too may nourish one another.
This is a God who desires nothing more than to be close to us and within us.
That is why this potential document around the Eucharist is keeping me awake at night and genuinely causing me profound internal panic. Just ask my Catholic friends who have been receiving nightly 2 a.m. texts.
I’m still in deep reflection on this topic, but if I could storm into my Nana’s kitchen and plop myself next to her on her dining room chair like I’d done so many times before, I’d say:
Nana, I am sick over this. The Eucharist is why I’m Catholic! Do you think I’d stick around through the frustrations if I didn’t believe that wafer became God?
The Eucharist must inspire us to protect life from womb to tomb. Anything less becomes political weaponization. No political party upholds Catholic Social Teaching in its entirety.
And a genuine question: Were the bishops who knew about the sex abuse crisis and did nothing denied the Eucharist? Why didn’t the bishops feel the need to publicly clarify teachings on the Eucharist then?
We begin each Mass by beating our chests and saying, “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” Ask God for mercy. We reflect on our sinfulness and sing a song about it. Then we acknowledge our unworthiness again: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. Only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” Isn’t it because of our sin that we need God the most? Is taking away a direct encounter with God the way toward justice?
I know this is about to sound insane, but I already miss Catholics whose political beliefs differ from mine. I might have disagreed with them on some things, but I haven’t felt this far from them until right now. Because no matter the political differences, we could rest together and unite in the Eucharist. I could be with any Catholic of any flavor and be able to say, “Let’s go to adoration.” It may have been only one tie, but it was enough because it was God. So many of my fellow Catholics feel far away now. I already don’t like what this church infighting is making me become.
I’d put my head in my hands, and she’d be there in the quiet with me. Maybe rub my arm or take my hand. Through a cracked voice I’d ask: Should I even be Catholic anymore? If the Eucharist is going to be used like this, do I even want to be?
Then I would take a deep breath and look at her with tear-glazed eyes, knowing she’d hold every word I said.
I’m so upset right now about this whole mess that I can’t fully hear what she might say back. I’m too knotted. But I know she wouldn’t want anyone to weaponize the Eucharist.
And she would remind me: That’s still my Jesus.