Last week I attended the funeral of a woman who died unexpectedly at the age of 49 in a tragic car accident. She was a wonderful woman; always helping me with youth ministry events when her kids moved through the program a few years ago. And while we were not the best of friends, I knew she was one person I could always call upon for help with anything. She will be missed.
The funeral was somber; filled with many people who knew her from town, friends of her kids, church folk and lots of Italian family members from New York State. The congregation filled the pews in a sea of black clothing and white tissues. Tears where shed freely when her daughter, husband and nephew approached the ambo to give her mom a goodbye tribute. It felt good to cry for their loss, but at the same time the thought of this family having to live without this woman was hard to bear. Fr. John's homily was comforting, the music was beautiful (May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs come to welcome you....) and the liturgy was deeply moving. Catholics really know how to send people off to their resting place in style. But it was at this funeral that I realized JUST HOW CATHOLIC I WAS. I know that I love being Catholic, the tradition, the beauty, scripture translation, music and all, but I surprised myself when I did something I thought I would NEVER do.
As with most funerals (and weddings for that matter), not everyone attending is Catholic, so our church tries to be helpful by including a small paragraph in the program stating that if you are not Catholic, to please refrain from receiving the body and blood. Instead, visitors are invited to approach the priest for a blessing instead, with arms crossed in front of them. OK. Fair enough. Many Catholics know that we believe in the REAL PRESENCE of Jesus in the Eucharist and therefore those who do not share that central belief should not receive until they learn and believe what it is exactly they are receiving: Jesus, flesh and blood. After I received communion, I took my place back in the pew and watched as others came forward to receive. I happened to notice a group of young men around the ages of 17 or 18 coming forward to communion. Their posture was relaxed. They were goofing off with each other in the communion line and were pretty much being dis-respectful by looking around and not paying attention to what was going on around them. One of them went up to the Eucharistic minister and awkwardly opened his mouth, only to quickly close it and grab the Eucharist from the woman's hand. It was clear he did not know what to do with it. He looked at his buddy behind him, waved the host in his face and laughed. He moved up to receive the wine, and again, awkwardly tried to dip it into the cup only to realize that he was to drink from it. He refused and walked past the minister with the host in his hand. I could feel my face getting HOT and I felt like I needed to get a drink of water. I didn't. Instead I watched that young boy walk past me with the host still in his hand, waving it around like it was some sort of souvenir. I turned and watched him enter the pew about 10 rows behind mine. He was standing there, giggling and taking little bites out of the host as if it were some sort of taste test. His friends were laughing at him. At that point, I was NOT happy. I darted out of my pew, walked around to the back of his pew and got his attention. Instinctively, I wanted to just grab the host out of his hand and take it away from him...I wanted to wrestle the kid to the ground and force feed it to him if I had to. But by golly...that kid needed to DO something with that host or I was going to. "Eat it.", I whispered. He looked at me and said, "I don't know what to do with it." and laughed. "You need to eat it or I will." He looked at me as if I had four heads and ate the host. "Thank you", I said sweetly without making any disturbance. Ahhh, I felt much better.
As I returned to my pew, my girlfriend asked if I was doing OK....assuming that I had left due to an uncontrollable urge to wail at the sadness of the this woman's death. "Oh, I'm fine now." I told her.
I realized at this funeral, just how important the Eucharist is to me and if others don't want a part of it, that is totally fine..but...
Don't mess with my Jesus. I'll fight you for him.