The Catholic Church has been under fire for it’s human failings… the clerical disgraces caused by the now being revealed sexual offenses. This has been cause for many to pause, doubt, and altogether dismiss the Catholic Church as being disreputable, flawed, untruthful. And from a surface point of view that would seem plausible. However, despite these significant human failings I experience a completely different perspective; one that has at it’s core the Living Presence of God in the substantial form of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. This is the core and perfect base for the Catholic Church. It is this Living Core which supplants all the human failings, and nurtures each individual with the perfection of Itself. This has been my discovery and cuts to the core of all that I know.
I was raised in the Catholic Church. There were twelve years of Catholic education, a father who went to Mass daily and was present in most of the church’s activities, the family rosary said frequently and a spiritual foundation that was real and palpable and devotional. Then came the 60’s, Vatican II, and my budding adolescence and young adult hood.
I was done with the Catholic Church. It was 1968 and I was off to college and onto finding what was ‘real’ for me. Living in Los Angeles there was an endless stream of things to explore spiritually. And being the cauldron of the 60’s anything was possible! So I explored, and visited, and probed the depth of my own spirituality looking for that which matched my own sensitivities and experience of God. I was part of a spiritual community for over 16 years. I explored Eastern mysticism, Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation, born again Christianity, and other forms of spirituality as it was presented. I was a true “seeker”. If you had asked me if I would ever consider the Catholic Church again it would have been a firm “NO”. I had been there and done that. I was on to other things.
In my experience of other spiritual groups, I found there to be a core of integrity present, but a weakness in human nature that did the best it could but being ‘imperfect’ by nature could only represent itself from its own flawed nature. I saw that and accepted that, but there was still the yearning for the perfection and wholeness that moved beyond the human nature and truly represented the Divine.
In 1997 when I was 47 years old and married, I spent a week in New York to see a Doctor that my husband had recommended. Getting to his office was a nightmare and so I would leave early just to get there and with a busy waiting room looked for a quiet place to sit. I found it in a nearby Catholic church, where I would sit waiting for my appointment. I would, leave the church, go to my appointment and then return to just sit. In that ‘sitting’ I felt a nurturing, a stillness, a presence although I wouldn’t have defined its source then. I just knew I felt peace, a nurturing, and ease. Coincidentally my time in NY was punctuated by a random visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and a museum called the Cloister, which housed a medieval collection of liturgical vessels and vestments that a friend had recommended since she knew of my interest in the medieval time period. At St. Patrick’s I took in all of the beauties of the architecture, visited the shrines and generally made a tourist out of myself. Again I just sat, feeling again the sweet sanctity of a communion I couldn’t express. Simply I was safe, and at peace and filled with a quiet joy. None of it made sense to me at that time. At the Cloister a similar experience in the small chapel, again lost on me.
When I returned home I felt a longing to go to a Catholic Church. The closest one was 40 miles away. I came to just sit. To sit in the quiet, to sit in the feeling of what I was experiencing. Peace. Safety. Love. As the desire grew to just sit, I pondered what this was about. It wasn’t an intellectual draw, there was nothing to excite that. It wasn’t a curiosity since I was raised in the Catholic church, and ‘knew’ about it. It was something else. It was an indefinable presence that held me, called me, nurtured me. After a while I realized this as the Real Presence of Jesus Himself, on that altar in the form of the consecrated Bread. This was new, and real, and indefinable. As it dawned on me, I realized that I was at the point in my life where I had been before (my childhood religion) but was seeing it for the first time. In the Catholic Church was the Presence of Jesus. Just as he had said there would be. It was this, this was the compelling call, the Diving Perfection that knew me. This was the promise of “I will be with you forever until the end of the Earth”. It was truly Him, as he promised, under the element of bread in the host. It had nothing to do with anything other than Him. This was the perfect core and was incorrupt. Men are flawed and will always be. But this, THIS was the reality I had been looking for.
That joy always fills my heart, and it is here where I can fully pour out my heart, where I am known, where the joy of His Presence fills me. This, despite all man’s imperfections is where we are all loved and known. This is His promise made real at the Last Supper. “Do this in memory of Me.”
It is this Presence, God with us, God on Earth… truly that is the core of the Church. Men will come and go more or less perfect, more or less flawed. But this Presence is the undeniable core and it is an unshakable reality in my own experience. Therefore I pray for those who have scandalized their sacred role, I pray ardently for the victims of them, and I celebrate the True and Living Presence of the One who said He would be with us always…