As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.
A conversion of heart occurs in this story from scripture. One of the great things about it is how many times this conversion happens for the disciples, and in how it shows how many different ways this conversion can occur. For me, it is a reminder that our conversion of heart, our encounter with God, doesn’t just happen once, but happens over and over again, until finally (hopefully) we rest with God in his Kingdom. I think that each one of us can think back on our faith journey, and remember our first conversion of heart. Perhaps you are still able to remember that moment. You can remember every little detail about it, the lighting, the smells, and that word, song, or talk that changed your life for the better. Perhaps it was in this very room.
In my story, my conversion of heart occurred in a room very similar to this one. But before we can get to that moment, we need to back up a little bit. My relationship with Jesus began when I made my confirmation in the seventh grade. And since I became a Cap Corps, every week, sometimes multiple times, I get up here to this podium, and tell seventh and eighth graders how I made the decision to follow Jesus at my Confirmation. I can give that talk because it is true. I found a home in the youth ministry program at my parish. I made real friends, and found that I loved learning about my faith. I shared that I had found a true friend in Jesus with the seventh and eighth graders who were here last weekend. And while all of these stories sound nice, and they are; and they can help a twelve or thirteen year old know that Jesus can be a friend to them, that moment wasn’t the turning point for me in my story. My full story is a little different. Sometimes, the story isn’t as pretty and put together; sometimes we’re the disciples running away from Jerusalem after the crucifixion.
In the eighth grade my parent’s marriage began to fail. And while their marriage hadn’t been the best throughout my childhood, it still allowed some stability throughout my young life. There was a routine, Mom got home at 5:30 and gave us dinner, and Dad’s schedule shifted because of his two jobs, but he would come home, eat dinner and watch TV, eventually. But, when my Dad stopped sleeping in his bedroom, my world changed. It was here that I truly learned to pray, and depend on God. Two years later, they finally divorced and my home life changed permanently. Youth group became my stable environment. And while there were adults who cared about me, and true friends who were there for me; I went to that blue door of the old convent, down the stairs to a blue room each week for my “Jesus fix”.
As time went on, the youth group year moved forward. And we began to discuss heavier topics like, the importance of the Eucharist, chastity, and pornography; I began to realize that the guy that I was dating, whom I believed I was in love with and was going to spend my life with, was not treating me right, and the things that we were doing, even though we weren’t having sex, were not chaste or holy. I couldn’t swallow that truth though. I knew that what we were doing was not right, but hearing that truth out loud made it all too real for me. These things that we did made me feel better. I was still dealing with that change at home. I was learning how to live in my house without my Dad, and many times, because of work, without my Mom too. This guy made me feel loved and wanted, I felt as though I had a purpose with him. So, I made excuses, tried to push the Church’s teachings out of my mind, and eventually began to completely ignore the guilt and the pain that I was feeling. I threw my moral compass out the window each time I saw this guy, and I began to run away from Jerusalem.
The next few years were filled with your typical teenage drama: heartbreak, angst, but also with depression and anxiety. When that relationship, which I thought was worth throwing my faith away for, finally fell apart, I was distraught. It felt as though I had to relearn how to live. By the time I reached my senior year of High School, I wasn’t living a life for Christ, even though I had gone to Church, to youth group, and volunteered my time to the poor and to the younger children at my parish. I was living day to day, trying to fake a smile, and act as though everything was okay. I knew that I wasn’t though. I knew that I was loved, but couldn’t grasp what that meant, or how it could affect my life.
And so I went on this retreat. I didn’t particularly like going to youth group anymore, but out of habit, I went on the Spring Retreat. I wasn’t so keen on going, and as we opened the retreat I wasn’t sold on the theme song. I had been going to counseling, so I began to get my depression and anxiety under control, and I knew that being a scutch and remaining closed off was not going to be fun for anyone. So, I tried to be open and listen to all of the presentations and participate in the prayer services.
Jesus was walking with me, even though I didn’t recognize him. Friday night we handed whatever was burdening us over to God by tossing a rock into the Long Island Sound. We were asked to quiet ourselves, and to think about what was burdening us. There were thousands of pebbles on the beach, and the sun had gone down, leaving a beautiful blue-green color painted on the sky. We each picked up two rocks. One represented our burdens, and one represented a promise. Then we each threw our burden into the Sound, and held on tight to our promise. I began to open up then. Although I still didn’t recognize him, Jesus was walking with me, and I urged him to stay.
And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.
I sat in adoration of the Eucharist. I remember that moment; it was when everything changed for me. I can remember every detail of that night. The room was dim; the monstrance was beautiful and was surrounded by candles. I remember the smell of the incense burning. Through tear stained eyes, all I could see was Jesus. Everyone else had disappeared. Then I heard the words of a familiar song,
“He is jealous for me, Loves like a hurricane; I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy. When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory, and I realize just how beautiful you are, and how great your affections are for me. Oh, How He loves us.”
I had experienced God’s loving grace in the sacrament of confession. And as I sat, for the first time feeling peace in front of the Eucharist, I cried, and felt a whisper in my heart to rest, to let go, and to come, and follow Him. I felt an overwhelming sense in my heart that I was loved. Truly, truly Loved.
“And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss… I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way he loves us.”
Suddenly things made sense. Christ was truly present in the Eucharist. Heaven came down to earth each time Mass was celebrated. Each time bread is broken at table, Christ becomes recognizable to us in the most humble, beautiful way possible. That true love, that acceptance and guidance that I had been looking for was there right in front of me:
“The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white host.”
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
The gift of Jesus in the Eucharist, for me, is the most important aspect of my faith. It is why I am Catholic. We are able to receive him every day if we want to. That’s crazy to me. Since my encounter, I started to look at the Eucharist in a different light. I guess you could say that I started to take it more seriously. I went to World Youth Day in Spain that summer, and for the first time in my life, went to mass each day. Being able to receive the Eucharist each day helped my love for Jesus in the Eucharist grow more and more. Seeing young people from all over the world, who share the same belief, reverently, receive the body and blood of Christ changed the way that I receive the Eucharist.
However, as life moves forward, I still get distracted, and forget what gift of love is in front of me. There is another story from the Gospel of Luke that speaks to this:
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
I think that many times, I can be a Martha. And I’m sure that many of you feel the same way. I’m a do-er. I pay attention to the details because in my eyes, without them, whatever you’re trying to doesn’t matter. Like if you’re running youth group, and you forget pens for your journaling prayer station. That’s an important detail! But God still shows up. Suddenly you remember that there are a few pens in this bag, and that bag, and then suddenly you have enough pens for your prayer station. I like to do service projects where I can see God’s grace pouring out to those we are serving. And sometimes, I forget the power that prayer holds.
Like Martha, I am cleaning, cooking, and preparing for Jesus to enter my home. It doesn’t matter that he’s already here; there is a spill on the floor over there that I need to clean now, because Jesus deserves better. How am I supposed to host him if I don’t have any clean plates? How am I supposed to let him into my heart, unless my soul is in a perfect state of grace? How is he supposed to love me if I can’t love myself?
These are questions that run through my mind when I am brought before the Eucharist in Adoration. Like Martha, I am often anxious and worried about many things. I begin to think that I am unworthy, or that those things I did years ago still matter. And then Jesus reminds us that Mary has chosen the better part. Just being with him in the Eucharist is enough. He wants us to spend time with him. Fulton Sheen once said,
“The only time the Lord asked the apostles for anything was the night he went into agony. Not for activity did he plead but for an hour of companionship.”
Mary understood the gift of love that was in front of her. (It must be something about the name.)
She chose the better part. Our Lord loves us so much that he humbles himself to become ordinary bread, we receive him and we adore him. In the breaking of the bread, our eyes are opened.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to my story, and how Christ has touched my life.
*This witness was given on the College and Young Adult Retreat in February of 2016 at CYFM*