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Friday, June 5, 2020

On Returning to the Eucharist

*Note: In the state of Vermont, public Masses resumed this week. We'll continue our reflections on the beatitudes next week.*

So the quarantine has been difficult psychologically. A friend of mine has been measuring her days in cries. 500 of her colleagues were laid off. “Today was a 4-cry day...” I feel it too. All of the psychological tools you normally keep sharp ― the ones that help you cope with simple stressors ― went blunt in my toolbag. Quicker to speak, slower to listen; quicker to be anxious; quicker to misread someone’s intentions. I’ve been comparing my soul to a storm. The slightest thing can speed up the winds: the guy texting at the green light, a frustrating article. 

On Monday I was able to receive the Eucharist for the first time in about two months. I returned to my seat and closed my eyes. Amidst the storm, I’d been yearning for this moment. “Peace! Be still!” Jesus rebuked the storm when the apostles woke him in the boat (Mk 4:39). Surely he would do the same for my own soul.

As I sat there, though, and looked inward, I really didn’t feel any different. I had a headache. I was hungry. I was unsettled, too, about how receiving the Eucharist had been awkward. I couldn’t get the mask to untie. My glasses got knocked around. I hoped nobody had seen.

“Stop!” I thought to myself. Jesus says that, when we pray, we should “go to our inner room and shut the door” (Mt 6:6). I need to shut the door on these distractions. “You are communing with God.” I said to myself. “What do you feel?” 

“I feel … nothing.” 

“That cannot be. You have not received the Eucharist in months. Look again…. What do you feel?”

“Nothin’. I feel ... nothing.”

And by then Father was into the Closing Prayer.

The rest of the day didn’t go much better. The headache never really went away. I thought that maybe Our Lady would appear to me after lunch. (Something spectacular was going to happen, right?) She didn’t. It was all very disappointing.

When I was driving home, though, I remembered something that a Carmelite nun once taught me. [1] I remembered that I had the whole thing 100% backwards.

What is it that I want out of Christianity? Is it certain feelings? To have my heart blazing with pleasure? Do I want to see a miracle? 

Or do I want God

More often than not, in Christianity, we want pleasurable feelings, or remarkable moments of prayer, or a rich “spiritual life.” We want to notice something when we talk to God. Very rarely do we want God himself. For the first time in months, in the Eucharist, I had God ― in so far as one can have him ― and I was looking for something else, I was clenching for feelings in the pew. 

That’s 100% backwards. Indeed, when we experience rich spiritual feelings, that’s fine and good. They’re a gift and a help, a caress from the Creator. But, in those cases, we should be yearning for God. We desire the Caressor, not his caresses.

There is a story about Saint Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century Doctor of the Church who’d written volumes and volumes of theology. They say that, while kneeling before a crucifix, Jesus once spoke to Saint Thomas. “You’ve written well of me,” Jesus said. “What would you receive for your labor?” Without much hesitation: “Non nisi te, Domine,” Thomas replied. “Non nisi te.” “Nothing but you, Lord. Nothing but you.” Thomas had it 100% rightward. 

This question extends to the whole of life. What is it that we want from this life? What, truly, do we want? To finally feel good about it all? To have such-and-such thing from our past somehow get fixed? Or do we want God? Because — feel it or not — we worship the God who allows us to unite with him. And starting again this week, that is precisely what is offered us in the Eucharist.


~Anthony Rosselli (PhD cand., theology, University of Dayton) writes out of St. Luke and Ascension Parishes in Franklin County, Vermont. These columns are archived here.

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[1] Ruth Burrows, To Believe in Jesus (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2010), 27-29.