When Death Births Life: St. Bryce Missions Grows Out of a Family's Grief

The Mitchell Family “I went to the jungle thinking I was going to grieve, but God brought me there to heal,” author and full-time missionary Colleen C. Mitchell said as she sat on a stool in my kitchen, watching me prepare a pot of Crayfish Étouffée. Mitchell and I had met only a week earlier at a Catholic Trade Show in Chicago, but when I learned she was a native New Orleanian who would be coming through our hometown in a week, I insisted we get together. During our visit, Mitchell openly shared her story of heartbreak and grief, and how it led her family to a cloud forest in Costa Rica to serve as missionaries caring for the spiritual and physical needs of the indigenous Cabecar peoples.

Their journey to the jungle began in 2009 while Mitchell, her husband, Greg, and their six sons were living a normal, happy life as a Catholic homeschooling family. On what she called “a perfect homeschooling day,” tragedy suddenly struck when Mitchell found her three-month-old son, Bryce, unresponsive in his crib due to SIDS. Within a short time, the couple lost four more babies to miscarriage, leaving Mitchell completely shattered and irrevocably changed by the multiple heartbreaks and ensuing grief that had visited their lives.

Shortly after Bryce’s death, Greg became inspired to establish a non-profit organization in Bryce’s name for the purpose of sharing the Gospel. “I can’t say I opposed the idea,” wrote Mitchell in the exquisite new book that grew out of her grief entitled Who Does He Say You Are: Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels.  “But I could not make logical sense of how you give your heart away when you are holding its shards in bleeding hands.”

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Still tentative about how they could help others while in so much pain themselves, Mitchell offered God and Greg a “weak-kneed” yes, and St. Bryce Missions was born. Not long after that, Greg visited Costa Rica on a business trip, coming home with a vision for their future that his wife had not imagined: moving their family to the Chirripo Mountains of south Central Costa Rica to minister to the unevangelized indigenous peoples who live on a government-provided reserve therein.

Making a radical leap of faith, Mitchell packed her family’s belongings and necessities into 12 suitcases, embarking “sight unseen on a journey of redemption” to the poorest area of Costa Rica, unsure of what lay before them. Three weeks into their new life in the remote jungle, tragedy struck again via the death of Greg’s mother, necessitating his departure from Costa Rica for three weeks. “It was then—as I sat broken-hearted, isolated and alone in the jungle with my boys, with no car, unable to speak Spanish, apart from everything and everyone I had known—that I realized I needed to get to know God in a new way.”

Mitchell spent long days sitting beside a running river with her Bible and journal in hand, meditating upon Gospel stories of Christ’s healing, transforming power as her boys played in the river’s clear waters. There the grieving mother began to hear Christ speaking life into her heart again, and it was there that she began to reclaim God’s vision of her by journaling the “tender mercies” the Lord gave her in prayer—the very journal entries that would eventually become the chapters of her beautiful new book.

“I began to own that even with all the cracks and broken places the last few years had wrought in me, I was beautiful and beloved to him, and I had a purpose. He wanted to use me,” she wrote. It would not take long for that purpose to be realized.

Mitchell began to notice that basic healthcare was inaccessible to the Cabecar women, forcing pregnant women to walk as many as ten miles while in labor trying to find a hospital in which to safely deliver their babies. Wondering how she could help, she hatched a plan in her mind to find and engage an existing organizational institution to solve the problem of making healthcare more accessible to these poor women. Again, God surprised her with an unimagined solution.

“One day in prayer, I heard God say, ‘Use what you have to meet this need,’” Mitchell told me as I sat listening in amazement. “You have a car, a house, and a way to get these people to the hospital. Share with them what I’ve given you.”

Mitchell said yes.

The very next day Mitchell and her husband encountered a Cabecar woman with an extremely sick baby who had already walked eight hours in the pouring rain to find medical help. They picked her up, drove her to the hospital, and stayed with her to make sure she received the care she needed, leaving their phone number with her in the event she had no way to get home upon the baby’s release from the hospital. The woman called the couple the next day, and ended up staying in their home for a week until the baby was stable enough to go home.

After this first encounter, the Mitchells put the word out that they were willing to help others, and more women began to show up. This influx eventually prompted the family to move to a larger home close to the hospital which sleeps 25 women in addition to their family of 7—bringing to life the St. Francis Emmaus Center, a home-based ministry that is only one of several initiatives St. Bryce Missions is currently undertaking to reach out to those on the peripheries of society with the Gospel.  To date, over 700 Cabecar women have come through their doors to receive food, shelter, health education and health-care advocacy in the state-run medical system, receiving love and care from the Mitchells and their five still-homeschooling sons, all of whom are engaged in the work of St. Bryce Missions.

The Mitchell’s “yes” to God has birthed healing in hopelessness and grace in grief—for themselves and numerous others. Their efforts have not only spurred a 50% drop in the infant mortality rate among the people they serve, but has given whole families in an oft-overlooked part of the world the opportunity to encounter Christ.

This article appeared previously at Aleteia.

Is A Personal Relationship With Christ A Catholic Concept?

FullSizeRender-1 To peruse the comments in response last week's blog at Aleteia, The Elephant in the Communion Line, one might conclude that I eagerly observe those coming forward for Holy Communion and readily judge their worthiness or unworthiness to receive. Truth be told, I rarely notice who is receiving communion, as I am generally focused on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist before and after communion, often with my eyes closed. Furthermore, far be it from me to judge whether any soul is in a state of grace, for God alone is capable of such knowledge. But that is completely beside the point.

The point of my article was to pose a different question entirely, which I ask again here: What is at the root of the problem when, statistically, a majority of Catholics don’t practice the moral teachings of the Church or live in a way that demonstrates any appreciable difference than those in the surrounding secular culture? Moreover, why has so much focus been placed on divorce and remarriage instead of on the overarching problem of the spiritual and moral confusion that reigns in the Church?

I suggested that the crisis in the Church is due, in large part, to a system that often “sacramentalizes” Catholics without leading them to a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. The solution? Bold, clear evangelization that leads people to a personal relationship with Christ. Or as St. John Paul II put it:

It is necessary to awaken again in believers a full relationship with Christ. Only from a personal relationship with Jesus can an effective evangelization develop. Pope John Paul II, speech to bishops of Southern Germany, Dec. 4, 1992. L’Osservatore Romano (English ed.). Dec. 23/30, 1992, pp. 5-6.

The crux of the Christian faith is a living, personal relationship with the Triune God, fully revealed in and through the person of Christ. This is the fundamental truth of the Catholic faith, and it is a truth we must proclaim with heartfelt zeal if we are to see the realization of the new evangelization of the Church and the world for which St. John Paul II ardently and repeatedly asked.

Christian faith is not meant to simply give us something pleasant to do on Sundays. It is meant to radically change us and our lives—to turn us around from death to life, to reorient our souls to life-giving truth, to enable us to participate in God’s very own love life—equipping us to know God intimately, to love as he loves, and to live and act as his very own children. Faith in Christ is more than merely an intellectual assent to propositions or the practice of a set of rituals, however good and necessary those are in themselves. Faith is “first of all a personal adherence of man to God,” the act through which one “freely commits himself to God,” and the mystery through which we live out “a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 150, 1814, 2558).

In other words, faith is the total self surrender of the human person to the living God, whom we come to believe in, love and trust as Lord, Father, savior, bridegroom, healer, lover of our souls, fulfiller of the deepest longings of our hearts and so much more.

Faith, trust and love are synonymous words in Christianity, and they indicate familial intimacy and deep friendship with a God who “has a name and calls us by name…he is a Person, and he seeks the person, he has a face and he seeks our face. He has a heart and he seeks our heart” (Joseph Ratzinger, The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God, 24). This is the God of the Christian faith; this is the God to whom we must introduce others at a moment in history when vast numbers of people, including many baptized Catholics, have lost their way in an aimless search for meaning and satisfaction.

Finally, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) so eloquently articulated in Introduction to Christianity:

Christian faith is more than the option in favour of a spiritual ground to the world; its central formula is not “I believe in something”, but “I believe in Thee”…Thus faith is the finding of a “You” that bears me up and amid all the unfulfilled—and in the last resort unfulfillable—hope of human encounters gives me the promise of an indestructible love which not only longs for eternity but guarantees it. Christian faith lives on the discovery that not only is there such a thing as objective meaning, but this meaning knows me and loves me, and I can entrust myself to it like the child that knows all its questions answered in the “You” of its mother. Thus in the last analysis believing, trusting and loving are one, and all the theses round which belief revolves are only concrete expressions of the all-embracing about-turn, of the assertion “I believe in You”—of the discovery of God in the countenance of the man Jesus of Nazareth.  

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, 47, 48

Thus, the essence of the Christian faith is a personal relationship with God. May we individually and corporately discover anew the “all-embracing about-turn of the assertion I believe in You.”

This article originally appeared at Aleteia.

The Elephant In The Church

Dear Friends, The following reflection is not meant to be a judgment about anyone receiving communion. I am simply wondering what is lacking in our evangelization efforts, and how we can better communicate the love of Christ to Catholics. I would love to hear your views.

Blessings and Grace!

Judy

 

 

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We need to be humble and realistic, acknowledging that the way we present our Christian faith and treat other people has contributed to today’s problematic situation. We need a healthy dose of self-criticism.    Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitiae, par. 36

The entire time the discussion has ensued over divorced and remarried Catholics being admitted to Holy Communion, there have been two burning questions in my head that I’ve longed for someone to ask out loud: What percentage of all Catholics who present themselves for Communion are, objectively, in a state of grave sin? And why isn’t the Church’s leadership talking about this enormous problem, which is surely much more massive numerically than the amount of divorced and remarried people receiving Communion?

 Stated otherwise, how many Catholics who receive Communion are actively watching porn, practicing contraception, sleeping with and/or living with their boyfriends/girlfriends, having affairs, having abortions and living in a manner that is incompatible with the moral teachings of the Church? And why has so much attention been focused on the issue of divorced and remarried Catholics while the enormous elephant in the Church—the fact that statistics demonstrate that most Catholics do not follow the Church’s moral teachings—has been largely ignored? Furthermore, what’s at the root of this important problem?

I grew up Catholic in the 60’s and 70’s and was educated in Catholic schools from kindergarten through college. Like so many others of my generation, I learned little to nothing about Catholic teaching and ultimately graduated college as an agnostic—which, in retrospect, was slang for “a practicing pagan.” I had adopted the beliefs and lifestyle of the prevailing culture, much like we are seeing in the lives of so many Catholics today.

Indeed, there was a serious problem with catechesis, a problem that has undergone a major course correction thanks to the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. But the deeper issue was not that I’d failed to learn the teachings and rules of the Catholic Church. The real problem was that I had not met Jesus Christ and had no relationship with him. Personally encountering Christ was and is the crux of the Christian faith, and I believe this insight is what drives Pope Francis in his tireless summons for people to encounter the tender mercy and love of God.

It sounds sloganish, but how many Catholics have failed to embrace a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? How many Catholics have been sacramentalized without being evangelized, leaving them in a state of “cultural Catholicism” wherein they take comfort in the rituals and holidays of the Church without surrendering to the life-changing, soul-transforming power of the living God?

That was certainly my story, and it took being invited to an evangelical Christian church by an ex-Catholic for that to change. How grateful I remain for that blessed day when I was clearly challenged to welcome Jesus into my heart as the Lord of my life! My life has never been the same.

I wish my experience was unique, but I’ve seen this scenario play out in the lives of numerous baptized Catholics I’ve known, with a few, like me, eventually making our way back to the Catholic Church (usually due to a hunger for the Eucharist.) Many evangelical churches are filled with ex-Catholics who will tell you that they left the Catholic faith because they got “religion without relationship,” in other words, because they never came to an intimate, personal relationship with God as Catholics. This is nothing short of tragic.

I received a call not long ago from the head of the theology department at the Catholic college where I taught moral theology for seven years. “I asked some of the students which course they took at this school that changed their lives,” he shared. “A number of them said yours.” The reason? I introduced my students to the God of Jesus Christ; the God who loves us personally and passionately, the God reaches out to us with his great mercy, the God wants to have an intimate love relationship with each of us—the Lord who wishes to transform our very hearts and lives with his infinite, inestimable power.

In teaching the students about the moral life, I conveyed the message of St. John Paul II:

Following Christ is thus the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality…this is not a matter only of disposing oneself to hear a teaching and obediently accepting a commandment. More radically, it involves holding fast to the very person of Jesus, partaking of his life and his destiny, sharing in his free and loving obedience to the will of the Father.     Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, par. 19.

Holding fast to the very person of Jesus.  This is the essence of the Christian faith, the foundational truth that must be communicated to Catholics today if we are to see the Church healed of the many moral issues it faces--the tip of the iceberg which is divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion.

Note: This article was previously published on Aleteia.

Grace Upon Grace

Dear Friends, Many blessings to you and your families as we end 2015 and begin the new year.  Please know that I am praying for you and your intentions today at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C..  May the Lord bless you abundantly in 2016 and grant you a fresh outpouring of His mercy and love.       Blessings and grace!    Judy  

Statue in the Crypt of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

We recall the poignant words of Saint John XXIII when, opening the (Second Vatican) Council, he indicated the path to follow: “Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity.” Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, par. 4

Carried tenderly through the Jubilee Door of Mercy at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception by her parents, 10-day-old Grace Philomena would be baptized in just a few hours on this same special day—the Feast of the Holy Family in the Octave of Christmas during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Grace. God’s favor and unmerited gift. A perfect name for a baby conceived in an imperfect situation by unmarried young adults; yet a child welcomed, wanted, loved by God and by us. Moreover, a child soon to be infused with the grace of God, giving her the one identity that truly counts: child of God.

Standing in the crypt of the National Basilica, it was hard to miss the sense of being in the womb of the Church, the womb of the Bride of Christ, the womb of Mercy. I pondered the paradox of the God-man choosing to enter this world in an irregular and apparently scandalous situation, conceived before Joseph and Mary were living together as husband and wife, making Mary subject to stoning according to the demands of the law. Why that way, Lord? I have asked the question many times. I thought of Mary’s dilemma, about how difficult it must have been as she wondered how her situation would play out. I thought of all the months I worried about and prayed for Grace, asking God for his help that this situation, too, might play out well.

Then came Grace, on the birthday of Pope Francis—the pope who baptized the baby of unwed parents on the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus. And here we now stood on the Feast of the Holy Family holding Grace hours before her baptism, with grace holding us.

The last Gospel reading of the year proclaims: “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace; for the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17, RSV). While the law was a teacher, grace is a healer. The law was a guide; but grace is a mother. The law foreshadowed Christ; grace gives us Christ. Grace welcomes Grace, making her a child of God “born not by natural generation or by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God” (John 1:13).

“Were sin the only thing that mattered, we would be the most desperate of creatures,” Pope Francis said in his opening homily for the Jubilee Year of Mercy. “But the promised triumph of Christ’s love enfolds everything in the Father’s mercy.” That enfolding comes in many forms—all destined to beckon us to God.

I’ve watched an unborn baby call two confused young people to adulthood: to purpose, to promise, to love. I watch them now as they hold an infant daughter in their arms, presenting her to the Father of Mercies that she may be enfolded in his love. The law would have repudiated Mary. But grace embraces Grace, and her parents, with the medicine of mercy. The arms of severity have no place here, only the arms of love.

This post was previously published at Aleteia as The Mercy Journal.

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Becoming Like Children

Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.   Matthew 18:2

Photo Credit: @jamesgraysonhicks; My three grandsons, waiting for the train to see Pope Francis.

I have noted with some interest this week that several of the daily Mass readings—on the heels of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States—have been about becoming like children. A defining feature of children is that they trust their parents; trust that is also meant to be a delineating mark of Catholics in regard to the Pope. Yet, while many “faithful” Catholics spent the week picking apart Pope Francis’ messages—looking for a blunder, for something with which they disagreed—it seems that his messages managed to touch and transform the hearts of many who supposedly do “not follow us,” which God-incidentally, was the Gospel for Sunday’s Mass in Philadelphia (Mark 9:38-43).

I sat glued to the television watching the Pope make his way from the White House to Ground Zero, to the United Nations, and through the City of Brotherly Love. I was struck by the fact that the secular news media, typically known for their full frontal attack on the Catholic Church, gave non-stop coverage to a man who one mystified reporter laughingly stated was “not a rock star coming with pomp and pageantry,” but the Bishop of Rome, of all people. Furthermore, the personal reaction that secular news reporters had to the successor of St. Peter was nothing short of stunning.

“Here he comes! Here he comes!” a CNN reporter squealed gleefully as the Pope’s motorcade approached, unable to hide her excitement. “The crowd is electric as the shadow of Peter passes by!” she said breathlessly as the Pope’s motorcade passed the CNN platform. She then went on to share that she had left the Catholic Church in dismay over the sexual abuse scandals, but that the love she’s felt from Pope Francis has reignited her faith, bringing her back to the Church. “He passed right by our CNN platform out there and I can’t tell you what I felt. I didn’t expect it. It was the presence of holiness and goodness…Pope Francis is speaking a message that is hungrily received by a world that is desperate to hear good news.”

That message is the unconditional love and mercy of God for every single one of us; a communiqué that is a balm to the ears of so many who are beaten down and exhausted by the amount of hatred, rancor and division in this world.

My husband, Mark, and I watched the coverage in stunned silence, smiling broadly over the childlike exuberance repeatedly displayed by secular news reporters on both CNN and MSNBC. It was real. Their hearts were touched by Pope Francis’ love. So much so that New York Times reporter David Brooks said Sunday morning on NBC’s Meet the Press:

"the big effect of this week is not what (the Pope) says on global warming. It's that hundreds of thousands of people will have their hearts opened by his presence. And (for) some percentage, their life will be utterly altered by this week. Today in Philadelphia, there'll be tens of thousands of people whose souls are just exploding. And they will look back on this moment as the moment their life changed."

His words resonated with what broadcast journalist Maria Shriver wrote in her blog on Monday, the day after the Pope departed:

"Francis has had a dramatic impact on my life this past week. It’s almost hard to put into words…No, I didn’t get to interview him. I didn’t even get to meet him, but it didn’t actually matter because his words met my heart and ignited my spirit. I felt them deep in my soul. Every sermon, every speech moved me further, moved me deeper. Some I’ve read and reread 10 times."

She then proceeded to describe how, since Pope Francis arrived in the United States, she has taken “an internal inventory of everything in her life, reassessing power, success, joy, money…I’m going forward differently because of him.”

All of this has made me ask myself: have I been as open as those who don’t claim to adhere to everything the Church teaches, yet whose hearts were accessible enough to listen, to trust, and to learn from what Pope Francis had to say? Am I willing to turn, to change, to let the Pope’s visit make a difference in my life? Will I, like Pope Francis, approach others with love, mercy and kindness—which will surely win more souls for Christ than any good dose of scolding about the doctrines of the Catholic Church ever could?

I must admit that on day one of his visit, I wanted the Pope to read our President the riot act. Instead, he simply shared the beauty and joy of his faith in Jesus Christ, as he continued to do throughout his journey. By day five, I could see that Pope Francis was disarming the skeptics and unbelievers with humility and unconditional love, the hallmark of his childlike heart—signs that are meant to be a hallmark of every child’s heart.

Photo Credit: @jamesgraysonhicks; My little grandsons, trying to get a glimpse of the Pope.

Who Are We To Judge?

While I had planned to write a blog today on why I love Pope Francis, my daughter, Kara Klein, sent me the following blog this morning.   I think she is spot on.  We can all learn from Pope Francis' attitude of love and mercy, especially when we are tempted to fight (yes, I'm preaching to myself:)  Below is a picture of me kissing Pope Francis in Rome when our marriage was blessed--truly a highlight in the lives of my husband, Mark, and I.  He asked us to pray for him and we assured him we would.  God bless Pope Francis!

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"Who am I to judge?"

These very words both moved and enraged countless hearts at the start of Pope Francis' pontificate. Since elected pope, Francis' words and actions have been unpredictable, including during his first days in America when he addressed the White House and the U.S. Congress, emphasizing issues like climate change and seemingly steering clear of anything controversial.

When I first read his speeches I, like many, felt anger. "Why would he stand before our government and not reprimand them for legalizing gay marriage and slaughtering millions of babies through abortion... key issues which the Catholic Church fights vigorously against?"

But then I thought: "Who am I to judge?"

Could it just be possible that the Holy Father knows a great deal more than I do about the world's problems, has a much broader and global perspective, sees political relationships from a completely different angle than I am capable of, and hears things from the Holy Spirit that I am not privy to?

Could it just be possible that there is wisdom in how the pope chooses to behave, and in the words he chooses to use? That if he met with Congress only to step in with the most controversial topics, that they would immediately shut down, and his speech would fall on deaf ears?

Instead, like Jesus often does in Scripture, he meets them where they are. And so very much like his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, he "speaks the truth always and uses words when necessary." He passes on dining with the rich and powerful in order to feed the homeless, which turns more heads and hearts in this country than any mere words ever could.

Could it just be possible that he is showing us the way of love? As Jesus said, "I have not come to condemn the world but to save it” (John 3:17). Could it be possible that through this way, abortionists, homosexuals, atheists, those who feel most bitter about the Church and have seen it as a great enemy just might be able to say:

"What is this Catholic Church? I have to know more! And who is this Jesus Christ that Pope Francis serves?" That their ears might be opened to actually hear the truth, and their eyes be opened to see: "Oh! Why doesn't the Catholic Church support abortion? Because it loves! Why doesn't the Church support gay marriage? Because it loves!"

Pope Francis is a pope of love. Interesting that he does not put himself above meeting with Obama and his friends, above feeding the homeless, and that he also refuses to judge another person. But all too many of us are all too quick to judge Francis.

I think many of the things Pope Francis says and does, like Jesus, are not for we "righteous" but for "sinners"--meeting and speaking to them where they are. “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do,” Jesus pointedly said to the Pharisees when they challenged Him on eating with tax collectors and sinners. “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13).  This is a pope of mercy, speaking to a world desperately in need of mercy. In the end, who are we to judge?

Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor; it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.

Pope Francis to the United States Bishops

Where Does That Leave Me?

With all of the Bread of Life readings this month, I thought a repeat of this blog would be timely.  I'm in beautiful Wyoming this weekend for a retreat.  Please pray for me!   Happy Feast of the Queenship of Mary!   Blessings and grace,     Judy

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Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6: 53). The readings about the Eucharist over the past weeks have jolted forward a memory of a conversation I had more than fifteen years ago. It was with my friend Cecil, who was an evangelical Protestant at the time. We were deeply engaged in a dialogue about whether the Catholic faith was “true” when the subject of the Eucharist came up.

“Christ’s teaching about receiving His flesh and blood was meant to be symbolic,” Cecil maintained. “He said ‘unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you,’” she went on. “If that was literal, where does that leave me and the rest of Christians who don’t receive the Eucharist?”

“That’s a good question,” I offered back. “Where does that leave you?”

I can still see the look of consternation on Cecil’s face, and I could tell that she was pondering the question seriously. So seriously that she went back and reread everything the Bible has to say about the subject. Particularly compelling during that review was the fact that “many of his disciples” parted ways with Jesus over His insistence that they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Plus the fact that He didn’t chase after them saying: “I was speaking in parables, guys! Come back!” Instead, He upped the ante for the ones who remained, saying: “Do you also want to leave?” (John 6:67).

The shock of Christ’s teaching on the Eucharist would prove to be a hinge that turned Cecil toward the Catholic Church—a hinge that ultimately led her to enter the Church in the year 2000, where she received Holy Communion for the very first time. It was impossible to deny that Jesus meant what He said about His flesh and blood literally, or that that’s the way His disciples and the early Church understood it.

I am convinced that one of Satan’s most ingenious strategies ever was to disengage half of the Body of Christ from “the Body of Christ.” The “source and summit of the Christian life,”* the Eucharist intimately unites us to Jesus Christ, preserving, increasing and renewing the life of grace in us.* Moreover, the Eucharist strengthens us in God’s love and roots us deeply in Jesus Christ, so that when the storms of life come—and come they will—we remain steadfast in our faith. Buffeted, maybe. Shaken loose from the foundation, no.

I experienced this reality personally when my life imploded in 2008. And I saw it again recently in living color in the life of my friend Connie, whose sudden separation and impending divorce sent her whirling physically, emotionally and spiritually. I offered to go spend the weekend with her to lend support, and I was honestly fretting over what to say in the face of so much pain. It was when she asked, “How did you survive all of the things you’ve been through?” that the one and only thing that needed to be said flowed seamlessly from my lips.

“I’d be dead without the Eucharist,” I stated pointedly. And I meant it. I firmly believe that what sustained me during that intense period of crisis was the fact that I had spent twenty-five years as a daily communicant. “Make the Eucharist your life, Connie,” I advised. “Make the Eucharist your life.”

A light came on in that reminder to my friend who was trying to regain her footing, and Connie’s hardly missed a day at Mass or Adoration since. The change in her has been dramatic and noticeable, and it’s apparent that her feet are back on solid ground as she moves into an unknown future.

“Where does that leave me?” so many of us have asked in moments of great trial like death, divorce and other life shattering events. It leaves us utterly dependent on His provision for us, standing squarely on the promise that in and through the Eucharist, He remains in us, and we in Him (John 6:56).

The Eucharist is no mere symbol—it is not just “empty calories” in the smorgasbord of the spiritual life. It is life itself, Christ Himself, waiting and wanting to feed us. The Eucharist is creation, redemption and sanctification all rolled into one. It is a lifeline to the eternal which effects communion with Christ that holds us together until we, at last, are held by Him.

* Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1324

* Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1391-1392

Finding Hope When Hope Seems Lost

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Dear Friends,

With all of the bad news around us, could you use a good dose of HOPE?  I encourage you to watch my recent address to Legatus, which I gave on the Feast of St. Mary Magdalen.  It explains how I found hope when hope seemed lost.  Enjoy!  Please share!  Click here to watch the talk.

Praying always for God's blessings upon you and yours,

Judy