Difficult circumstances seem to make the Eucharist all the more powerful
In 2015, a blog called Spiritual Friendship, which publishes theological and personal reflections of interest to gay people who accept the Christian sexual ethic, interviewed Kelley Cutler about her work with LGBT homeless youth. Cutler said: “One question I’ve asked most LGBT Catholics I’ve met is, ‘Why do you stay in the Church?’ Think about it: they could go right down the street to another faith community that has different teachings. So why do they stay? I have been given the same answer by every LGBT Catholic I’ve met: the Eucharist. I don’t get this answer from every Catholic I ask, but I do from the LGBT Catholics. I think this is something people should consider.”
Earlier this year, I interviewed some homeless and formerly homeless people for America magazine. Two of the Catholic interviewees described the way their experience with homelessness drew them to the Eucharist. Greg C said that when he was living in his car, he sought out churches “that had 24-hour Adoration, so it wouldn’t be suspicious that I had my car there… Going to Adoration felt like coming home, even though it’s not where I slept.”
Eleanor (a pseudonym) noted that she became Catholic in part because: “Having been so totally and utterly failed, misunderstood and maligned by 99 per cent of the people I loved – Evangelical Protestants and Catholics alike – I really just wanted Jesus. The Eucharist was suddenly that much more necessary and beautiful.”
The Third Sunday of Advent’s readings emphasise that God comes to the powerless and the suffering. He will overturn the hierarchies of our world: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:53).
I have only anecdotal evidence to suggest that people on the margins of society often have an especial devotion to the Eucharist. I do think there’s something about the experience of marginalisation or powerlessness itself – an experience most of us have had in different contexts – which makes the poignancy and majesty of Christ’s gift of Himself in the Eucharist shine forth more brightly. Eleanor suggests that the Eucharist helps us to know and love Jesus even when many of His followers abandon or harm us.
One other theme my interviewees raised was the fear of how others would see them – alongside the terrible fear of becoming totally invisible. One man, John William Brandkamp, summarised what many of my interviewees said in different words: “I desperately want to be seen, and I desperately do not want to be seen.” In this situation Eucharistic Adoration allows you to turn your gaze towards Christ and know that He sees you without judging you. You don’t have to worry about what He’s thinking about you. You don’t have to worry that He’ll discreetly edge away from you if you look rough or miserable, if you are a more butch woman or a more feminine man.
There is a peace in the Eucharist which is for you, an intimacy even when you feel friendless. He knows you when you are keeping secrets for fear of how others will react to you; knows you, with a knowledge which is only loving.
The Eucharist shows God Himself in a shockingly powerless form. Not only does God overthrow the mighty and exalt the humble – He Himself becomes about as humble as it’s possible to be. His Body is as broken as our heart feels. He places Himself literally in our hands, entrusting Himself to us even though we know we are not trustworthy. It is His might which makes this possible. It is the infinite power of the Lord which makes it possible for Him to become, like us, so weak.
And it is only through His power that we can do as Paul says: “In all circumstances give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Eucharist means “thanksgiving”, of course. In our hardest circumstances we are given such a simple way to give thanks. There are times when words fail, when prayers don’t come, when you have no idea how to live in gratitude for a life which seems consumed by confusion, injustice or suffering. In those times the silence of the Eucharist can be a great solace. Simply being present with Him is enough.
There have been times when I couldn’t receive Communion – sometimes for dumb reasons, like my schedule went all catawampus and I didn’t fast; sometimes because I knew I carried grave sin I was unwilling even to bring to Confession. It’s awful to feel helplessly shackled in sin.
But I trust that when I went to Mass my willingness simply to be in His presence, even if I couldn’t or wouldn’t receive the deep intimacy He wanted to offer me, was a way of giving as much thanks as I could.
In all circumstances our Thanksgiving awaits us on the altar.
Eve Tushnet is an author, blogger and speaker
This article first appeared in the December 15 2017 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here