This is a wonderful article by Ms. Jennifer Manning, mom, teacher, scholar and gifted writer. Jennifer’s mom works with me in the parish and passed her daughter’s “musings” along. And with Jennifer’s permission, I pass this along for your enjoyment.
About a week into the stay-at-home order in Massachusetts, one of my colleagues sent an email expressing how he missed life at the Jesuit, all boys school where we teach. He wrote something like, “I find myself struggling with missing the students, all of you, and the Eucharist.”
I cringed. Immediately, I was faced with a most uncomfortable question—why did I cringe when a colleague mentioned missing the Eucharist? I firmly believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist (I’m quite fond of Flannery O’Connor’s quote about the Eucharist, “If it’s only a symbol, to hell with it!”) So why did I have such a hard time understanding why someone would miss the Eucharist? I was deeply saddened and shocked by my reaction to that email.
I’ve spent six weeks thinking about my reaction to his email and this morning, I think I figured it out. For my family, Mass is a weekly debacle; my husband and I have three children under the age of 5 and my children have…let’s call it, personality. My husband and I get into an argument every Sunday as we rush the kids out of the door. For the kids, it’s a quick leap from pancakes and pjs into “church clothes” and rushing to the car. One of my kids, in particular, struggles with transitions and has a major breakdown every Sunday morning on the way to Church. Once there, we juggle cheerios, Children’s prayer books, chase the kids up and down the aisle as we try to prevent their escape—you know the scene. Mass feels more like playing whack-a-mole than the transcendent, prayerful experience I want it to be. The experience of attending Mass is not something I miss.
So when the initial stay-at-home orders went out and we weren’t allowed to attend Mass, I felt like I hit the Catholic version of the lottery. I was free from my guilt about not attending Mass, free from having to battle my children. I resolved, of course, to attend virtual Mass but have missed most weeks since then.
Now, six weeks later, a peculiar thing has happened. As the weeks have progressed I’ve felt more and more empty, disconnected—not necessarily from my church, I had decided, but from my colleagues, friends, and students. In an attempt to reconnect, I planned to live stream Mass from the school where I teach. I brought my two sons outside, set them up in the driveway with bicycles and water bottles and told them that Mommy would be watching Mass on her phone so can you please give Mommy a few minutes alone.
My plan worked for about ten minutes. I was able to listen to the Gospel—the Road to Emmaus. What a perfect Gospel for today, I thought. I wondered if the apostles were social distancing when they saw Jesus on the road. I listened to the homily and as the Mass continued, I felt more and more at peace. Then, the Eucharistic prayer began. I found myself longing to be in Church. This must be what my colleague meant about “longing for the Eucharist.” I felt it.
At that exact moment, one of my sons punched the other , setting off a complex exercise in playground diplomacy that I am all too well versed in. By the time the conflict was resolved and I returned to my live-stream, I had missed the Eucharistic prayer.
I was so angry and sad and frustrated. I really had wanted to be present and pray the prayer for Communion. Could I really not have five minutes to be present with Christ?
And then it hit me. I do long for the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I do long for communion—for togetherness, not just with my community, but with Christ. My best friend, a triage nurse, texted me the other day that, “We aren’t meant for this [social isolation]…we are meant for community because God himself is a community, the Trinity.” I don’t think I’ve ever understood the mystery of the Trinity better in my life. Going to Mass is going to feel like playing whack-a-mole for this season—whether I’m streaming Mass or (someday) going to Mass at my parish. Yet, I finally find myself longing for the Eucharist.