My friend, Fr. Jim, who travels frequently let me know that he would be leaving town for the weekend, so I wrote to him with the blessing, "God be with you!" He shared a story with me about how his family would bless those who were traveling with the words, "Go with God," and he gave me his own blessing for the weekend, "Stay with God." I had no idea how much I would need that blessing, but by the end of the weekend, I was so very grateful for it, as I prayed those words over and over again and the thought of staying with God brought me peace and comfort...
It wasn't exactly a terrible weekend, just a blah passage of time with lots of sleep for this weary soul fighting headaches and depression. On Sunday morning, when my family and I attended Mass, we found out that our former assistant pastor who had only been with us at our parish for one year before moving on, has just been granted a six month leave by the Archbishop so that he may discern his future. This priest had been very important to my family while he was at our parish, we had him over for dinner and a basketball game with the boys every month and we all loved him deeply, in fact, everyone who knows him loves him deeply. He is very devout, friendly and fabulous with kids. It has been over three years since we have last seen him and so this news came as a shock to us, but it was especially hard for my son John who looked up to him as a role model in his own discernment of a vocation to the priesthood. After breakfast, Paul and I lingered at the table with John as he poured out his worries and sorrows over this news. And for myself, I spent the day fighting back tears as I offered prayers for him and reminded myself to "Stay With God." By Sunday evening I was drained. I had written to my friend, Fr. Don, about my troubles and this is how he replied: "Imagine walking out of the boat towards Jesus on the water and focusing on HIM. He is watching, supporting, holding and loving you right now." Somehow, it became so much easier to realize that God was with me, that I was staying with Him, with that image in my mind.
I carried those words in my heart until it was time for me to pick up my sweet young friend, Lisa-Marie, who has asked me to be her Confirmation sponsor, so that we could attend a district meeting for confirmands and their sponsors. My son John who is also being Confirmed this year and his good friend, newly ordained Fr. Matthew Widder who is his sponsor, were also at the meeting. When we arrived at the church we were pleased to see that it was packed. The guest speaker was Fr. Luke Strand, a recently ordained priest within the past two years and a friend to Fr. Matthew. You may have heard Fr. Luke's name from the recent news about his "God Squad."
Listening to Fr. Luke was like having an electric jolt pass through my body and wake me up from my self-pity; all of my frustrations and sorrows evaporated as I found myself smiling at every word he spoke. The theme of the evening was "Eucharist."
As Fr. Luke began talking, I sat back and knew that this would be an enjoyable talk, but before I realized it, I could not relax and I was scrounging through my purse looking for a pen so I could take note of what he was saying, knowing that his words were ones I would never want to forget.
Here is just some of what he said:
"When we consume the Eucharist, Jesus consumes us. He gives us a giant bear hug and says 'I love you so much! I am never going to leave you!' We become divinized, a living Tabernacle."
"People who come to daily Mass are like hot coals on a campfire that keep the love of God alive, and young people who are just learning about their faith are like the new wood that is added to the fire to keep the sparks going."
Then he spoke about adoration of the Lord present in the Tabernacle. He invited everyone to kneel as he himself knelt in front of the Lord. For five full minutes, the entire church of chatty teens and sponsors knelt in absolute, blissful silence. And then Fr. Luke began to sing. He sang "Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary" in a beautiful voice that gave me chills. He then invited Fr. Matthew up to the front of church and introduced him to everyone as his friend from the Seminary. He talked about how he and Fr. Matthew, along with several other men from the Seminary, would spend one hour every morning in front of the Eucharist in adoration. He said that changed everything for them, and he added that it brought about a close bond between the two priests from that daily shared experience.
Fr. Luke told us that he "Gave up his life for the Eucharist. I offer my whole life for my bride, the Church. My bride is beautiful, the Church is gorgeous!" Then he looked out at all of us and told us that we are the Church and said, "Your heart, the heart of the Church is the Eucharist. I will give my life for it!"
He summarized the evening by telling us that the longing in our hearts revolves around the Eucharist and the only way it will be satisfied is to spend time with the Lord. He challenged the youth to be counter-cultural, to attend Mass every Sunday until they are confirmed, even if their parents don't go to Mass. He said, "Even if it requires a sacrifice, come to Mass, because heaven meets earth here, the spiritual realm is here and God is calling you."
His talk put to rest all of my worries about my children attending confirmation classes. I know that even if most of the sessions are dreary and uninspired, and the children attending don't seem to care about their faith at this point in time, it will all be worth it for my sons and for Lisa-Marie when they realize how much they are loved by God. And when the day finally arrives for my son, John and for Lisa-Marie to be confirmed in the faith, I will tell them, "Stay with God."
Dearest Sweet Jesus, thank you for the opportunity to stay with You, and to realize the many blessings that You have poured into my life. Thank you for friends who share spiritual words of wisdom, for good and holy priests who give their lives for Your church, for young men and women who are answering the call to be confirmed in Your love through the Holy Spirit, and for my family who are always by my side, journeying with me to Your Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.