With the morning chill and scent of autumn in the air, I think back to my childhood days when summer togs would be replaced with that crisp navy blue and white uniform. Carefree days were reeled in and it was time to get back to the business of learning.
In classrooms of crisp navy blue and white uniforms we mastered the intricacies of arithmetic and the history and geography of our nation. We learned to read and spell and construct sentences. We wrote book reports. We did homework.
And most distinctively, we learned about our Catholic faith. We learned the building blocks of Catholic belief. We learned prayers. We prepared for sacraments. The liturgical seasons were marked with school prayer and assemblies. Special feast days had novenas, processions, songs, and maybe special art projects to express devotion.
I grew up immersed in Catholic faith and culture. If there was a world outside that, we didn’t know it, or if we were aware of it, we didn’t really touch it. The foundation upon which my young life grew was strong, steadfast, reliable. As I grew into my young adult years I realized that even if I rolled off the platform and wandered along meandering paths, the foundation was still there, durable as ever, strong enough to support the weight of my emerging inquiry, broad enough to encompass my dreams. My world did not need to collapse in confusion.
But it took me decades—decades—to actually understand that what I had been given was not merely a solid foundation but a living relationship. And if a living relationship, then an inescapable invitation to give myself wholeheartedly to it. Inescapable, I say, because the invitation is to relationship with the Lord himself: the Teacher, Jesus of the Gospels, yes, and also the risen Lord, the living Christ “in whom all things hold together” (see Colossians 1:17).
I look back at those earlier years. Did I get it? Did I understand the reality of this living relationship and its implications? That the inescapable invitation is to give myself wholeheartedly to this risen Lord? Did I understand that I must eventually get completely out of my little boat and walk to him?
As a child I didn’t have to get it. I was not at the “getting it” season of my life. The point is, Jesus himself and his inescapable invitation to a living relationship is the foundation. And that invitation is always perfectly suited to where you are in your life right now. If you take away this living relationship, what’s to stand on?
But now I am well into the “getting it” season of my life. And I had better be showing the fruits of what I have learned. Catholic faith never was about “Jesus and me,” because Jesus never was about “me and my Father.” He came that we might have life, and have it abundantly (see John 10:10). The bread of God, which he is, is given “for the life of the world” (see John 6:33).
So the most obvious lesson I’ve had to learn is what St. Paul was teaching all along: I do not live for myself. I do not even live just for this tender and consoling relationship with Jesus. I live, as Jesus lived, for the sake of this world which God still so loves. I eat his flesh. I drink his blood. In my own imperfect ways, I am the living embodiment of the Real Presence for those whose lives I touch today. And in your own unique ways you are the living embodiment of the Real Presence, too. For some unexplainable reason, the Lord Jesus is pleased to use these cracked and leaky earthen vessels to let his light and healing grace pour through.
We will spend our lives trying to get what mature faith is really about. And these will be lives well spent.
Copyright 2012 Mary Sharon Moore, M.T.S.