His question surprised me. “What kind of Catholic are you?”
But my answer surprised me even more. “I am a Eucharistic Catholic.”
“What does that mean?” He had bent his long frame into a tiny chair in the hotel lobby, and he was genuinely interested. We were on an unlikely educational tour of schools in Beijng and Shanghai, and we had seen the beauty of young faces clamoring in welcome and older children delightedly describing what they hoped to contribute to China. It was Easter Sunday, and we had learned how the private practice of religion was acceptable but public recognition or celebration not possible. It was an Easter of revelation, of whispered greetings in the Shanghai market and reminders from guides not to mention religion. And a conversation that made me think.
I grappled with my response to his inquiry, and lowered my voice. He leaned forward. “I believe in the Eucharistic presence. I believe in the connection to God in that, to the generations of people who believed before me , in the idea that there is a sort of direct line back to the original. I believe that there is something special there, in the reverence and in the handing down. For me, it all speaks of soemthing greater than self…somehow, no matter who we are, we all need the nourishment of that…” I faltered.
“And the rest? The Church and the hierarchy? The rules? The devotions? The corruption? The inequality?”
I remember a half smile and the tone of suffering in his voice. Not really knowing what to say without confessing more of my thinking. Wrestling with the stories we had each already lived, the wholeness and the brokenness, thoughts and frustration, anger and wondering. Long pause. Deep breaths.
“For me,” I said, “it is not about that….it is about being connected to God somehow, and the Eucharist is that possibility, if I am attentive, if I allow that….” It was paltry, empty, it seemed, an unworthy reconciliation of the realities and my own choices. “I did not want to throw out the baby with the bath water…”
He laughed at the odd expression. “I could not live with the hypocrisy. I strive to live a good life…to do the right thing, to accept that suffereing is part of life…” We meandered through his story, into the realms of Buddhism and the tenets that drew him and the choices made. There was a soft regret, a kind of sadness tinging through his words and a deep powerful sense of having done the right things.
We parted,never returned to the conversation, never croseed paths again. For me, he opened up some serious thought about how Catholicism functions, what is given, what is asked, what it means and why it matters. In such a humbling encounter, he was able to invite me to consider what is most essential for each of us. Our paths, our gifts and talents are all unique, and yet we are here together. We have strengths and weaknesses, flaws and facets of darkness and flames of brilliance.
We live our lives in increments of time that meld into seasons of lives and societies. There is so much that is so far beyond our control. There is the truth that there are opportunities for choosing wisely, for trusting. Being aware of what is happening in our lives is juxtaposed with a belief in that something larger than ourselves, beyond our understanding. It is not vested in the supersititous but anchored in the idea that there is something divine that can be intuited, discovered and experienced…if we so choose. Somehow, because we simply exist, we are worthy of love and being loved and loving. Finding out what really matters to us and continually seeing the miracles of singular striated sunrises and piercingly beautiful skies and waves thundering to the shore speak to the beauty of the eyes of another, the soft grasp of another’s hand and the warmth of embracing one another. Because, after all, isn’t that what we are reborn into each day? What we have the chance to rediscover? What it means to be who we are?