I was running late for Mass.
That’s not terribly uncommon in my life, as getting two little girls out the door early on a Sunday is no easy feat. But in this instance, on pilgrimage in Spain, I was responsible solely for myself.
We were beginning our second day at the Jesuit spirituality center in Manresa, the site of the cave where St. Ignatius is said to have penned the Spiritual Exercises. And here I was, dashing down flights of steps, shuffling through the gift shop and barreling my way past walls full of Ignatian lore toward the cave-turned-chapel.
I was the last to arrive.
I slid into the very last seat in this very small space, tail between my legs, and tried to make a minimal amount of noise as my chair clattered back and forth across the floor.
As it turned out, though I was last of our pilgrim group to arrive, I was not the last person to show up for Mass. A couple of strays had wandered in to our private Mass and were lingering in the Ignatian-lore hallway just behind me. I could hear two men reciting the prayers, singing along, and sitting-kneeling-standing at all the right moments.
How wonderful to be joined by more pilgrims at such a holy place, right? To experience Mass where it’s literally standing-room-only, where we’re all crammed in tight because we all desire to draw nearer to God?
My terribly practical mind went elsewhere: What were we to do about Communion?
I knew—due to my tardiness and consequential back-row seat—I’d be the one responsible for distributing the Body and Blood to these strangers. The space was so tight that we simply passed the ciborium and chalice amongst ourselves; our Jesuit celebrant couldn’t possibly wiggle his way to each person.
So, there I am, thinking, Will we have enough? Should these fellows be left out? After all, they’re not part of our group. This is a private Mass. And what about COVID precautions?
Of course, the Holy Spirit nudged me in the right direction. You’re going to refuse Communion to these two men? You’re going to worry about whether or not there’s enough to go around? Have you read any of the Scriptures at all?
And so, when the time came, I took the ciborium and turned slowly to distribute to the men behind me.
And I was shocked. The first man was already there, right behind me, his mask down, eager to take the Body of Christ right out of my hands. “Amen,” he said, almost immediately. The second man did likewise. Then the two retreated a few paces back and began to pray as I wiggled my way up to the front of the chapel to pass off the now-empty ciborium.
Why is this scene significant? There are two forces at work here: one of reluctance and one of eagerness. The eagerness—that great desire for God, to reach out and seize Jesus, to bring Christ within and rest in his presence—wins out. That eager desire was written in that man’s face; he was ready to receive Jesus. And he wouldn’t be turned away, even if I had tried to ignore him.
Do we, too, embody a holy eagerness, a desire so overflowing that it’s all we can do to hold ourselves in line and wait our proverbial turn?
How do we approach Christ in the Eucharist, in one another, and in creation? Do we, too, embody a holy eagerness, a desire so overflowing that it’s all we can do to hold ourselves in line and wait our proverbial turn?
Or do we march ahead in rote fashion, with our minds wandering and our motions routine?
I think of the woman suffering from hemorrhages in the fifth chapter of Mark. She sees Jesus in the crowd, his mind elsewhere, focused on his next task. She so desires him, with her faith in the transformational power of his presence in her life so firm, that she thrusts her hand out of the crowd and grasps for his clothing.
And she’s immediately healed.
I imagine that man in Manresa exhibiting some fraction of her eagerness and her focus on Jesus.
But it’s always Jesus himself in this story who strikes me. He seems irritated at first or maybe a bit surprised. “Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’” (Mark 5:30)
Yet, in the end, the will of God is done; the Spirit at work is so great that even Jesus is taken aback. He realizes the power of her faith—and perhaps the utter vastness of God’s love.
At all times, everywhere, we are invited to grasp eagerly for Jesus.