I wrote last night of an image taken from my childhood prayer. I would like, tonight, to share an experience to which I have returned in my memory many times over the years. I'm somewhat reluctant because it might raise for readers the sense that I am deceitful, attention-seeking, or insane. Yet, I feel able to share this with readers with the hope that it is helpful to them.
So here we go.
Like many Catholic kids, I used to like to play Church. I distinctly remember being around seven years of age and playing Church in the backyard of our house, using a white-topped, green-legged Little Tykes table as an altar and Ritz crackers for hosts. At some point, I went into the the house and back to bathroom. It was a small room, painted an ugly yellow/beige color as I remember it. The bathroom and kitchen were connected by a very tiny room - we may have kept coats there - that also had a refrigerator in it.
Above the bathroom sink there hung a mirror. For some reason, I was possessed of the desire, after I had washed my hands, to continue playing Church. I went over to the refrigerator and removed from its door a beer mug. It had something of a textured, glass-rivulet, outer surface, a handle, and a base connected to the mug by a stout stem. I did a quick Google Image search, but I couldn't find anything quite like it so I must leave it to your imagination.
So I returned to the bathroom and filled it with tap water. I placed it upon the sink and then I did what I believed I had seen the priest doing at Mass. What I actually said, or gestured, has long been concealed by the sands of time. Yet I remember elevating the mug and taking a drink from it.
I say this will all of the honesty that I can muster: what I tasted with that sip did not taste at all like water. I didn't know what I had ingested, but I knew it was not regular tap water.
Scared, I quickly put down the mug. I felt as though I had done something bad or that I had gotten myself poisoned. So, after a few moments, I did what any normal seven-year old would do: I took another sip.
It tasted fine. It tasted like water.
Having had enough adventure for one day, I poured the remaining contents of the mug out into the sink, returned it to the refrigerator, and went outside to play.
Perhaps it was just about a year later - in March of 1988 - I made my First Holy Communion. My grandmother bought me a suit to wear and, on Saturday, I went for the first Confession. On Sunday, with Father Murray presiding, I received the Consecrated Host and the Precious Blood.
When I took the cup, and drank of it, I realized that I knew the taste. It was the same I had had a year before. A little bit confused, I told my Aunt Mary - Sister Margaret Ann, OSU - about what had happened. I don't remember her saying very much directly to the experience, but I do remember her grabbing my shoulder and telling me to be a Disciple of Christ. Years later, she is one of the people who encouraged me to be a Jesuit.
I do not believe that what I experienced was a miraculous calling, or the setting of a divine seal upon my heart. For years, I have wracked myself with wonder in trying to conceive of other explanations, other reasons, for what I so distinctly remember. That singular event has become, in the course of my life, a significant touchstone and a site of great wrestling. Perhaps now, twenty-five years later, I'm just tired of wrestling and am growing in acceptance.
As I prepare to leave regency and transition to the study of theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, I feel great sorrow at having to leave a school and a community I love. I will be heartbroken to move to Boston because I feel as though I found a great deal of myself, and have been recreated, in and through the experience of teaching these wonderful students. Yet I feel called to serve God and the Church as a priest and I will move on to my next mission. I hope my prayer, in the months to come, can remain one with that of Saint Thomas: non nisi te, Domine, nothing but You, Lord. I want to live out the grace that I have so often been given, to live it out courageously and joyfully, that others too may come to Taste and See the Goodness of God.