Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Non Nisi Te

It is said that, while praying before a crucifix, Saint Thomas Aquinas was addressed by God. "You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward will you have?" The response Thomas offers is stunning in its simplicity: non nisi te, Domini...None other than You, Lord.

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.



Why am I sharing this? In part, I'm inspired by my viewing of Father Robert Barron's Catholicism project, in particular the episode on the saints. Father Barron makes the point that we should all want to be saints, that the saints are those people who "allowed Jesus to get into their boats." As I watched, I felt a deep sense of how the Lord has gotten in, been forced out, and then snuck in again to the boat of my life. I am a man who has struggled mightily with doubt and unbelief but, deep down, I have always felt God's loving presence. Deep down, I truly believe that I have touched, and seen, and tasted, and heard, and smelled the graciousness of God.

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.

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