7 reasons I love the Eucharist {the feast of corpus christi}

Bodies. Blood. Bread. Brokenness. My children bring all of this into my life.

Care for their bodies takes up hours of my day: washing faces, changing diapers, giving baths. Boyhood brings bloodied knees, scraped elbows, tears and band aids and doctor’s visits. Feeding our family is nearly a full-time job in itself: planning meals, buying groceries, cooking dinner, baking bread.

And brokenness? Well, families don’t have to go far to find proof of faults and flaws and failings. We rub up against each other all day long.

The Eucharist has never felt more real than it has since I became a mother.

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This is my body; take and eat; blessed and broken – almost everything I have learned about the love and sacrifice of parenting is wrapped up this sacrament at the center of my faith.

So in celebration of this Sunday’s Feast of Corpus Christi (the Body and Blood of Christ), here are 7 reasons I love the Eucharist – and 7 favorite posts to explain why…

It re-members me back into the Body of Christ: What Your Kids Taught Me About God

It helps me notice the ones that the world rejects: We Care About The Crumbs

It changes how I understand my own flesh and blood: This Is My Body, Given Up For You

It reminds me that the ordinary is holy: Diapers and Chalices

It teaches me about forgiveness and reconciliation: On Bad Moods and Breaking Bread

It trains my eyes to see with deeper imagination: Start Seeing Sacraments: Eucharist

It inspired me to write this book! Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting

What do you love about communion? How has this sacrament shaped your faith?

the holy sacrifice of the mess

In French, the word for the Catholic Mass is “la messe.”

First as a student and then as a resident of France, this translation always struck me as slightly irreverent. I understood its Latin roots (Ite, missa est – “Go forth, the Mass is ended” – gives the same root of the word for both French and English). But every time my roommates asked if I was going to “la messe,” the word always landed awkwardly on my Anglo ears.

Because Mass was anything but messy! Quiet and calm, peaceful and prayerful: these were the mot juste to describe Sunday mornings.

Way back then – in cool stone churches full of holy hush, pews lined with the reverent faithful, prayers intoned with perfect pitch, solemn and sacred – the whole point of Mass was that it was a foretaste of heaven.

And I soaked up its beauty like the bright-eyed girl that I was.

Now? Mass is a mess. With two squirming kids in the pew and a bored baby in our arms, we are living a different definition of that French faux-translation. Stuff gets dropped, spilled, scattered, and torn. Tears are shed, fits are thrown, whispers turn to shouts and (worse) screams.

But lately, as my husband and I try to stay faithful to the parental duty of herding cats in the pew while we half-hear the homily, I find myself seeing this holy sacrifice reflected in a whole new light.

Because our life at home is a mess, too.

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No sooner is Mount Laundry conquered than the baby soaks the sheets. No sooner is the kitchen floor mopped than muddy sneakers smudge trails from the back door. No sooner are the bathrooms scrubbed spotless than they are invaded by an eager tooth-brusher, a reluctant hand-washer, or – worst of all worst – a sick child who almost made it to the toilet.

We adults try to keep up, but kids rule the roost when it comes to livable levels of clean.

Translation? La messe.

Living in the mess can be a sacrifice. I idolize living without clutter, but I am called to live within chaos right now. Because the contours of my life these days circle around three small children and all the work that comes with loving, teaching, feeding, cleaning, and caring for them. This is the sacrifice I’m called to – to let go of my need for control and to let growing children live in all their wonderful mess around me.

It will not always be this way. Some day I will clean the house, and it will stay sparkling for a week. Some day I will have a single laundry day rather than an hour each evening spent washing, drying, and folding whatever three small bodies have produced. Some day, I hope, I will be delighted to discover how my grandchildren turn the house upside down with their visits, too.

But today? We are living in the holy sacrifice of the mess. 

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Sometimes I catch glimmers of what an un-messy life once was or what it might be again. The shiny kitchen counter after I wipe it clean at the end of the night. The quiet moment of prayer in a suddenly empty house after everyone rushes outside to play.

But such moments are rare. More often I am right in the messy middle. And I have to remind myself – a hundred times today, a thousand times tomorrow – that God is here, too. I wrote these words to myself in Everyday Sacrament, and perhaps I wrote them for you, too, that “if I’m honest, the God-in-chaos is the God I meet more often.”

So can I let my expectations slide in the church pew along with me? To embrace the holy sacrifice of the mess there, too?

I’m trying. I catch the eyes of tired parents around us, and I know they are, too. We smile ruefully at each other while we wrangle a runner heading up for the altar or a toddler toppling over the back of the pew. We know this is hard and holy work, living the sacrifice here and the sacrifice at home.

And we’re trying to trust – perhaps as all of us do who try to follow in faith – that the outward chaos of our lives does not define our inner center. Because a life full of love and service and sacrifice does not have to look beautiful to be good.

So into the mess we go, where life is still holy. Are you there, too?

Ite, missa est.

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we care about the crumbs

In our family’s parish, we eat bread. (This is not a theological discourse on the real presence; this is a simple recipe.)

Each Sunday, instead of the thin white wafers traditional to Catholic communion, our priest breaks brown bread. It is held high in his hands for all of us to see and heaped high on silver plates for all of us to eat. It wasn’t what I was used to as a cradle Catholic. But I have come to love everything about this practice.

I love that the simple bread is baked each week by members of our parish. It tastes like loving service.

I love how our priests have to take time to break the wide flat circles into hundred of tiny squares. It tastes like holy transformation. 

I love that the Eucharistic ministers need the help of altar servers to hold the plates while they offer the Body of Christ. It tastes like living community. 

Most of all, I love what real bread requires of those of us who eat it.

You have to hold it carefully in your hands so you don’t drop whatever small square you’ve given.

You have to chew it carefully and consider what it means to consume the Body of Christ.

And you have to care for the crumbs.

. . .

Since Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist (ok, there is theological discourse here after all), we pay particular reverence to the bread-turned-body and the wine-turned-blood.

Watch the next time you’re at a Mass, and you’ll see this. The patient wiping of plates after communion. The careful consuming of every last drop from the chalices. And the watchful care for every last crumb.

Cut back to adolescence. I’d see communion ministers scurry to snatch up a dropped host or rush to daub a spill from the cup, and I’d roll my eyes. Honestly, what’s the point. Is Jesus really in that little speck of a broken wafer? Do we really have to go through all these theatrics? Can’t God take care of himself?

Now flash-forward to present. I’m in a pew with three little children. Three messy, noisy, squirmy children. Three small people often scorned by society as a pesky inconvenience (e.g., a distraction from their parents’ professional pursuits) or reviled as an utter burden (e.g., a constraint of freedom, a drain of finances, a strain on resources).

They are crumbs in the world’s eyes.

And I love that I am part of a church that cares for these crumbs. A church where children are seen and blessed. A church where children are called by name. A church where all parts of the Body of Christ are welcomed, regardless of appearance or ability.

. . .

Every Sunday at Mass I watch the Eucharistic ministers. Whenever their plate is empty and the last person in line has been fed, they look down carefully. They look all around them. They stop and stoop to pick up any crumb they see.

We do not act like this anywhere else. We do not care for the crumbs.

The dirty homeless man with the cardboard sign, the pudgy teenager with Down syndrome, the elderly woman hunched over her walker, the immigrant family speaking a strange language, the drooling adult in the wheelchair – we would rather rush by them all, avert our eyes, busy ourselves with our phones or our conversation, hurry on to anything more important.

We miss the crumbs. And He is there. 

Christ had time for crumbs. Children, women, poor, sick, lepers, outcasts, prostitutes, tax collectors, foreigners, strangers, thieves, criminals. People who were pushed to society’s margins, dumped to the dirty streets, shoved to the dark and desperate corners.

He had all the time in the world for them.

I want to be a part of a church that echoes this truth each time we break bread. That we don’t just celebrate what is whole and beautiful.

We care about the crumbs, too.

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the blog book tour: day 5. sense of the faithful

As with most blogging connections, I can’t remember exactly when or how I first found Peg’s blog Sense of the Faithful. But I loved her perspective as a mother of young adults and a woman who wrestled openly and honestly with her questions of faith.

This year I had the chance to experience Peg’s retreat on birth as a spiritual practice (based on her wonderful book, Embodying the Sacred: A Spiritual Preparation for Birth). Her wisdom and guidance were such gifts as I prepared to welcome our sweet baby Joseph on his birth day.

Parenting little ones can be myopic. My vision often tunnels so narrowly to see only what looming concern fills my current days: a baby who won’t sleep, a toddler who’s potty training, a preschooler who’s tantruming through transitions.

So I try to make it a practice to pull myself out of my small world view to rest in the words of others who are not in the same stage or season of life as I am.

Peg’s reflections on watching her children set off for college and work in the world have touched me deeply over the years. She invites me to take the long view on my relationship with my own children. And her words always remind me of my own parents’ perspectives, too: what it might be like to watch my children come into the stage of having children of their own.

Peg has written a beautiful reflection on the sacrament of Eucharist and its echoes at her family’s dinner table. Her words fill my heart with the hopes I had for Everyday Sacrament – that it would inspire people to see glimpses of the sacraments in the holy ordinariness of their own lives.

Please visit Sense of the Faithful for today’s stop on the blog book tour and soak up Peg’s wise words on the seasons of our family tables.

(I promise, if you’re still in the stage of scrubbing yogurt off the kids’ plastic placemats every morning, you will thrill to the idea of shrinking the table back to “just the two of us” again some day…)

Tomorrow is stop #6 on the book tour – only two more days left! Thanks for following along.

start seeing sacraments: eucharist

Every week until my book comes out, I’ll share images around each of the 7 Catholic sacraments.
Follow me on Instagram at @thismessygrace or tag your photos with #everydaysacrament.
Let’s start seeing sacraments together…

sacraments. . .

Eucharist. Source and summit. Body and blood. Christ at the center.

I see it everywhere, this blessed-and-brokenness of the Christian faith. It’s in our daily rhythms of eating and sharing at table. It’s in our everyday actions of taking and breaking. It’s in our ordinary offerings of sacrificing in love for each other.

It’s in this bread my husband bakes for our family every week, too.

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Every time I nurse the baby, I think of what it means to give of your self.

IMG_1129Every time my husband harvested bowl upon bowl of vegetables from his garden, I thought about what it means to feed others.

imageEvery time we sit down at table to share another family meal, I think about what it means to gather together and give thanks.

imageEvery time we shared our harvest with friends and family, I thought about what it means to be the hands and heart of Christ for each other.

IMG_1376Every time I watch people receive communion at church, I think about what it means to open up our lives to let love in.

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Eucharist can be hard. We break ourselves open to love. Eucharist can be easy. We reach out our hands to be nourished.

But at home? Eucharist is every day. Feeding our family and loving in the body and sacrificing for each other and thanking God who holds it all together.

For these thy gifts, which we are (always) about to receive.

Where do you see Eucharist in your life? What does this sacrament mean to you?

sacrament, interrupted

I jostle one boy on my hip and nudge the other a step closer to the front of the line. Herding cats, I think as he wanders into the neighboring line of communion-goers.

Using my one free hand I gently guide him back by the shoulder and whisper in his ear about trying to stay near mama. We’re only a few people from the front when the toddler in my arms lunges away and starts kicking his feet in protest, demanding to walk, informing me in no uncertain terms that he does it himself.

When we reach the priest at the head of the line, I ready myself with a smile – maybe even an apologetic one for my motley crew – but he’s nowhere to be found.

Instead he’s already crouching low to smile at my boy and ruffle his hair before he blesses him, in words just at his level and his own name added at the end as a kicker.

Then he stands up again and does the same for the child in my arms: a welcoming grin, words of love and blessing.

Only then does he turn to me, the one waiting with outstretched hands, to offer another broad smile and the Body of Christ. I gratefully accept both.

I love that this is our parish’s practice, to bless the babies and offer words of communion to the children before they are old enough to receive. But once in a while I find myself restless, wanting the minister to hurry up so we don’t delay the line behind us, or wanting to get communion myself and get on my way.

Exactly the moments it does me good to have this sacrament interrupted.

What is grace if not given freely, not deserve by the one who waited patiently but poured out on every face that comes forth to a welcoming table?

What is sacrament if not shared first with the least, the forgotten, the neglected?

Maybe all sacrament is interruption. God breaks into what’s most ordinary – bread, water, love, forgiveness – and blesses human attempts to make holy. We’re jarred into remembering that wine and oil and candles and rings clasp truth to our hearts in ways more powerful than words. We need the ritual, the rite, the action, the sign. We need it spoken to us personally, like Christ pulling one child onto his lap, and communally, as a church trying to re-member ourselves back into one body.

And we need it to keep interrupting our expectations: that we are in charge, that we control faith, that this life is ours for the taking.

Every Sunday now, as I herd the cats back to our crayon-strewn pew, I hear them plead with a hungry look back towards the line we’ve just left: “I want Communion next time! Why don’t I get bread, too?”

This is how our restless hearts come home, I think.

Learning to long for the love they see extended.

Wanting to receive the blessing they are promised.

here comes everybody

How could I help but notice? She flapped her fingers in front of her face as the choir sang, waving her hands spastically, tilting her head to the tune. When the singers paused during verses, she stopped and slumped forward, dark hair falling over her eyes. But each time the piano picked up and the voices rose again, she perked up and lifted her gaze in wonder, coming alive as the church sang around her.

It’s not polite to stare. We learn the lesson young, in scolding. Yet curiosity captures us even as adults. When someone acts slightly different from the norm, we naturally notice.

But what caught my eye this morning was not the girl lost in her own world in the pew. It was her parents. Not ashamed of their daughter’s behavior, not trying to shush her into silence; quite the contrary. Her mother swayed her shoulders to the music’s beat, smiling ever so slightly. Her father nodded his own head in time with the singers.

A family in tune, in love.

I used to be embarrassed of my people-watching at church. Noticing who laughed and who cried, who was there and who wasn’t. Stealing glances at the lines filing up to receive communion. Sneaking glimpses of cute children in their parents’ arms. I chided myself for the lazy habit, distraction from spiritual discipline.

But today I started to see it as a spiritual practice in itself. Trying to see Christ in the Body of Christ.

Today I glimpsed the young pregnant woman behind us stifle her laugh as my sons threw books at each other. I saw the middle-aged man in front of me frown and shake his head during the sermon, leaning over to whisper to his wife. I watched a woman on the other side of church weeping quietly during the communion hymn, and no one around her noticed.

I stared after Mass as a woman laid her hands gently on the shoulders of an elderly man and began to speak soft words of blessing over him. I caught a glimpse of a young man scribbling in the parish prayer book. I watched a trio of toddlers splash their hands in the baptism pool while pairs of white-haired couples shuffled into the pews, already early for the next service.

When I wonder what it means to come to church, week after week, I think about people-watching. I love that church makes me jostle up against people who are like me and nothing like me. I love that standing shoulder to shoulder in a noisy, restless, laughing, coughing crowd pulls me out of my solitude of prayer. I love that every time I feel I’ve got something pegged about the divine – or the church or the world or my own place therein – the Eucharist breaks me open again, in humility and hope. Because of what I see around me.

Maybe my people-watching is simply noticing the nudges from God whispering, See that? I’m like that, too.

Maybe this is what means to be the Body of Christ. Unashamed by the differences. A family in tune, in love.