Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Miles' ministry

I'd seen Miles many times in the past, usually at the Inner City Way of the Cross and other down town events, but I'd never met him. I think he was part of the parish I grew up in. He's not very tall and wears neat but shaggy not-quite-mullet hair down to his shoulders, which looks right on him. Something about him reminds me of a picture I grew up with at Universal Church Supplies -- Willis Wheatley's Jesus Christ, Liberator -- his genuine smile, I think.

Lee and I ended up attending mass at St. Joseph's Basilica instead of our own parish on Sunday due to last minute chauffeuring duties. The pre-Vatican music left me cold, and I felt a little lost in the cavernous nave full of strangers. So I noticed Miles right away when it came time for communion, not because of his familiar face, but because of his smile. He was off to the side, a minister of the cup, next to an older man performing the same ministry. The difference was that Miles was grinning ear to ear as he offered the sacred wine to communicants. When I stood before Miles after receiving the host from the solemn priest, Miles grinned, looked me in the eye, and offered me the cup, saying, "The Blood of Christ, Sis."

That "Sis" took me aback. The combination of his smile as he handed me the cup, and his term of endearment/familiarity/informality went straight to my heart. I grinned back and said my most heartfelt "Amen!" Then I drank, gave the cup back to Miles, and smiled all the way back to my pew, tears inexplicably filling my eyes. I may have actually laughed out loud when I sat down beside Lee! I closed my eyes and said, "Thank you!" and had a moment of stillness before watching Miles' ministry out of the corner of my eye for the rest of the communion procession, which is a long stretch in such a big church. Miles gave the cup  to everyone with equal joy. At a lull when he was waiting for the next communicant, our eyes met, he smiled a bigger smile, and I laughed again.

What was going on? The thing is, I've taken a course on the Eucharist at a theological college. I've learned about the mystical understanding of communion, its history, and the beauty in God offering God's self to us through the consecration of earthy, daily things like bread and wine so that they become nourishment for our souls. But for some reason, my encounter with this one minister of the cup helped me to really understand that communion isn't just happening because we're all drinking holy wine from the same cup. It's not just about partaking in a meal that represents the banquet in heaven. It's not just about everyone in our own little holy bubbles receiving Jesus. It's also about connecting with God by connecting with each other. Miles knows that we're all brothers and sisters, and he evoked that communion by calling me Sis. His joy in sharing the cup was contagious, and I revel in the happiness that came from that encounter, grateful for what I received from this stranger, my brother, Miles.

I feel like I'm not explaining myself very well. It could be one of those experiences where "you had to be there." But really, communion happens every time I go to church, though it has never touched me quite that way before. I have a sense that if we could all feel that kind of happiness -- that kind of communion -- more often, we wouldn't need churches. The world would be a totally different place. Eucharist means thanksgiving, and after years of "receiving communion" I found myself giving thanks not only for bread and wine, body and blood, but for all my brothers and sisters who were receiving it with me, "in communion" with me -- and everyone and everything else, too.

When Mass ended, I made a beeline to Miles to thank him for his joyful ministry, and he was as humble as you might expect, almost embarrassed by my appreciation. I don't think I was able to express to him how his actions touched me and deepened my experience of communion, but mystical moments are difficult to explain even after a few days of reflection, as you can probably tell. All I can say is that it was a God moment unlike any other, and the gratitude and joy are with me still.

Thanks, Miles, for waking me up!

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