How the Eucharist Saved My Life

How the Eucharist Saved My Life June 4, 2015
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Photo credit: Art4TheGlryOfGod / Foter / CC BY-ND

When I first moved to Patheos, I wrote a blog post about how I received the Eucharist when I was still an atheist. I don’t want to rehash the issues surrounding thatat all.

But what I do want to go back to is how the Eucharist saved my life.

I was living on the campus of a university in Northern California. My boyfriend was studying for his PhD and I had taken a year off to recover from an intense time teaching in inner-city Miami.

This is one of my journal entries from during my time of teaching.

It explains a lot:

So I am thinking of getting a new job. Here are the options:

1. Something that involves sitting under a palm tree and picking at sand with a stick.

2. Submitting poems to journals and weaving a colorful quilt with the rejections slips.

3. DO ANYTHING THAT DOES NOT INVOLVE TALKING TO CHILDREN

I planned to enter law school the next year, but in the meantime I just wanted to relax. So I had a lot of free time, something I had very little of when I was teaching and I spent it taking a Chinese class, reading, learning to sail, and I eventually traveled to Latin America.

One day while I was wandering around, I noticed that the main church at the center of the campus was bustling with people. I saw a man with billowing white robes standing outside.*

I was intrigued. I knew he must be a priest of some sort but I had been away from the Church for too long to understand much else. (Isn’t it kind of funny how intelligent, educated people feel that learning even the most basic things about Catholicism are beneath them?) Anyway, I looked at  his face.

He was young, handsome and really happy.

I stood there gaping at him for much longer than is socially acceptable.

“Strange.” I thought.

I stepped into the church, half expecting sirens to go off.

 

“Warning. Warning. Atheist in the church. Warning. Warning.”

 

But nothing happened.

A lady smiled at me warmly.

I took a seat in the back of the Church, near the door. I figured I would stay just for a few minutes. But the moment I entered the Church, I felt a Presence. It was not the presence of the other people; I could physically locate this Presence. It overwhelmed everything else in the room. It was like a giant magnet drawing me toward the area of the altar. I kept looking in that direction. I saw the tabernacle and my formerly Catholic mind registered the fact that these people believed that God resided there. I pushed that thought away. But the Presence did not go away.

When it came time for Communion, I considered sitting in my seat. “I don’t believe this stuff,” I reasoned.

But I went up.

All the while, my head and my heart were ferociously at war.

I received Communion and as I did I remembered a friend of mine who had told me about the time one of her friends went to a Catholic funeral and received Communion, not knowing what it was or what she was doing. When she got back to her seat, she thought, “I must not be meant to eat this, it tastes like cardboard!” So she took the Eucharist out of her mouth and put it on the bottom of her seat like a wad of gum.**

I remember my friend laughing when she told me the story.

I did not believe in God at the time so I should have found it funny.

But I only felt sick to my stomach, terror, and a deep sadness.

All of these memories rushed into my mind, overwhelming it for a moment.

When I got home my boyfriend asked me, “What were you doing?”

I told him I went to Mass.

He looked shocked.

“Why?”

My head responded, “The traditions soothe me, it is like a lullaby…but I don’t believe any of it.”

As I said this my heart began beating wildly.***

 

 

* Several years later I met the man I had seen with the billowing white robes outside the church that day. He is now a Dominican priest and we are godparents to a beautiful little girl named Theresa.

**This is hopefully motivation for any priests reading this to verbally instruct Mass goers on proper reception of the Eucharist at funerals and weddings and other similar events.

***It would be several years before I would do things right and formally return to the Church. But it would be just months before I began to believe in God again. I can only believe that my recognition of the Presence on that fateful day was a seed planted that would eventually break the hardened earth around my heart on the day of my conversion.


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  • I love reading conversion stories! I missed that original one, but this was a great read. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      Thanks Manny, good to “see” you! 🙂

  • Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

    Beautiful!

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      Thank you Donna-Marie!

      • Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

        You are very welcome. Thank you for sharing!

  • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

    That’s amazing how you felt something in the presence of the Eucharist. Did you ever read the conversion story of Hermann Cohen? He was an atheist who was converted when he went into a Catholic Church and also felt the presence of the Eucharist. We used to have an encounter book on him.

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      No, I’ll have to check it out Sr. Lorraine..maybe I can find it in the archives!

      • Sr Marianne Lorraine Trouve

        It was called “Music Master.” He was a great musician. In fact he went to the Catholic Church because he was singing in a choir that visited it. After he converted, he became a Carmelite priest.

  • Justin

    “Warning. Warning. Atheist in the church. Warning. Warning.” The first time my wife walked into the church, she was in full hijab (possibly niqab- I can’t quite remember). She found herself welcomed. If she hadn’t, it’s very probable she wouldn’t have become Catholic (and thus neither would I). It’s a delicate balance, maintaining our unapologetic orthodoxy while still being welcoming- but our souls are indebted to that “warning” siren not going off!

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      Amen.

  • Truth Seeker

    Why doesn’t everyone experience this phenomenon? Maybe it affected you because it was the religion of your formative years.

    • Maribel Jurado

      This exact same phenomenon occurred to me on a Christmas Eve.

    • brotherbraids

      Because God doesn’t “call” everyone in the same manner. Some are “called” by the beauty of creation. Others, like St. Augustine, by Greek philosophy. Others by closeness to death (their own or others). Some by the Eucharist. Scientist Francis Collins experienced God by the beauty of nature and closeness to death and suffering of others.

  • Maribel Jurado

    This was a great anecdote.

  • Michelle

    I have heard and read on many Eucharistic miracles…I believe this was yours. Thank you SO much for sharing, Sr. Theresa! God certainly has a way of calling His children home.

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      Thanks Michelle, what a beautiful way of seeing it!

  • Dan Rusak

    Irrationality is strong in this one.

    • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

      [Insert Star Wars joke]

      • Justin

        As per your request:
        Arguing with atheist trolls on Patheos:

        • Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble

          Yessssss.

  • DebraBrunsberg

    Thank you for sharing and what a grace you have been given. I was brought back to the Church after 34 years and the overpowering presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is an every day thing. It is that desire to be with Him that draws me to daily Mass. Oh, to be Anna and sit in the church all day, in prayer. 🙂

  • Where’s the rest of the story? Where’s the part where the eucharist saved your life?

    Also interesting how these rituals impact different people. For you as a former Catholic the ceremony was so powerful it got you turned back towards your old church; for someone who wasn’t brought up in the faith it was literally as meaningful as eating cardboard.

  • Greg

    What a beautiful story. I was baptized Catholic as an infant but raised Methodist. I knew nothing about the Catholic Church. The first time I took communion was in college and in defiance because I wasn’t allowed. I was surprised at the feeling of “wrongness” that I felt on doing that. I didn’t recognize our Lord in the Eucharist at that time. But it taught me humility and patience for when my time to receive appropriately would come. It’s funny how God can affect us in such individual ways. I don’t know enough theology to say whether what you did was right or wrong. But it doesn’t seem to be the important point of the story. More importantly, it seems that at that moment you were entering into a profound relationship with Him. Don’t stop telling people about your encounter with our Savior!