My dad died when I was sixteen.
Nine days later, I turned seventeen.
I don’t remember much about that year. The days passed in a haze of grief, though at the time, I didn’t know to call the hollowed-out feeling I lived with “grief.” Nor did I know that the constant exhaustion I felt was grief, or that the days I felt too heavy to go to school were grief, or the times I’d drive home for lunch, fall asleep in my bed, and miss my afternoon classes.
All of it was grief. I didn’t know how to bear it so instead, I placed heavy, impenetrable plates of armor around my heart. If I could protect myself from feeling my own pain, I could survive the crushing weight of losing my dad.
Had God abandoned me, turned a blind eye to my family and our suffering? I thought he must have because I’d begged him to save my dad from cancer. But instead, my dad died less than two months after being diagnosed.
I still believed in God. I still loved being Catholic, though more out of stubbornness than depth of faith. In my public high school, being Catholic required a certain amount of pluckiness. I was proud that we alone, among all the Christians in the world and throughout history, had clung to the truth of the Eucharist, even though I didn’t know that the Eucharist was a person. I was proud to be Catholic, even though it usually meant being misunderstood. I was proud to have something to defend. But after my dad died, it seemed like God was distant, uncaring, unmoved. I didn’t know how to relate to someone who was so far away.
I felt so alone. None of my friends had lost a parent, and few of my teachers had, either. No one knew how to handle such a fragile heart, me least of all.
One of the places I felt safest was my parish’s youth group. I can’t say that being part of the youth group saved me during that dark time. I was only involved so I could participate in fundraising opportunities for World Youth Day in Australia. But one of my best friends went to youth group activities, so I went, too. In the meantime, we got to go on other fun trips, like Steubenville conferences.
Steubenville West happens every July in Tucson, Arizona. I didn’t know what to expect that first year. I had never experienced praise and worship before, or men and women who were so passionate about their faith. I had never heard such engaging talks or homilies, or seen so many other teenagers who were also passionate about being Catholic.
If you’ve ever been to a Steubenville conference before, you know that there’s Mass every day, talks on various topics, and confession offered throughout the weekend. The highlight, though, is Adoration night.
The night starts with praise and worship and a riveting talk. I don’t remember who the speaker was that year or what they said. All I know is that when the priest processed in with the Blessed Sacrament and walked through the theater aisle by aisle, I fell to my knees and knew: this really is Jesus. Jesus really is God and he really is alive.
Despite every feeling to the contrary, Jesus hadn’t left me alone to grieve for my dad. He had been with me every step of the way, at every Mass I had ever attended. For the first time since my dad had died five months earlier, I let myself weep freely without trying to tamp down my tears. I poured my heart out to God that night, and for the first time, I knew that God listens.
Five years later, I graduated from college and moved to Georgia to be a full-time missionary. Although I was raised Catholic and had gone to CCD every year of my childhood and adolescence, I realized that I had been catechized, not evangelized. I had been taught all of the Church’s many teachings, but I had never been introduced to Jesus “one-to-one,” as Mother Teresa says. I wanted to help people meet Jesus in the Eucharist. I wanted to tell them about God’s love. I wanted them to know they are never alone, even in their darkest times.
I don’t know how much good I did as a missionary–I won’t know until I get to heaven–but I do know that Jesus did huge work in my heart during those four years. We started every day with a Holy Hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and those countless hours spent in prayer molded my heart around Jesus’s heart.
To this day, no matter how hard it sometimes is to be Catholic, I know I will never leave because nowhere and no one else has the Eucharist. For me, the Eucharist is everything.
How can you work some time in front of the Eucharist into your week?
Even if it’s just a few minutes of prayer in your parish church, with or without Eucharistic exposition. Pray for a revival of belief in Jesus’ True Presence in the Eucharist, or if you’ve never had an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist yourself, pray that he would reveal himself to you, one-to-one, as Mother Teresa was famous for saying to her Missionaries of Charity.
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