Present to the Presence

by Felicia Schneiderhan

We had a BBQ last weekend that demanded the clearing of a side counter in the kitchen – the counter which catches about a month of mail. This counter – I’m not exaggerating – had more than a foot of paper piled up on it. My husband Mark did what any smart person would do; he threw it all in a Rubbermaid container and pushed it in the closet.

Yesterday morning I dragged the container upstairs to my office, and while our three month-old lay on a blanket playing with the arch of fuzzy toys suspended over his head (he has recently discovered his hands), I dug into the month of mail.

Somehow (I have my suspicions) I have landed on every Catholic mailing list in the country. I get appeals for this group of the little saints and that group of big saints and random churches in Colorado and orphanages and missionaries and subscription cards for every Catholic publication in the country and the delightful Trappists’ Christmas catalog of chocolate and beer gift sets. This month’s mail pile had an extra bonus: a DVD from our diocese entitled “Preserving Marriage in Minnesota.”

It’s amazing to me how many of these mailings appeal to the “Conservative” Catholic, as opposed to the “Liberal” Catholic, and that these are terms devised by advertising companies and political re-election think tanks, to corral people into manageable marketing groups, to successfully divide and conquer.

If you were to take all the people attending Mass on Sunday morning and break down our personal beliefs, I’m willing to bet that each of us would have a combination of both “liberal” and “conservative” beliefs. Yet we are all there to celebrate the Mass together, to celebrate the Real Presence of Christ among us.

According to the recently-released (and quite fascinating) U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 52% of Americans think that Catholics believe “the bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ,” while 45% think that Catholics believe “the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”

In my own experience, the idea of the Real Presence was something I always struggled with and pushed aside, since it was more comfortable to not think about it, rather than grapple with how to think about it. Until last summer, when a series of events too long for a blog entry pushed me face to face with my own prejudices about whether or not the bread and wine actually become Christ’s body and blood. When pressed up against my own belligerent denial, I worked with a spiritual director, read and researched, prayed and argued with God, and finally, in my heart,
believed. I now have faith that the sacrament of the Eucharist does indeed change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Christ lives among us, in the flesh, at every Mass.

I also believe this change occurs regardless of the sin of the person or people performing the sacrament, regardless of the belief of the congregation. The Presence exists whether or not I am present to it.

If the pile of mail is an accurate cross-section, we as a Catholic community are so busy defining right and wrong, playing God, that we have forgotten the Real Presence among us. We suffer the delusion that we must stand for God, when, in fact, God stands for God, and does so at every Mass. We do not need to interpret God’s will, or enforce God’s law, or represent God’s name. Christ gave us the gift of the Eucharist to relieve us of the burden of being in charge, of being right. Instead, we can focus on the two commandments Christ did give us: Love God and Love Each Other.

Felicia Schneiderhan lives in northern Minnesota with her husband Mark and their son Rafael.

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