“They say that these are not the best of times
But they’re the only times I’ve ever known
And I believe there is a time for meditation
In cathedrals of our own”
“Summer Highland Falls” – Billy Joel
Five years ago, I spent a great deal of time in a hospital chapel over the period of about four months. It’s a chapel I knew quite well, having frequented it often maybe 20 years or so earlier. The chapel of that earlier era was Christian- themed (Catholic more specifically), complete with a tabernacle, a beautiful repository to the Sacred Eucharist. A crucifix overlooked an altar, kneelers lined the periphery, a broad bound red book containing scripture rested upon a lectionary podium stand, and a statuette of Mary overlooked the entire setting. It was familiar and incredibly comforting given what was happening at the time.
The world changed a lot in the intervening 20 years. So too did that chapel. Today, symbols of every major world religion adorn a redesigned spherical ceiling. The tabernacle is gone, and the only crucifix there is a painted one on the ceiling, the kneelers have been pushed toward the rear, and the red book is up on a shelf. There’s no Mary anywhere to be found.
This saddened me. It was unfamiliar. I was not at all comforted.
On one particularly difficult day, I stayed in there for many long hours. During that time, numerous hospital employees, patients, and concerned family members came into that place as well. To pray. Some fell upon mats oriented to the same direction. One whispered a repetitive phrase under his breath for several minutes. Another stood while praying. And though much of this was not familiar, not initially comforting, I found a communion nonetheless. There was a connection between all of us.
Each of us there looked to the divine, but in our own specific way… showcasing different postures, different gestures, different words. Separate yet still somehow together. To each one of us, it was a cathedral of our own making; we were there for a reason other than what was housed in that room, but rather for what it represents and what lies beyond it.
As a devoted Catholic, I hold no less to my belief in the Eucharist as the very “source and summit” of my faith life. For me, it is a cornerstone, a pillar, a foundation upon which everything else that matters is built up upon. Further, it makes such great sense to me that a divine Creator God who sent his only son to live among us and to take on the humanity of Mary would leave us with the gift of a sacrament. Jesus appeared to those whom he encountered as a mere man, yet believers knew him to be so much more than that. So too do some look upon a small white wafer of bread as being only that, yet those who are Catholic understand it to be so much more as well. This is sacrament. This is the very essence of our Church.
Still though… I think about that hospital chapel and my experience there. It was a powerful communion, though not in the same sense that I, as a Catholic, would necessarily describe.
As we recognize the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, I wonder if we can simultaneously celebrate with pride the gift of the Eucharist, the immense grace of this sacrament in our lives… while also holding close to us all those who look to the heavens, who recognize the divine wonder and profound mystery of our existence, with humility and fellowship. We are called to be peacemakers… and this too is the very essence of our Church.
[Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared here on May 15, 2017 and has been updated.]