At some point in their Christian journey, most Christians lament that they weren't alive when Jesus Christ walked the earth.
An experience I shared with more than a thousand youth and their priests and chaperones at Steubenville North's youth conference in Rochester, Minnesota a few weeks ago convinced me that He still walks among us.
On Saturday evening, everyone gathered in the convention center arena for praise and worship music, Eucharistic adoration, and Benediction. During adoration, Father Leo Patalinghug processed throughout the arena carrying the monstrance to every corner of the Rochester Civic Center. I've witnessed adoration like this several times over the years, but this experience significantly struck me for a couple of reasons.
More than usual, I saw those in the auditorium reaching for our Eucharistic Lord. As Father Leo brought Christ, with great effort, up and down the stairs of the upper balcony, it was common to see and hear participants who had been spiritually touched by their encounter with the Lord. Some started weeping, overcome with the Gift of Tears; others simply gazed as the spotlight reflected off the golden rays of the monstrance and penetrated through the Eucharist, piercing many with the blinding light and love of Christ.
There were others who lifted up their hands and reached out as if to touch Him. This moved me most of all, for it reminded me of the passages we encounter in Scripture.
Christ's presence in the Eucharist was central to my conversion from the Lutheran faith to Catholicism. Observing this very physical longing for the Lord, however, cemented in a very practical way that Christ truly is present; for, it is only Christ's presence that could motivate those gathered to reach out to Him and respond to Him in the way that so many did. It was a truly beautiful sight.
As Jesus made His way through the crowds, there were those who longed to touch Him and be touched by Him - the blind man, Bartimaeus; the woman with the hemorrhage who longed simply to touch His cloak. As the Lord approached me, He was just out of reach. One step closer and I would have reached out, like that woman, to touch the hem of Father Leo's garment.
The experience helped me to realize that we cannot contain Christ. He continues to walk among His people to meet them where they are, and His people continue to seek Him. They long for a glimpse, a touch, forgiveness, they long for His love.
Just as Bartimaeus longed to see the Lord, we too, long to see Him. Just like Zaccheus, we sometimes climb to great heights, or balconies, to catch a glimpse as He passes by. Just like the widow, we long to touch his cloak and be healed by Him.
And so He comes to us. He comes to us at each and every Mass. He comes to us in the people whom we encounter each day. He comes to us in the distressing disguise of the poor, the abandoned, the unborn and the aged, the immigrant, the hurting, the sick and the dying. He comes to us through Scripture. He comes to us in the person of our precious priests. He comes to us through daily prayer. He comes to us in the humble form of bread and wine. We take him into our very being. We consume Him, and He dwells within us. He renews us. He transforms our hearts of stone to living hearts like His.
While not prone to mystical experiences, at Sunday morning's celebration of the Eucharist, I experienced a distinct grace.
After I received the Eucharistic Lord in Communion, I returned to my place, where I knelt on the hard auditorium floor. As the host dissolved on my tongue, there was an indescribable sweetness unlike any I have ever associated with the Eucharist. It was not sugary. It was not honey. It was a singular, pleasant, lingering sweetness that filled me with great joy. I could not help but smile broadly and utter "Thank you. Thank you, Lord."
The only explanation that made any sense to me was the refrain from Benediction the night before - "Having within it all sweetness."
Guilty of having a sweet-tooth, I realized that any other kind of sweetness always leaves you longing for more. This sweetness, however, satisfied. It was as if Christ was saying, "I am the only sweetness you will ever need."
With all of the distractions and temptations and "sweets" the world throws at us, it's important for each of us to realize just how true that is. He is all we need.
As an aside, for those who have been to a Steubenville youth conference, and for those who have never been to one, or who long to attend one, I highly encourage you to visit the brand new website Franciscan University of Steubenville has unveiled. www.Stubenville.org features video and audio from speakers and musicians associated with the conferences.
"This is a way of using...technology to evangelize and continue to catechize young people," said John Beaulieu, director of the annual summer youth conferences. "Now...teens have a fresh new resource to strengthen their life of faith."
In addition, there's a free iPhone and iPod Touch app that works with the website to allow teens to connect with friends in prayer, to learn more about their faith, and to help build the Church locally and internationally. In the near future, Steubenville will also be releasing an app for Android-based smartphones.