As the Solemnity of Corpus Christi approaches, I recall the Pew survey last year in which two-thirds of Catholics claimed to believe the Holy Eucharist is only a “symbol” of Christ. I find it so sad they are limiting the true physical communion Our Lord personally longs to give each of us. Thanks to an astonishing experience I had 25 years ago, being with Christ in the Eucharist is the greatest joy of my life.

My love affair with Jesus in the Eucharist began when several of my merely human love affairs failed. In March of my senior year in high school, I met my first boyfriend at a classmate’s 18th birthday party. He was 20 and had his own apartment. Two months after graduation, I was pregnant. The baby’s father never mentioned marriage, and I was scared out of my mind.

It was 1972, so the Roe v. Wade decision had yet to come down, but abortion was already legal in California. The news was full of propaganda about how “empowering” abortion was for women, and if you had the “procedure” in the first eight weeks it was only a glob of cells. I was in a shock-robotic state of mind, so I secretly had an abortion. A month later, the baby’s father broke up with me.

Shortly after the abortion, I went to confession. For my penance, the priest told me to have a Mass said for my baby’s soul. Distressingly, I would have to tell the priest saying the Mass exactly what my intention was — and I simply couldn’t bring myself to do that! I continued to go to Mass regularly. However, I did not receive Christ because I had committed a mortal sin and, in my mind, also made a “bad confession” by not fulfilling my penance. [Editor’s Note: When given a penance that seems impractical, unclear or unduly burdensome to fulfill — especially one that stands in the way of a return to full sacramental communion — a penitent is encouraged to ask the confessor, or any other priest, for clarification or an alternative penance.]

Tormented by pain and without the comfort of Christ in the Eucharist, I soon quit going to Mass. I fell into substance abuse and promiscuity and had my third abortion by age 21. At 26, I was diagnosed with severe endometriosis, which led to six surgeries, culminating 10 years later in a full hysterectomy. Under a psychiatrist’s care, I took antidepressants for three years.

A few weeks after my 33rd birthday, I attempted suicide one night on the cliffs at Del Mar, California. I’d been out of work for three months, hadn’t had a date in a year and my total assets were a five-year-old car, a stereo and some downhill skis. Standing a few inches from the cliff’s edge with the waves pounding below, I closed my eyes and inched forward, thinking, “It’s not suicide if it’s an accident.”

Suddenly, it was as if someone grabbed my shoulder and yanked me back. When I opened my eyes, no one was there. I fell to the ground and cried the most desperate prayer of my life: “I can’t do this alone anymore! If there’s a man out there looking for me, I’m ready to be found!”

Two weeks later, I received a letter from a former boyfriend I hadn’t heard from in eight years. Mike apologized for breaking my heart and said letting me go was the biggest mistake of his life. I called. We met and knew our love was true. Both cradle Catholics and long outside the Church, we thanked God for our second chance and we were married in a Nuptial Mass. Unfortunately, we easily fell into being “Christmas-and-Easter Catholics.”

Two days before Christmas 1993, my mother suddenly died from a heart attack. Three weeks later I was in Mexico City for a business conference. We had visited Mexico City when I was 17 and gone to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I hired a guide to take me to the shrine once again. After viewing Our Lady’s image, I walked up the hill to the apparition site, where there’s a very old, small, stone chapel. Alone inside I asked our Blessed Mother, “Am I supposed to be a practicing Catholic?”

Over the next 18 months, various Catholic items drifted into my life. I’d find an old medal or holy card, or a publicly abandoned copy of a small gem of a book about Lourdes and Fatima. I know now Our Lady was slowly preparing me for my complete redemption.

In late May 1995, I attended the funeral Mass of a friend’s grandmother. At the moment the Host was raised, everything else in the church fell into darkness and the Host radiated out a bright light so warm it felt as if I were lying in the sun. I softly whispered, “Oh, my God! You really are God!” The same happened with the chalice. Tears streamed down my face.

I had no words for what had happened, but I thought of nothing else and the following Sunday I was compelled to go to Mass. Only after Mass began did I realize it was Pentecost Sunday.

Again, at the consecration, everything fell away but the brilliant light and sunshine warmth emanating from the Eucharist. I still didn’t know what was happening to me or why. But I went back to the 6:45am Mass again each day that week, and each morning Christ in the Eucharist shone his light and love … the life of the world and for me.

That Saturday I made my first full confession in 20 years. On Sunday, Mike and I went to Mass together. Mike also returned to confession after 30 years and this Pentecost was our 25th anniversary of fully coming home to the Catholic faith.

Our large church had a 24-hour Eucharistic adoration chapel. I took the 7pm hour on Mondays and Wednesdays for four years until we moved to northern California and began attending St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Willits, California. In 2003, a small group of parishioners began Adoration Hour every Wednesday evening.

Today, although watching Mass on EWTN has been a great comfort to me during these trying times of the pandemic, I deeply long to return to my hour with Jesus before the Blessed Sacrament. For it is there that he reaches deeply into my heart, mind and soul as I sit at his feet and rest my head upon his lap.

Despite my tenderness for our Pentecost anniversary, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi is my favorite, for we celebrate the great love reserved for us in his most sacred Body and Blood — his greatest gift to us, the Church militant here on earth.