Rugby and the Miracle of the Mundane: A Love Story

by Melody Lyons

Posted on July 19, 2017  |  COMMENT

“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you…” I was 16-years old attending a Catholic school Mass and my teenage head jerked up reflexively in defiance at those words. I saw the priest at the altar through my narrowed eyes and would have stormed out of that church if not for the obligation and plaid uniform that shackled me there with my Catholic school peers. There were alarmingly few of us who came willingly and fewer who bowed down at those words.  I shook my head with anger at this man who called himself Father… Not worthy? I AM worthy, you loser.

A few minutes later, I watched some of my classmates approach the altar. They called themselves “Eucharistic ministers” but I knew what many of them really were. They were just like I was; mocking, defiant, and immersed in unrepentant sin. I stepped into line like a prisoner on the march and received the sacred host from a girl with a jaded look in her eye. I knew her. She was a drug abuser, a people user, an unbeliever. Body of Christ, she said as she placed the host in my hand. But I only heard the message of her life which said: I will not serve.

I never believed that the little white host was anything other than a piece of bread and very few of my Catholic friends did. Our vision had been formed by a secular devotion to personal power and pleasure and my own imagination was bound by the limitations of what I thought greatness should look like.

Like most details in a life of faith, the miraculous is invariably bound up in the mundane. We tend to miss it because we have been raised on the milk of MTV, superheroes, and Hollywood; and not much really impresses us unless it can fly, make us dance, or at least engage a magnetic force field around our sufferings. Miracles are the necessity of suffering and age… but the young and healthy? Not so much. The modern culture of youth sees itself as the miracle and  answer.  Absent a need for a cancer cure or money to pay the bills, the imagination is still bound by Hollywood. The preference is to remain comfortably in a life of fun, pleasing schedules, strong health, reliable work, healthy relationships, adequate income, and safe streets. The unfortunate consequence, is that we are rendered blind to the truly miraculous.

For the entirety of my early years, the miracle of the Eucharist appeared to me as nothing more than the smallest and dullest of objects; a symbol of compulsory church attendance and obscenely early mornings. Later, as a teenager, I met Him with carelessness and then defiance.  I bow before no one. Least of all, this Jesus who shows me nothing, speaks nothing, looks like nothing.

In those painful years, I found the silence of the tabernacle oppressive. It looked old and I wanted to be young. I hadn’t yet learned about the miraculous of the mundane. I didn’t recognize Him in the smallness because I was too busy waiting for the astonishing. How fitting then that He would make Himself known to me in a small, cold chapel where I expected nothing at all. Nothing at all.

Truth be told, I was only kneeling there in that chapel for love of a man (when you are a worldly girl of seventeen, what is more motivating?). I wasn’t looking for a miracle, just protection and love. I found both where I least expected them.

I was a rugby player. A small, fast, and terrified rugby player at a state university. Don’t ask me what I was doing there because I only have a vague notion of that myself - besides the fact that I loved athletics and was looking for some fun and distraction. I had never played before but I learned quickly that I had to run fast if I didn’t want to get clotheslined by some of the toughest looking young women I’ve ever seen. Having only a rudimentary knowledge of the game, I managed to run fast enough to earn myself a starting offensive position on the roster.

When our first game was scheduled against Michigan State, I was excited to get on the road and play. Not only would this mean real competition and adventure but I would also have a great excuse to miss a Catholic retreat that I was hesitant to attend. I had been invited by the man I loved but… happy clappy Christian retreat vs. trip to Michigan? That was an easy decision. I’m sorry, dear, but I can’t come because I have committed to playing this game.

Things changed about a week before we were scheduled to travel when I overheard a conversation on the practice field between our coach (a member of the men’s rugby team) and our team captain. They were discussing the trip and the details associated with the first game. We would stay at the rugby house in Michigan (naturally), party hard, and continue the tradition of the topless dance from the first point scoring female of the season.

I didn’t know much about rugby, but I did know that the first scoring female of the season would almost certainly be… me.

No. The word started as a sad little whisper and steadily rose to a panicked crescendo. NO!

For four long years of high school I had waited to escape the filthy prison of youth culture in which I was fully and regrettably engaged. I longed for the freedom to be happy and good. And when I met my boyfriend, with his strong Christian identity, I breathed freely for the first time in many years and relished the first steps to recovering feminine innocence.  And now? No. I wouldn’t go back. I would never go back.

So I ran away. Hey Honey, I changed my mind about that retreat… is there still room for me?

I never made it to that Michigan game. Instead, I found myself kneeling for two hours on the marble floor of a cold little chapel just a few feet away from my Eucharistic Lord encased in the shining monstrance. I focused on that little white host because I wanted more than anything just to experience the reality of Divine Love. My soul still retained enough innocence to desire that gift; the elusive treasure that the world offers but can never produce. I was young but my tired and wounded soul was disillusioned and ready for a Savior.I knew enough to call on the name Jesus and I gave my emotional assent to belief. But then came the moment that rocked my world…

About an hour into adoration, I heard a voice yell into my heart. If you don’t know what that means, I can’t tell you. It was a hearing yet not with the ear. Whether it was the voice of God, a prompting of the Spirit in my soul, or my imagination, I cannot say; but as I gazed upon the host, I was pierced by these words:

“If I am not God, then you are worshiping nothing but a piece of bread. Do you believe?”

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For the first time in my life, I realized my terrible predicament. It was rather comforting to pray and sing and speak belief in a way that was emotionally gratifying. But if this wasn’t really God, then I was the biggest idiot on earth, kneeling before a big zero and worshiping my own fantasy.

My mind was blown open by the necessity of giving intellectual assent to my actions and I ran briefly through what I knew:

Jesus claimed to be God.

If Jesus isn’t God, He’s a liar or a lunatic.

If Jesus was crazy or evil, then Christianity is a sham.

If Christianity is a sham, then so is my personal faith.

But if he IS God, then His words are true because He claimed to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

If he IS God, then he established His Church.

If he IS God, then He gave us His Body and His Blood.

The first Christians believed it.

Over 2000 years of liturgy perpetuates it.

It only took a minute but I knew. I knew that I didn’t want to be one of the followers who left Him. He had said, “Will you also go away?”  (John 6: 22-71). I’ll stay, Lord. And for the first time, I worshipped my God, present in the Holy Eucharist, fully believing and embracing the consequences of that belief.

I believe, Lord. Yes, it is You. If I am a fool, I will be a fool for love of You.

When I left that chapel, there was no observable difference in my life and yet I had been fundamentally changed. I was a typical girl walking around a normal neighborhood, eating boring food and talking to regular neighbors. There were no sparkles or super powers or miracles to be seen and yet… I carried a brilliant treasure. For the first time, my eyes were opened to the miracle of the mundane and nothing has been the same since.

The Eucharist: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ. If the God of the universe can be present in a tiny white host, then suddenly, it’s not such a stretch to believe that this world is flooded with miracles. If the Eucharist is truly God, then we are living a reality to which no fairy story or Superhero movie can hold a candle. But if it isn’t true, then we are the most ridiculous people on earth. We are not children anymore. We must decide.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote that “The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white host.” Thanks to a game of rugby, the prayers of my future husband, and the grace of God, I have entered into that miraculously simple love story… and I never wish to leave. Thanks be to God!

Melody won 3rd place and a $100 cash prize in our Real Presence Essay Contest. She blogs at Blossoming Joy.

Related: Real Presence Contest: Winning Essays

 
 

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