Last week I was notified by one of my cousins that her father (my uncle) was near death. He was dying of cancer and we already knew that it was only a matter of time. Now the time had come.
I went with her to the hospital and I was able to give him absolution, to anoint him with the Anointing of the Sick, and to give him Holy Communion (Viaticum). We also prayed together. It was a difficult time for his children and me as we gathered at his bedside, but I was honored that I was there to help him spiritually to prepare to meet the Lord.
While in the waiting room area where we had gathered while my uncle slept, something all too common happened to me. I met a former-Catholic (by her own admission) and she awkwardly tried to tell me why she was no longer practicing the Catholic faith.
When she had finished, she awaited my response.
Please Lord, let me be tactful and prudent. Let me speak the right words.
I simply related to her all that I was able to do for my uncle by giving him the three last sacraments of his life—technically, the Last Rites of the Church. I was honored to be the priest who could be with him at this crucial time.
I also told her this quite directly: “I could never leave the Holy Eucharist.” I know that there would be a tremendous void in my life without it.
I recalled the incident in the Gospels where Jesus had proclaimed that he was the Bread of Life which led some people to walk away from Him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6: 67-69)
There are various reasons why people leave the Catholic Church. There but for the Grace of God, go I.
One thing that I cannot deny is my belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. As a priest, my heart longs to celebrate Mass each day and to receive Holy Communion. When possible, I attempt to spend extended time in prayer with the Blessed Sacrament. I truly admire those who are daily communicants and/or find time to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in the midst of a busy day.
For many, if they leave the Catholic Church, they also wind up leaving the Holy Eucharist—Jesus, the Bread of Life.
I pray for the grace of final perseverance in my life and that I may always be courageous enough to witness to my love for the Holy Eucharist.
Undoubtedly, my uncle and those others whom I have prepared over the years for their journey back to the Lord will prove me right.
Fr. Ed Namiotka