Parish Stories

St. Mary

Royal Oak, MI Archdiocese of Detroit


“Why we do what we do”

Russell Joyce

At first we were non-church-going Christians, and then I think when I was around seven or eight my parents became Born-Again, so I guess I became Protestant at that point. When I met my (now wife) Nicole, she was clearly Catholic. When we got married, we agreed we would raise our kids Catholic. I wasn’t active in the church my parents took me to as a kid but I still believed in Jesus, and the Catholic Church seemed fine to me.

I wanted my kids to grow up knowing Jesus, but looking back at it now, I don’t think I even knew him as well as I thought I did. I never really thought much about it, other than trying to be respectful and praying in my own way during the Eucharistic prayer. I respected that’s what Catholics believed, but I guess it didn’t feel like it was something I needed to or wanted to understand. I thought I could be a good Christian without the bells and the rites and the Eucharist. It seemed nice, but not really necessary. I did really like the reverence of Mass. I liked the music, the times when everyone was quiet, and the way you always know what’s coming next because Mass is the same wherever you go.

So we went to Mass every week, we taught the kids to pray, and I learned about being Catholic right next to my kids. When they learned something from Nicole, I learned it too. And when it came to the Eucharist, obviously I couldn't go up and receive, so I would just stay in my chair.

I think it was at my brother-in-law's wedding. The priest said, 'Feel free to come up here.' And he said, 'If you're not Catholic, all you have to do is cross your arms and receive a blessing.' I turned to Nicole and asked, 'Are you serious? Is that a thing?' And she said, 'Oh, yeah, totally a thing.' And I remember being kind of mad that I could have been going up for a blessing all this time instead of sitting in the pew alone.

So, from that point on, I went up every week and crossed my arms and received a blessing just to be able to walk up with my family.

Every once in a while Nicole would share something theological about the Church or the Eucharist with me, and I guess it started to stick. At some point, Nicole had given me a book by the author Scott Hahn called Rome Sweet Home. So seeing everything happen at the Mass and asking Nicole a few questions here and there, it really just enhanced my experience of what I was witnessing. Like when I first learned about the connection between the berakhah, the prayer of thanksgiving that is prayed by the Jewish people, and how they believed that when they said this prayer in celebration of Passover, that their escape from Egypt became present – that’s the prayer Jesus was praying at the Last Supper. He meant what he said when he told them, 'This is my body… do this in memory of me.'

And I think it's in the book of John, the apostles say, 'Hey, Jesus, people are kind of freaking out about what you're saying, you need to tell them what you really mean.” But Jesus says, “They need to eat my flesh or they're not getting to heaven.'
After reading that, we attended Mass that Sunday and I went up with my arms crossed as normal. And the priest, through the grace of God, forgot that I wasn't Catholic even after we had been going there for several years.

And he held the host up for me, and I stared at it for a good 3 or 4 seconds. And, in that moment, I thought, 'I really want that.' I knew Jesus was in there, and I was hungry for him.

It was very powerful.

I'm getting goosebumps now talking about it.

It was like Jesus was saying, 'It's time. You need this.'

I was filled with such a powerful desire. Like, I need, I need, I want that now. I knew I was in the presence of Jesus. And so that's what really put that final piece in the place for me.

Shortly after that, we went to the Cathedral for Mass on Corpus Christi and walked the procession. When we got home that afternoon —Nicole laughs about this now—she was in the living room watching TV, and I was in our bedroom and was kind of thinking about it. And I very casually walked out to the living room and said, 'Yeah, I think I'm going to join RCIA,' and I walked out. And she was like, ‘Wait, I have questions!’ I started RCIA that summer and was received in the Church the next Easter Vigil.

And of course, looking back at it now, I feel foolish for waiting so long.

It’s been eight years, and honestly, the desire I felt the first time I encountered the Eucharist so close to me, it’s still just as intense. If I have to miss Mass for whatever reason, being sick or whatever, I miss it.

He's there. He's present. The Eucharist is why we do what we do and why we believe what we believe. Jesus is waiting for you. Go.

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