I am 75 and began to fully appreciate the Eucharist later in my life. I grew up in a seriously conflicted home that made me want to use my God-given "book smarts" to detach and focus on high academic achievement. Being that I was the first son in an extended Polish family, there was plenty of reinforcement for that. And there was a pre-Vatican II Catholic school culture that rewarded achievement, spiritual obedience, proper form, and obligation, much more strongly than one's relationship with and dependence upon the mutual love between us and Jesus and the Father.
My mom and dad cared for us well and loved us, but had very serious marital problems. They were separated twice and eventually divorced when I was a young adult. In our home, there was continuous tension among myself and my brother and sister, just waiting for the next explosion. If we were all together, for a holiday or a party or something like that, it was just pretty much silence and tension. There was rarely any prayer. But we were Polish Catholics and Polish Catholics take their faith very seriously in terms of obligation. You fasted, you went to Mass, you went to Confession, and you went to Communion. Also, there were good times at holidays and extended family gatherings.
In short, things could have been worse. As for my faith development, I continued to go to Mass and Confession faithfully, and otherwise focused on my education and career. I had a lot of friends who were high achievers in Catholic high school and at the University of Detroit. There wasn't a heavy emphasis on Jesus’ message of how much God loves us and wants us to come back to Him. Nor did we view our successes in terms of graces and opportunities from God. I realize now how excessively proud and ungrateful that was.
My awakening to the richness of the faith began when I married into a much more prayerful and devout family. I married my wife Pat, and we had six wonderful and uniquely talented children. In 2016, the bottom fell out when my daughter became severely mentally ill and addicted to alcohol, to the point where her life and mine were, at times, in danger. Pat and I went through periods of frustration, depression, and, for me, hopelessness. During that period, though, my eyes were opened to Jesus’ love when my parish, Shrine of the Little Flower, hosted a program called Alpha, and later when I began to watch ‘The Chosen’ (rabidly!).
These experiences awakened me to my own helplessness and led me to pray more, seek spiritual counseling, read the Bible much more, and finally experience for the first time — literally a few weeks ago — my love for the Eucharist. I grew to more deeply appreciate what Jesus has done for me and will continue to do for me, as I fully grasp His presence and love in my entire life, and the full meaning of his gift of Himself to me in the Eucharist.
A few weeks ago, I was watching ‘The Chosen’ episode where Jesus visits his mother. Like any good mother, she asks if He is eating all right. He rattles off a list of what he has been eating, then looks off into space, lost in thought, and says, ‘But you know, mother...what I really LOVE is bread.’ I had this fantasy that in His knowledge that His suffering and death were near, He may have reflected compassionately on what he could leave his mother and friends and had an idea, like: ‘That's what I'll do for them! I'll transform myself into bread for them, to be together with them throughout their lives.’
A day or two later, I went to my adoration hour and I prayed to Him on the cross, let my eyes come down to the host, and began to cry with awe, wonder, joy and love. I just knew He was there, sitting right next to me. I just had to sit and wait. For the first time I really felt His presence within me — my heart swelling with love, and a rush of warmth passing through me. I felt like I wasn’t alone and I didn't have to do anything.
I felt like for the first time, I learned to really love Jesus and love my faith, to put everything in life in his hands, especially when you’ve done all you can do.
Since then, those feelings have not gone away. I feel them with every Communion when I receive, and every hour I am in the chapel. You don't have to analyze it. You don't have to read about it. It's very simple.
And I thank you, Jesus, for giving me the trials that finally made me realize that my dependency on you is freedom from my reliance on myself, my detachment, my being alone. I trust that you are ever loving and caring for me. And I thank you especially for leading my daughter to make decisions that, hard as they were, have made her whole again.
Experience it for Yourself
Jesus is truly present. Jesus is always with you. Sit in his presence and open yourself up to his voice.