What is most important to you? Today, right now, what is that one thing that is most important in your life? Think about your answer for a second.
Will your answer be different a day from now? Or in a week? Or in a year? What if I were to ask you the same question five years ago? Would have been the same as your answer of twenty seconds? What if I asked you the question ten years ago? What about twenty?
As we go through our lives, the thing that is most important and in the forefront of our brains often changes. At different periods in our lives, what is most important to us right this moment might change as frequently as we change clothes. When we’re young, what is most important is pretty simple. As we get older and busier, what is most important becomes more complicated. As parents, what is most important can sometimes be where we need to be, when we need to be there, who do we bring, what stuff do we need to bring with us, and when is everyone going to eat. As we get older still, the pace slows back down and what is important becomes more routine, more static, and more simple again. In our twilight years, what is important might be as simple as the crossword puzzle, grandkids, and church.
When the lockdowns started last year, many people realized what they held to be important wasn’t so important anymore. The slower pace and the forced captivity inside our own homes forced a long, difficult look into our own hearts. Some avoided the question, “what is important” because they knew they wouldn’t like the answer. For many, it was a wakeup call. But for those at either end of their life’s timeline, their answer to “what’s most important” really didn’t change much. Children, though cut off from school and friends, still had their toys and their technology and their parents. Seniors, especially those in assisted living, still had their crosswords. Despite the inability to have in-person visits, most could still have Zoom chats with their grandkids. And they could still watch Mass on TV.
So, for an outsider, it would seem that those most impacted by the lockdowns were those in the middle, those of us who were forced to reassess our lives and reprioritize what’s really most important to us. After all, we were the ones who’s plans and schedules and entire lives were upended. Those on either end, well, with regards to what’s most important, their lives didn’t change much. Or did it?
A recent article by Elizabeth Mitchell told her story about an assisted living community where she was one of the few outsiders allowed in during the lockdown. She talked about the resilience and resolve of the people who lived there, how they were determined to get through the lockdown despite no one being allowed in or out except the workers. Even priests were not allowed in. After a year of being locked inside, she began to hear one resident after another talk about how much they missed receiving the Eucharist.
They had their crosswords. They had their grandkids on the phone or FaceTime. They could watch any of dozens of Masses on TV. But none of these things was the most important thing in their life. The Body of Christ was. Ms. Mitchell got approval from the executive director of the facility to bring the Eucharist to them. She got a list of names and brought 25 consecrated hosts. It wasn’t enough. As word spread, residents arrived in suits and jackets, dresses and pearls, and she had to break hosts in half. For those who were unable to attend in person, she brought the Eucharist to their room. There were tears of joy upon her bringing Christ to them. One man got down on his knees and proclaimed, “Lord, I am not worthy.” For these people, they knew without question what was most important in their lives.
Without the Eucharist, what is the most important thing about our faith? If we reduce the Church down to a community of like-minded people where you can listen to a motivational speaker once a week who will make you feel good about yourselves, you could join any of a number of other groups instead. They don’t even have to be religious! You could avoid those who make you feel uncomfortable about what you believe and the lifestyle you live, and you could freely move from one to the next. Wouldn’t that be empowering? Without the Eucharist, the priest is nothing more than a motivational speaker, and the internet is full of those. Without the Eucharist, what point is there to even belong to a parish, when you can simply attend St. YouTube? Without the Eucharist, what is the point of the Catholic Church?
Let us be reminded by those seniors who know what the most important thing is. There is no substitute for the Eucharist. A bagel is not the Body of Christ. A cup of coffee is not His Blood. Mumbling the spiritual act of communion between bites, while fiddling with the remote, ready to change channels, is not the way of a true Catholic Christian who knows that the most important thing in our lives is to receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. So again I ask: what is most important to you?