Journey from student to pilgrim to the Catholic Church
From 1997-2003 I spent eight semesters in Italy spread out over six years. During that period I encountered the Eucharist and embarked on a spiritual journey from student to pilgrim. What began as an academic encounter with Catholic art ended with being received into the Catholic Church and receiving Confirmation and First Communion in the Cathedral of Orvieto.
On this Feast of Corpus Domini, 2022, I share this short essay from while I was preparing for Confirmation in 2001 and a more recent video in which I share the importance of the Eucharist in my journey to the Catholic Church. The Feast of Corpus Domini or Corpus Christi ( Latin for “Body of the Lord” or “Body of Christ”) celebrates the presence of Christ in the sacrament of Communion and is celebrated after Trinity Sunday, which comes after Pentecost in the liturgical calendar.
“I tell you these things because this is how we return thanks to God, that after being corrected, and having come to an awareness of God, that we glorify and bear witness to his wonderful works in the presence of every nation under heaven.”
St. Patrick, Confessio
Orvieto and the Eucharist: In the Chapel of Holy Corporal
The Rumanian sisters of Jesus Redeemer (they wear gray) have finished their singing at the end of this weekday mass in the Orvieto Cathedral. One by one they slowly genuflect before the altar and exit into the sacristy. Filled with peace from the service just completed, I contemplate the cloth relic before me. My eyes wander to the chapel walls, frescoed with its miraculous story: this thirteenth century altar cloth is stained with Christ’s blood which dripped from a Eucharistic host being consecrated by a doubting priest.
A hand touches my shoulder and I turn. It is Sister Rafaella, with whom I sing in the parish choir at the church of San Giovenale across town. She invites me to the party their convent is having to celebrate the founding of their order. After she left I smiled and prayed, for I would not have thought, ten years ago, or even two, that so many of my acquaintances would be nuns and priests.
I had never met a Catholic nun or priest before I came to Italy. Now I meet new ones all the time — I go to visit the Lardani family and meet Don Claudio, or Don Antonio, or have an aperitivo with a Peruvian monk. The sisters at San Lodovico host the Gordon College study abroad program. On this day another sister, Suor Rafaella, sought me out to invite me to a party with more nuns. I also spoke with my friend Louis after the mass. He is a member of the Comunita’ Maria, a charismatic Catholic group.
Reflection on the Body of Christ in the Eucharist
After most people had left the chapel, I stayed and knelt before the Holy Corporal, stained with the blood of Christ. I wrote in my sketchbook the following words:
“Tell me the story, Michelle: my house is your house. You are included in the space-time continuum which manifests itself in this chapel through the convergence of Word, flesh, image, and life itself. You have entered into the narrative of salvation which has unfolded in this chapel for 700 years. And now you, too, seated before my body and blood, have been invited into my body by your sister Rafaella and your brother, Louis. This church is your family, too.
“My house is sacred, and in Orvieto you must confront me. You must face, head on, the story of my body, of communion. You must choose to accept communion, not just the act, but the CONCEPT — communion with the church, with human suffering and with Christ, or you must reject it. In this place, encircled by my story, there is no in between.
“Do these walls lie? I cannot say. But do the lives of your friends – the Comunita’ Maria, the Sisters of the Company of Mary and of Gesu Redentore — do they lie?
“Could I be a Catholic outside of Orvieto? Outside of Italy? This is an important question. Here lies everything I need.
“Can I possibly leave it at all?”
Looking back, that moment, that morning, emerges as a defining moment. Nothing was decided then, nothing acted upon. But these days, as I go to RCIA and talk to friends and family, as I wonder why I am taking the step to enter the Roman Catholic church and I seem to lose all ability to articulate and to explain, I look back on this moment and see within those written words the reason I must continue. Words from God? I don’t know. I see no falsehood in them.
Written in 2001 while in preparation for Confirmation
From Tourist to Pilgrim Video: Eucharist
Want to hear more details about the place of the Orvieto and the Eucharist in my journey? Watch this video,published by the Coming Home Network International as part of their Signposts series.