I glanced up as the young man approached, next in line for Communion. He lifted his face, his eyes brimming with emotion as I held up the host and said, “The Body of Christ.” Looking into his eyes as I placed the host on his outstretched hand, he held my gaze with an intensity that took my breath away. He breathed out a soft “Amen” as he closed his hand around the host and lifted his clenched fist up to his chest. Grasping the Bread of Life, clinging to the source of love, he took a deep breath and with every fiber of his being uttered “Thank you!” as tears filled his eyes and flowed freely down his face. His response evoked something deep within me and I could only watch in awe as he consumed the host, a smile breaking across his face as he turned to make his way back to his seat. An encounter of no more than a few seconds, yet one in which God’s abundant mercy and love touched both his heart and mine.
I have served as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion for over twenty years, a ministry that allows me to share with the community the gift of the Eucharist that also nourishes me in my journey of discipleship. My path of following Christ has led me to full-time ministry in the Church, serving over the years as a parish youth minister, high school campus minister, and now Program Director of Notre Dame Vision. In these various roles, I have encountered an occupational hazard that may be familiar to many in ministry: the risk that, through familiarity and proficiency, we can become desensitized to the power of grace we are privileged to encounter each day.
When I am serving as an Extraordinary Minister, I strive to honor the sacred task entrusted to me. Yet when serving in this capacity in contexts like school Masses, liturgies on retreat, or the weeks of Vision, in the back of my mind, I am always aware of the logistics of the distribution of Communion: Do we have enough stations? Is anyone running low on hosts? How is the overall flow of the lines? While fully attending to those coming before me to receive the Body of Christ, I admit that there have been moments when I am in danger of reducing the sacred mystery to a process to organize and execute.
The encounter described above occurred at the closing Mass of the final week of Vision one summer. The young man had just spent the week exploring God’s call in his life in the company of over 300 high school students led by undergraduate Mentors-in-Faith from Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, and Holy Cross College. His small group Mentor was in line behind him, and with one look confirmed the authenticity of this young man’s response—that these simple words of “Amen” and “Thank you” echoed from the depths of his gratitude in response to the experience of God’s mercy that week.
I don’t know the specifics of the young man’s story, but that didn’t matter as I recognized in him the story of God’s merciful love acting in his life, as in all of salvation history. This encounter was not just an opportunity to witness God’s grace at work in this young man; it was also a moment of renewal in my call to serve as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and in my life of discipleship.
As ministers we are called to nourish ourselves for the sake of our service to the people of God, to ask ourselves, “Where did God seek to renew me today? How have I been surprised by grace in the daily work of ministry?” The memory of this encounter has been one such source of nourishment for me, as I remind myself of the grace within each “Amen.”
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Featured image: Juan de Juanes, The Last Supper (ca. 1562); PD-old.