Scripture tells us God is both the lion and the lamb, but we do not get to choose how He comes. As the lion He can roar with power and fight our battles or heal our wounds causing every knee to bow. Yet, God is also the gentle little lamb slain for the stain of our sin. A lamb of comfort and love that comes like a gentle breeze when you least expect it and most in need, at least that’s what happened to me.
Several Sundays ago was the Feast of Corpus Christi (June 23). Here it’s not a just another feast day like back home. Oh no, it’s an event where all the stops are pulled out. The streets get closed and preparations start the night before. Now this event was not as big as the last Chicago Blackhawks parade or after the Cubs won the world series, but Piura is also much less populated than a city like Chicago.
However, the excitement and anticipation is the same. Only in this case these believers are not fans, but followers. Followers of Jesus Christ who believe in the true presence. The truth that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist in body, blood, soul, and divinity. The Holy Eucharist, Vatican II tells us, is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen gentium, no. 11; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1342).
One of the things I’ve tried to do differently this trip is to experience life in poverty in ways I had not previously. To understand life in poverty and their struggles you really have to immerse yourself into their lives. It’s a privileged and opportunity to be able to do that in ways that are not possible when one comes for one week or even two.
So I’ve traveled how they traveled, via bus, moto taxi, and motorcycle. I’ve sat in the pews among the Peruvians and made friends. I’ve prayed and worshiped along side them. I’ve shopped at the places they shopped for items needed like a birthday or baby gift. I’ve visited their homes and celebrated with them. I ate what they ate, drank what they drank, used their bathroom and washed my hands like they do on multiple occasions. I listened to their stories of both triumph and sorrow, family conflicts and dysfunctions, prayed for their dead and new life soon to arrive. Attempting to take in the quote of Pope Francis ” instead of being shepherds living with the ‘smell of the sheep’ – be ‘shepherds with the smell of the sheep.” So I let the smell of the sheep get on my clothes, my hands and my feet.
So for Corpus Christi I inquired if some friends I know would be attending the procession and asked if could join them. I wanted to be in the middle of the crowd and see the experience from their point of view, if that’s even possible. So they picked me up at the parish just after 4:00 pm and we walked over toward the basilica in downtown Piura. We attempted to get as close as we could in order to have some sort of a view. It was already crowded with few places to sit. So you stand on the side walk or on the side of the street.
There was no pushing or complaining, although I witnessed the strength of faith in parents holding little ones. It would be hours before they could relax and sit down. The sun was out, but slowing starting to go down. There was a gentle breeze flowing through the air so the weather was more than comfortable to endure the massive crowd slowly building in the streets. The music was beautiful with a few different choirs, including adult and children’s choirs. I’m sure the homily was great too, but since my Spanish is not so good I’m not really sure what the Archbishop said. However, unlike many in the states they didn’t come to hear a great homily, but to worship the true presence in the Eucharist, the person of Jesus Christ who would be processed from the basilica to Santismio Sacrmento. The place I rest my head at night.
When time for communion came, I made my way to receive with my friends. It’s unlike the states with properly formed lines like we are heading into a sporting event or cattle to the slaughter. No, here it’s ciaos that works. There were altar boys and some military who tried to keep things formed and organized and to a certain degree it was, but it’s still pretty chaotic in nature. There is some pushing and maneuvering involved in order to make your way, but it’s so a part of the culture no one is offended when bumped. It’s just a part of the process to going to the altar of the Lord and if you think about it, that’s the spiritual life. It’s us who try to clean it up and make it look neat and controlled, but that’s just not reality of how our souls come to the Lord.
I don’t know why exactly, but I almost didn’t go to receive communion. My head told me to stay on the sidewalk and leave the communion line for the locals, but my heart shouted GO. So I went and I’m glad I did because I could sense the thirst and hunger of those around me in line. They know here that Jesus is the bread of life that sustains them spiritually, unlike so many back home who are going through the motions like some sort of robot checking off the list to start the new week. It’s on obligation oppose to an offering of self to serve the Lord and His kingdom.
I love this quote. Well, because I am a woman.
Women who desire to take their position in this war for life must anchor their efforts in the Eucharist, which “expresses the redemptive act of Christ” (MD 26). Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women). Promulgated by John Paul on the feast of the Assumption in the Marian year of 1988, Mulieris is a reflection on the spiritual and moral strength of the woman. “It is women, joined to Christ eucharistically, who have the power and perseverance to extend that redemption to society in their unique, feminine manner.” -Mary Jo Anderson
Once the mass concluded the procession started and it’s nothing like the small solemn processions we do around our parishes in the states. Oh no, there was cheering, fireworks, music, confetti that was shot into the air all along the the route. It was so loud I’m surprised people do not lose their hearing!
My friends suddenly said, “Lisa, let’s go.” I have to admit, I was sort of annoyed. I wanted to stay right in the spot we stood, but I followed to see what we’d do next. So we briskly walked to get ahead of the crowd and along the way losing a child who ran off. I can’t imagine losing a small child in such a large crowd. To not add any more panic to the situation I prayed and told me friend he’d be fine, it’s ok. I mean who would mess with a little one in the midst of something so culturally sacred. So I prayed a lot and asked for the intercession of St. Anthony who’s also a popular saint here in these parts and we moved head.
We took a side street and came out right in front of the procession at the circle by the grocery store. I still can not fully explain the experience after weeks have passed. It was not something mystical in nature, but I was so taken watching Jesus slowly come toward me. I stood there in awe as the music played and the fireworks unexpectedly went off. I wanted to just hold that space and stay in that moment, but once again I heard “Lisa, let’s go!” My mind was thinking, “What, you are nuts? This is the spot, this is the spot! This is it! It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Yet, once again I followed and we move ahead. We came to a place on the street that had a high sidewalk. Below us were the beautiful carpets that were created by the many ministry groups and chapels in the area. They were made of dyed sawdust. They were all magnificent and so creatively beautiful. As I watched the procession drawn near it was if I was the only one on the sidewalk and Jesus was coming for just me.
The me that needed to be rescued. There were parts of my heart had seen some battle here on mission and I was in need; restoration, healing and peace. I needed the Lord’s presence to remind me I was not alone here on mission.
The moment sort of reminded me of when a little girl who sees her Dad off from a distance. He’s been gone a long time and now coming home from active duty in the military. He runs toward her and swoops her up into his arms. Strong loving arms that have long awaited a homecoming of his heart meeting hers. It was like that.
As time stood still, tears streamed down my face by the overwhelming encounter of love I was experiencing. A little friend who stood next to me thought I was sad and started to console me by rubbing my back. It was very sweet, but there was no sadness. Instead there was unspeakable joy that I’m loved beyond measure. An assurance that His words are true; He never leaves, abandons or forsakes; no matter the season, the geography, the trial or triumph we find ourselves living. He’s present when we seek Him out. His grace will help carry the cross He promises to His followers.
There is one thing I always tell people who come to me who have shared their pain in being hurt by another in the Church; be it ministry, on mission, or by clergy etc. it is this “no matter what you do, never leave the table of the Lord”. The grace received in this sacrament is absolutely supernatural; It heals, it delivers, it strengthens, and it feeds your soul in a way that nothing in the natural will never do. So I beg you to never leave the table and when possible go often for He waits for you.
Next time you get in line for the Eucharist be aware of the gift of self the Lord is asking you to offer and contemplate the One you are receiving. Spend time in adoration; just be, do not do. Wait and receive the one Who is waiting for you. It is His grace that both sustains, strengthens and changes you.
Short video of the procession.