By Denise Trull
Today we honor, not a human saint, but a holy place. The Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. This is where the Pope serves as Bishop of his diocese. This is his Cathedral. But why set aside a feast day for a building, even as beautiful as it must be?
I suppose this is the kind of feast that separates us from our Protestant brothers and sisters. A Church building matters to Catholics. The building is holy, not in some metaphorical sense, but because in very truth it is the house of God. It is the place in which Jesus has consented to dwell among us in His very flesh, that we might never feel alone. We will always know where to find Him. Every single Catholic Church is holy in this way: the greatest cathedral all the way down to a lovingly built chapel in the woods.
I remember being startled once by His presence on a summer evening in an hour of complete grace and knew then - that even my own, small, parish church was a sacred trysting place like none other. I realized then why we have this feast of Sacred Churches. They are arks that hold our Manna.
Manna. That word inexplicably surfaced to the top of my thoughts as I knelt in darkness pooled by the familiar comfort of torched candles burning slow and steady. And I knew. I am feeling, I am seeing...Manna.
I was at Mass. The opening Mass of a 40 hour devotion our parish celebrates every summer to ensconce the feast of Corpus Christi within its cupped prayer and praise. One hour is not enough. There must be 40 for this feast. I love the way my parish thinks!
It happens in summer. Hot, sultry summer. Not unlike a desert. It has a smell, this 40 hours. It smells of candle wax, incense and humid pew wood. I breathe it deep each June and am filled with the peace of constant things.
But this night the word Manna kept repeating quietly in my brain. The word was gentle, kind, and soft. I let it grow from the darkness of thought and waited.
Manna has always intrigued me. I love the story in Exodus. The murmuring of hungry Israelites. I don't want to own them, mind you, but I might as well - they are definitely my people. Sometimes only the Israelites will do when looking back on "a DAY." They give me courage to say, that, after all, God put up with THEIR shocking murmuring and loved on. He might do the same with me.
His answer to their murmuring hunger? Manna. They all went to sleep in their tents, grumpy and complaining, in the dark night and the next morning when they opened their tent flaps: a desert floor covered in what looked like pure, white flowers. They even thought as much. They mistook it for the flowers of the Tamarisk tree they knew so well.
But it was not flowers - it was food. And the desert never looked so soft and inviting. Did they creep forth in wonder? Did they suddenly feel terrible for murmuring just yesterday? I think they did. I think they were so wholly taken with the beauty of it. This first glimpse of the food that was to nourish the difficult journey. Gah. I wish I could have seen it - the wonder of Manna.
It came every morning after that. And every morning they were to gather it and bake it into cakes. They could not save it or hoard it - for it would immediately rot. They had to wait for it each morning. And every morning it was there at the lift of a tent flap.
I know that tent. We all live in our tents. We live in a world. A desert. It is a desert filled with questions, sorrows sometimes, human relationships gone awry with no solution that presents itself. Trying to make ends meet, some of us. Worry. Care. The ugliness of pride, of sin that clings. God asks us to walk here as pilgrims among a truly messy secular world that never seems to understand where we come from, but God always asks us to 'come' to it anyway. To find a way to reach it. And we just don't want to sometimes. We get so tired in this tent of the world. We go to bed grumpy at the monumental task of living as a Christian in this post Christian debacle. And we murmur. We impatiently urge anathema on this crazy world. We are FILLED with murmurs.
But this Mass, this Mass is morning. I slowly open my tent flap and gaze upon the desert floor all covered in grace. Manna. The rich, honeyed liturgy of God's fatherly care that speaks of feeding and consoling and constancy in love. Incense floats it to me from the sanctuary of his faithfulness. The grace of Manna lays upon the priest's robes, it makes each server's face a little flame, it settles peace on all the people in the humid pews gazing from their own tents. We are one then, all of us, gazing upon the Manna. You can feel it. This is what a Mystical Body feels like. It is fleeting but I DID feel it that night.
The words of Consecration float down and around us and we know that God is here in the form of bread. Manna. And we wonder. We wonder like the Israelites wondered at the beauty of it all. We want to stay here forever in this moment of priest’s upraised arms holding our Beloved for us to see and we want to cry out MERCY. But forever is not now for us. The Manna cannot be hoarded. We must gather it each day. But it will always be there. The Church has made it so.
I came away comforted, filled, and wondering from that mid summer Mass. And the next morning I opened the flap again at the simpler 8:00 Mass and there He was again. And will be again and again and again until my desert time is over. The beauty lays upon me like white flowers of Manna. Blessed be the Bread that has come down from Heaven!
And Blessed be every Catholic Church, where Jesus dwells in His flesh, and where we may always find Him.