Stealing Jesus

A Protestant takes communion at mass

Last Monday I was stealing Jesus again, this time at Santa Maria de la Paz, near my home in Santa Fe. Occasionally I drop by for the 12:15 Eucharist. My ecclesiastical criminality has been going on for 45 years.

It all started at Holy Cross Abbey, a Trappist community nestled in the hills near Berryville, Virginia, about 70 miles from the nation’s capital. In December 1972, psychologically and spiritually exhausted from that fall’s elections, which were still shadowed by the Vietnam War, I drove anxiously to Berryville. Over the phone Father Stephen, the abbey’s guestmaster, had warmly welcomed my hesitant inquiry.

The next six days changed my life. A spiritual, mystical encounter revealed that I could rest in the reality of God’s love. The vigils beginning at 3:30 a.m., followed by silence anticipating the rising sun, culminated in a morning service of Eucharist where Christ’s flesh and blood became tangible, real, and irresistible.

Back home on Capitol Hill, my days were punctuated by surreptitious sojourns to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on 2nd Street, just down the block from the U.S. Senate offices. The 12:10 mass filled the space others filled with lunch. Periodically on my morning commute, I’d stop at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church on V Street.

I went back to Berryville for a month as a “retreatant in community,” sharing food, prayer, work, as well as bread and wine with the monks. I never disguised my Protestant identity—and the body and blood of Jesus were never withheld. The guestmaster, abbot, and others who presided never hesitated to welcome me at their tables, whether nutritional or eucharistic.

As a child growing up in an independent evangelical church, I knew something special was happening with Jesus when the Welch’s grape juice and Wonder bread were passed down the aisle, after our pastor read a few words from Paul. Jesus was really present.

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