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 | By Danielle McGrew Tenbusch

All In

How the Eucharist Drew Me Back to the Catholic Church

Editor’s note: This essay was written by Emma Geis, Director of Evangelization, Discipleship and Youth Ministries for St. Agnes Parish in Freeland.

God, you prove to me that this is real, or I’m done.

I cannot continue on with this inner struggle.

That was my prayer at Mass on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. For nearly two years, I had been fighting the ever-stronger draw of Catholicism, even though I’d vowed not to return to the faith I’d been raised in. Yet here I was. Restless, struggling, tired.

God, you prove to me that this is real, or I’m done.

Through God’s goodness, my life would be changed during that Mass.

But first …

It was a long and winding road away from, then back to, the Catholic Church.

I grew up in a small village in northeastern Ohio, raised Catholic by my Catholic mother and Protestant father. We went to Holy Mass and Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) class, but otherwise did not have a strong faith life outside of Sunday.

When I was a child, my aunt and uncle, who are also my godparents, bought me the Adventure Bible (NIV translation). I cherished that Bible with my whole heart. I couldn’t put it down. I wanted to serve God— all because of that Bible.

During my youth, I got involved with the United Methodist Church through friends. There, I was actively engaging with the Bible and growing in my faith. I believed the Catholic Church could not offer me what I was looking for: a relationship with Jesus.

I no longer wished to continue attending the Catholic Church, but my mom wanted to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. Though I was unhappy about it then, now I am beyond thankful. I didn’t believe that Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist. I didn’t understand why Mary was a big deal. I didn’t feel like I got anything out of Mass. I was hurt by a priest’s harsh words about my desire to preach and be a pastor. Between those difficulties and the growing desire to be with my friends at the United Methodist Church, I was happy to leave the Catholic Church.

So I left.

‘She’ll be back … and on fire for the Catholic Church.’

My love of Scripture and my faith life grew as I continued to attend the United Methodist Church and pursued degrees in health studies and religious studies at the University of Findlay in Ohio in 2012. One paper I wrote focused on a verse that kept appearing through my journey: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, RSV Second Edition).

I later realized God was using it to speak to the depths of my heart. God wanted surrender and obedience to him.

In November 2014, I began preaching at a weekly faith gathering called The Alley. Two guys, Gregg and Matt, provided music as well.

When I learned these two men were devout Catholics, I panicked. I tried to hide that I’d grown up Catholic, but one night Gregg mentioned eucharistic adoration and something within me churned, even though I didn’t believe in the Real Presence.

Gregg realized I knew what he was talking about. “I know you used to be Catholic; no one else had that look in their eye when I was talking about adoration,” he said.

I was caught. I simply said, “Yes, I was, but not anymore. I don’t believe in that kind of worship.”

Unknown to me at the time, Gregg later said to Matt, “She’ll be back. You watch. She will be back, and she will be on fire for the Catholic Church.”

An invitation that changed everything

After The Alley, my heart started to change. I was active in many ministries, yet felt an emptiness.

Over winter break my senior year, I joined a service program in the Dominican Republic and became fast friends with one of the leaders, Jenise. Herself a devout Catholic, Jenise knew that I was a fallen-away Catholic, but she was more interested in becoming my friend than trying to convince me to come back to the Church. Slowly, I found myself opening up to her about my struggles with the Catholic Church and my restlessness in searching for where God wanted me. Micah 6:8 ran through my head.

Jenise encouraged me to attend a young adult Catholic women’s group, and I went specifically to ask questions. Try as I might to prove the Church wrong, I could not compete with the richness and depth of the answers the group provided. I was just talking myself in circles, and they were talking in a straight path that drew them closer to Jesus.

As my undergraduate college graduation neared, I spent many hours in prayer, expressing my frustrations with God. How could my life plans to become a Protestant pastor seemingly come to a crashing halt? Jenise invited me to join her for Sunday Mass. Despite great hesitation, I agreed.

I remember awkwardly sitting in the pew. I felt uncomfortable, and yet there was peace within my heart. Mass began and I went through the motions. I had flashbacks to my childhood and the prayers flooded back to my memory. I sat there in awe – all my studies in Sacred Scripture were unfolding before my eyes. The very things I studied in the Bible were in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

However, I still viewed the Eucharist as just a symbol. During Communion, I stayed in the pew, but the one thing I noticed is that the restlessness in my heart was subsiding.

I saw the musicians Gregg and Matt there, too. After the closing hymn, Gregg came to me and loudly declared, “Called it!” (We laugh heartily about it now.)

In the car, Jenise asked me, “So, what did you think of Mass?” I couldn’t even look at her because I was so frustrated that I had found what I was looking for in the Catholic Church – the very church I promised never to come back to. Through gritted teeth I said, “I cannot tell you what I thought, but it is everything I’m looking for.”

“God, please make this whole Catholic adventure just a phase.”

Over the next few months, I continued both attending Mass periodically and pursuing my path in Protestant churches. I fully believed this was just a phase and I still needed to move forward with preparing for seminary to become a United Methodist pastor. Yet I couldn’t shake the draw of the Catholic Church. The more I went to Mass, and watched others going up to Holy Communion, I realized that my heart was longing to participate.

At a friend’s encouragement, I went to confession (which I didn’t believe was necessary, but something in my heart told me I needed to do.) The next day, I received Holy Communion for the first time in eight or nine years. While I didn’t believe in the Real Presence, the void that I had been experiencing within my heart was finally gone.

The summer of 2016, I traveled to Lima, Peru to serve as a missionary intern with a non-denominational pastor. I frequented the nearby perpetual adoration chapel. I ran off to Mass as much as I could. I was so attracted to it, even though my prayer was, “God, please make this whole Catholic adventure just a phase.”

The desire to be Catholic only grew. Again, Micah 6:8 echoed, “walk humbly with your God.” I started to really see what God was meaning in that verse. My heart was softening. The Eucharist was the one thing that was still a struggle.

Seeing with eyes of the Lord

That’s where my heart was when I found myself praying before Mass on Oct. 22, 2016.

And God proved to me that this is real.

During the Eucharistic Prayer, I looked up to the altar and it was as if the Last Supper was painted before my eyes. I sat there in shock and awe, wondering what was happening. Then, during the distribution of Holy Communion, it looked as if everyone in line was dressed in rags, yet so eager to eat this “bread.” After they had consumed the Host, they were dressed in long white robes and radiated light.

A ray of grace and life pierced my soul. I began to sob. I knew at that moment this was REAL. All of it. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist, Mary, the Catholic Church, everything – it was true, real, life-changing.

I walked out of that Mass changed. There was a new life in my soul, a clarity that I had never had before. I enrolled in a theology and ministry master’s program at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. I was still able to pursue my dream of serving the Church. I was at complete peace with it.

There were still challenges. Conversion is a continual process. No one is ever done.

Yet I am convinced of the Catholic Church and her strength and truth. I have found the Food that lasts for all eternity. I cannot help but lose my breath every time I gaze at Jesus in the Eucharist because he is so beautiful. Nothing brings my heart greater joy than the Eucharist. I have fallen in love with the liturgy. It was the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the beauty and tradition of the liturgy, that brought me back.

I remember praying through my journey, asking God why I went on this path. This is what he said to me in that moment (in part):

My daughter, I allowed you to leave so that you could study Sacred Scripture and bring what you learned back to my Church. I allowed you to leave so that you could learn from your Protestant brothers and sisters how to reach out to people, evangelization efforts and how to lead groups. I allowed you to leave so you could improve your public speaking skills. I know you were not well-educated when it came to picking a Confirmation patron saint. I told St. Clare of Assisi to pick you as a Confirmation saint, because I knew it would be the power of the Eucharist that would bring you back Home. Hold fast to her intercession for you, and she will create in you a warrior heart, never afraid of drawing close to my Eucharistic Heart. Your witness to my Church will inspire many.

I sat there with tears of overwhelming joy at the goodness of God. He truly is everything. And his Church only helps us grow closer to Jesus. I am thankful for the journey I have had, and desire nothing else than to serve the Church, sharing the mercy and love of Jesus.

I can never leave the Eucharist again. The void that I once had in my heart has been filled with unending joy, love and mercy.