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Saints in Street Clothes

I know these posts usually take a more humorous approach but you knew the inevitable serious post was on its way. Well here it is…because when all is said and done, adapting to a new way of life, whether food-related or otherwise, is hard. You can do your best to face every minute of every day with a smile, a joke, and an optimistic outlook. But the reality is, every once in a while, it gets to be too much…even for the most optimistic of the bunch. You get frustrated. You get angry. You get sad. You feel utterly and completely alone. Of course you do because one of those seemingly unfair realities of our finite human condition is that even the greatest support systems, family, friends, co-workers, etc., are inherently limited. If you’re jetting off on a plane somewhere, security is the limit for your entourage.  Even little kindergarteners on the first day of school can only bring Mom and Dad so far before they’re stopped and the obligatory tear-filled hugs begin (and yes, I’ve seen it enough times now to attest the parents in tears usually far outnumber the kids). And of course, this holds true in the medical world as well. Family members are only allowed to a certain point, and sometimes even the nurse has to leave (radiation you know) and it’s just you laying on a cold table while a really loud machine scans away for something you don’t even really understand. I do have to say, as difficult as those moments of solitude can be, they also allow you to become stronger and more self-aware…discovering what it is that motivates you and sustains you in those instances of pure vulnerability. For me the answer to that question is an easy one: faith.
Faith has always been an important part of my life and that became even more true during my two years teaching in one of the not-so-nice neighborhoods in our nation’s capital. I could not be more serious when I tell you I would not have made it through those 2 years without prayer and my what-became-almost-daily visits to 5:15 PM mass at the Basilica near our community house. Then when my school closed and I found myself sick in a new city where I really only knew one person well enough to rely on, I know I wouldn’t have been able to face doctor appointment after test after doctor appointment after test without my trusty rosary by my side. I even bought a new strictly yarn and wood one so they’d let me bring it into CT scans and MRI rooms.
By another stoke of what I consider to be providence, I found myself well enough in the midst of that “summer of sickness” to make the trip to Philadelphia for a 2-day young adult retreat hosted by the Jesuits. It was a rejuvenating 2 days for me…and it even involved a special surprise: Fr. James Martin (a Philly native) joined us for the whole retreat. I even got to share breakfast with Fr. Jim one morning and talk with him about one of this books that had become a staple in my life during my 2 years in ACE, My Life with the Saints. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor. Pick up a copy. (http://www.amazon.com/My-Life-Saints-James-Martin/dp/0829426442/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1373391758&sr=8-1&keywords=my+life+with+the+saints)  Or you can borrow mine…but I want it back, Fr. Jim wrote me a special note in it  🙂

My note from Fr. Jim 🙂

When I headed back to Baltimore that Sunday, geared up for another week of tests and frustration, I had a new source of comfort. The saints. I always relied on my rosary because as a product of 15 years of schools devoted to Our Lady (that’s right K-12 and 2 years of grad school at schools called Notre Dame), Mary has always been an important figure for me. However, after re-reading Fr. Jim’s book for probably the 15th time, I suddenly turned to other saints for intercession too. On the days I was feeling the effects of my what at the time was a “mystery illness”, I prayed for the intercession of St. Therese of Lisieux. On the days I was feeling humbled by my shortcomings, I prayed through St. Francis. When I was feeling hopeless, I turned to St. Jude. When I was feeling lost, I turned to St. Anthony. And when I needed a laugh, St. Philip Neri was my guy (someone has to be the clown of the bunch!). As the summer wore on, my trusty rosary and my friends, the saints, helped me get through with as much optimism as one could.
Of course, I also realized that there are modern-day saints in your life everyday…you know, those people who just seem to be the face of Christ at work in your life.  Those blessings that seem to appear when you need them most and yet you don’t feel quite deserving.  One of those blessings for me that summer was a good friend who we’ll call the Saint in a Bow Tie. We had spent 2 years living and working in DC together and shared some of the highest highs and lowest lows which it seems every service experience entails. And since in our new city, he was the one person I knew well enough to rely on, he accompanied me to the tests that scared me, listened as I vented my frustrations, even tried to cook for me when I was too sick to do it myself. If that’s not the face of Christ in action, I don’t know what is.  Once I humbled myself to accept his help of course. There was another good friend (we’ll call her the Saint in the Sundress) who used one of her vacation days at her job in DC just so she could come be by my side for a Gilmore Girls marathon while we waited for my endoscopy procedure. Christ again I’d say.
Now given all the above, you can tell my faith is important to me. Well, enter late July. I finally had a cause for all my maladies: gluten. I was finally mastering which foods I could and could not eat, cleaned out my cabinets, etc. and went back into see a nutritionist to figure out why I was still having reactions at least once a week. I happened to be wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with my school’s name and she took notice as I was about to leave. Here is the conversation which ensued:
Nutritionist: “Wait, you teach at a Catholic school?”.
Me: “Yes, I do”
Nutritionist: “Would it be safe to assume then that you’re Catholic?”
Me: “Yes, it would.”
Nutritionist: “Oh, so you know about the communion hosts then?”
This was a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Suddenly that sick feeling I kept getting each week made sense. I know it sounds crazy since the word bread is probably used during mass at least 5 times but I had never put it together. The Eucharist, though transformed during mass, contains wheat. And by Canon law, it has to. That was the moment my world literally came crashing down. I remember walking out of the hospital that day feeling numb. You know that feeling when your world has just turned upside down and you can’t figure out how everyone else is just going on with their day as usual? I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal for a lot of people. But for me it was. The one thing which was at the core of who I was that no one could take away was my faith. And no, this wasn’t taking away my faith in the slightest. But it was taking away my ability to participate fully. To receive what is considered to be the summit of our faith. The Eucharist had sustained me through so many trials in life…and suddenly that lesson we taught the 2nd graders during communion preparation about how just as our bodies wither without food, so our spirits wither without receiving Christ in the Eucharist replayed in my mind. And now, when I needed the gift of the Eucharist more than ever, I was facing the reality of a future without it.
As you can imagine, I was probably overreacting. Slightly. I got home and did a little research and found out that in fact, there are low-gluten communion hosts which have been approved for use in the Catholic Church by the USCCB. God bless those Benedictine Sisters who worked for years on perfecting a host which contains enough wheat to satisfy Canon Law but also a minimal enough amount that most people don’t get sick. So I ordered some and started what proved to be even more challenging: finding priests and a parish which could understand my new needs. As a relatively new Baltimore resident, I didn’t have an established relationship yet with the parish I often attended on Sundays. Over the next few weeks, I visited several different churches…and each week left in near-tears. There were priests who just seemed frustrated by my request, there were times my host was forgotten on the credence table, and thus never consecrated. There were times when I had to stand up and receive communion first while the entire church sat and stared…and then later questioned. (Granted, this was before I owned my intolerance…remember that whole accepting you’re a little high maintenance thing? Yeah, I was nowhere near that yet) Let’s just say I was in a dark place. Even a tear-filled conversation on a curb with the Saint in the Bow Tie wasn’t enough to comfort me.
Then mid-August arrived…and in walked my Saint in Shorts and a T-Shirt. He was a good friend whose summer job had taken him away since early June. He knew I had been sick but had missed out on the bulk of the details. So on the August morning of his return, we met up for an activity I was finally feeling well enough to restart: running. Granted, it started pouring soon after we met, but still we ran on. As we ran, I filled him in on the sordid details of the summer. I explained test after test after hospital visit after test. But it was when I told him about the latest saga with the communion hosts that I fell apart. Now I should point out, the Saint in Shorts and a T-Shirt isn’t Catholic, but he is Christian and he shares a similar commitment to his faith and understood my feelings regarding the Eucharist. After he dropped me off at home that day, he took it upon himself to visit a local Catholic chapel. He spoke to someone he knew there, found someone else with my same predicament, and called to tell me that on Sunday he was picking me up and taking me to mass and that everything was going to be fine. Sure enough, that Sunday I arrived at mass and was greeted by a smiling face who knew exactly what I needed and told me to just come up in the regular communion line and he would make sure to find me and take care of me. And he did. And for several weeks afterward, the Saint in Shorts and a T-Shirt (although I guess he can also be the Saint in a Button-Down so you don’t think he went to mass in running clothes every week) accompanied me to mass until I had regained my spirit of optimism…and came to own my intolerance. He also contacted the woman at the low-gluten altar bread monastery for me. (If you need her: http://www.altarbreadsbspa.com/altarbreads/) Again, if that’s not Christ at work in my life, I don’t know what is.
Thank you Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration…

Granted, I now don’t care if I have to be a spectacle during mass…and there are still times that my host gets lost or confused or just doesn’t happen and I’m fine with it…but I truly believe that the Saint in Shorts and a T-Shirt was the face of Christ for me in a time when I so desperately needed it. Do I still get bitter from time to time that I have to be 10 minutes early for mass if I want to have a host and that I have to remember to bring my own if I’m not at my home parish? Sure. But then I remember that the words bitter and Eucharist just don’t belong in the same train of thought and I get over it.
So I guess this is my long-winded way of saying you’re going to have bad days. Or even weeks. But if you look carefully, I guarantee there are people in your life who have been placed there to help you. Sometimes you just have to humble yourself to accept it. Other times you might be the person someone needs in his or her life. Be the face of Christ for someone else. Accept help from someone who is trying to be the face of Christ for you.  Isn’t that why we’re all here anyway, to be there for another? Whether it’s a food allergy or something far worse.
Regardless of what your faith is, be on the lookout for those everyday heroes in your life. And try to be one. I just prefer to call them Saints. In Street Clothes.

3 thoughts on “Saints in Street Clothes

  1. Hi Katie,I saw your link on facebook and read this amazing post about Saints in Street Clothes. It is incredibly moving, so thank you for sharing. We are so fortunate to have these special people in our lives, and I love that this story had a happy ending for you.xoxoNiki B

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  2. Beautiful post and such a good reminder to look around and take note of the people who are our own Saints in Street Clothes. And of course to attempt to be that for others as well! Love you!

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  3. Katie, Thank you for sending me this (on a really tough day). I am so glad I know you. You are an amazing young woman and such a joy to be around. Now I realize that YOU are not only a really nice person, but ALSO a Saint…in Street Clothes:)

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