‘A love that’s like breathing’

Anne McCarney is the lead member of the Diocese of St. Cloud’s Eucharistic Revival education team and a parishioner of Sacred Heart in Sauk Rapids. The following is the presentation she offered at the Regional Ministry Gathering “Love Stories of the Eucharist: Yours, Mine, Ours” last November at Christ Our Light in Princeton.

In 2019, I was at a professional retreat with an educators’ group. In one session, the leaders asked us to turn to a partner and share what matters most to us. I think I said something about the importance of educational opportunities for all or helping youth build empathy

My colleague looked at me and forcefully said, “That’s the wrong answer.”

(photo by Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic)

I was speechless. Who’s wrong about what matters most to them personally? “Your right answer is faith,” she said.

She was right, but it didn’t even occur to me to include faith in that list — not because it doesn’t matter. It does — a lot — but because it is so central, such a bedrock part of me.

In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” main character Scout says, “I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” That’s how faith has always been for me — like breathing. It’s lifegiving, ever present, essential but not remarkable. So much a part of me that I forget to mention it.

I don’t have a dramatic eucharistic story. There’s no single moment that made me or kept me Catholic. As Catholics, sometimes we get a bad reputation for that — especially among Protestant denominations that put such stock in accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. But there’s nothing wrong with being Catholic, staying Catholic and having a faith that’s like breathing.

I grew up on a farm south of Eden Valley and just into the New Ulm Diocese where I went to the Church of Our Lady in Manannah from the time I was born. My great-great-great McCarney grandparents helped build it, my grandpa was a trustee and my mom headed music and religious ed. One of the younger girls called my sisters and me the “Church girls.” (I don’t know what she called my brother.)

I graduated from St. Ben’s did a faith-based teacher service program with the Jesuits in Los Angeles, and taught high school English in Catholic schools for more than 15 years. My faith developed and grew deeper and more certain, but it wasn’t dramatic.

After leaving teaching this past January, I had enough time that I could say yes when asked to volunteer as the diocesan education team lead for the Revival. And if you recognize my voice, hopefully, it’s because you’ve seen the Teaching Tuesday videos on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube (yes, that’s a shameless plug!).

When asked to give this talk, though, I wasn’t sure what I’d say — because I don’t have a life-changing eucharistic story.

When I learned the theme was “Love Stories of the Eucharist,” my first thought was “Well, at least I know that this isn’t a Hallmark movie love story.” Then I thought a little more and realized my eucharistic love story is a lot like a Hallmark movie.

For one thing, it’s clear in every Hallmark movie’s first five minutes who the heroine will end up with, and God is right there from the beginning — even if we don’t always recognize it.

The Hallmark hero, like God, is always a steady presence — someone to lean on, to depend on, someone who ends up being comfortable and easy to talk with. The small-town sheriff or the neighborhood handyman. And yes, the relationship is often — probably too often — built on requests for assistance and chores. How many of us pray to St. Anthony when we lose our keys?

The biggest similarity, though, is how the love story develops. In many cases the Hallmark hero, like God, has been around for years — the old boyfriend, the neighbor kid, the high school science partner. In every case, it’s the time spent together — stuck in a blizzard, saving the local Christmas tree farm or planning their best friends’ wedding — that leads them to fall in love. Though their overall situations are often absurd and usually extraordinary, they build the connection that leads to love through a series of very ordinary experiences.

That’s my eucharistic love story. It’s not dramatic. It’s a slow buildup based on time together (definitely more time than in a typical Hallmark movie). The montage isn’t gingerbread cookies, learning to skate or snowball fights. It’s time spent praying at Mass, kneeling after Communion or sitting in God’s presence.

One life commitment I’ve made is to always attend Mass on Sundays and holy days — unless I’m sick or unavoidably on a plane. It’s a commitment that’s led to some unexpected experiences — standing outside a locked Dutch church because the schedule changed at the last minute, taking an Uber to Mass and then immediately going to a Baptist service with my travel group when I was in Alabama, Polish Mass in Chicago because it was the only one that fit into the schedule of my cousin’s wedding weekend.

People ask why I’m so committed to going every week — no matter what. I answer that it’s impossible to build a deeply committed relationship without spending time together and without making and keeping commitments. Even when I don’t feel like I’m doing anything more than going through the motions, I don’t think it’s too much to ask. If a loved one asks me to spend just one hour a week with them, I don’t think it’s too much. If God can show up for me no matter what, I can show up for Mass no matter what.

And even when I don’t feel anything, I trust that God and the Eucharist are working on my heart and my soul. It’s God, after all. He knows so much more than I do.

This commitment has also helped me see the continuity of the universal Church — catholic with the lowercase “c.” When I have gone to Mass in a language I don’t know, like Polish, I know what’s going on because the Mass follows the same form and uses the same prayers no matter where we are — and Jesus in the Eucharist is always the same.

When I studied abroad in Greece, we traveled on the weekends. On the island of Naxos, the only Catholic Mass was at a cloistered convent. I was the only one on the public side besides the priest, and the only word I understood was “efharistó” (thank you) at the end. Still, it was the same Mass and the same sacrament as if I’d been at the Church of Seven Dolors in Albany.

That same semester, our group went to a mostly tourist Mass in Crete. Mostly in English, at the Our Father, the priest asked us to each say the Our Father in our native language, and though it was a jumbled mess, that sense of the universal community was remarkable.

Because of the relationship forged Sunday after Sunday, Jesus in the Eucharist is my go-to. Of course, I pray throughout my day. God and I talk about everything. For the really tough stuff, though — heartbreak, stresses, major decisions, big frustrations, preparing for difficult conversations — there’s nothing quite like sitting with Jesus in the Eucharist and hashing things out.

Way back on 9/11, my first thought was to go to the chapel to pray. My first year of teaching, I spent hours kneeling in front of the Verbum Dei chapel tabernacle asking for help with a job that seemed impossible. The next year, I was back praying intently for the students I found impossible.

One night when all the parish churches were locked, I made my way to the St. Cloud Hospital chapel.

When I got news I thought would break me, I spent hours in the Cathedral chapel — much of it having strong words with God — but I know God can take it. I returned when I faced crushing stressors in the second and third year of pandemic teaching.

When I was making the final decision about leaving teaching, I had gone up to visit what is now my employer — Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures. I met the team and saw the place. On the way home, I was trying to sort my thoughts and emotions. Thinking it through on the drive wasn’t enough, so I stopped at the next church I reached, St. John’s in Foley to sit with God. They were having adoration. That alone I knew was a God thing. And when I left, I knew taking the job was the right thing to do.

Those times in front of the Eucharist have given me answers, the right words to say, the feeling I’m not alone, hope and peace. Many of those times are not memorable, but many of the times I’ve seen God working most clearly have come from times in front of a tabernacle.

Some of those holy moments have also been reminders that this relationship is a universal gift, a love story for everyone, a constant through time and space. Not only are people around the world celebrating the same Eucharist. People throughout time have done the same and will continue to.

We stand in a long line of the faithful as I was reminded one Holy Thursday at St. John’s Abbey. We all processed slowly through the abbey down the monastic hallway to the Chapter House’s altar of repose. We walked the stone floors singing with the monks’ schola the “Pange Lingua” — “Sing my tongue, the Savior’s glory” — with the scent of incense rising and men in monastic robes transferring the Eucharist. Catholics have done this exact thing — stone floors, music and monks included — not just for centuries but for a millennium or more.

Jesus asks us to watch an hour with him — not just on Holy Thursday but regularly, and if we do, we’ll fall in love — a love that’s like breathing.”

TEACHING TUESDAYS

Watch Anne McCarney’s Teaching Tuesday videos for the Eucharistic Revival on the Diocese of St. Cloud’s Instagram, Facebook and YouTube pages.

REGIONAL MINISTRY GATHERING RECORDINGS

You can view the recordings of last fall’s Regional Ministry Gatherings on the Eucharist at stcdio.org/eucharistic-revival. The three presentations are “Living the Eucharistic Revival in our Lives” with Bishop Andrew Cozzens, “Communication and Communion: Becoming What We Receive for Digital Culture” with Dr. Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, and “Love Stories of the Eucharist: Yours, Mine, Ours” with Anne McCarney, Arturo Salgado and Father Kevin Anderson.

Author: The Central Minnesota Catholic

The Central Minnesota Catholic is the magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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