One of my fondest memories—precious, to use the word properly—is of my great aunt Lonnie taking me to one of the oldest churches in Great Bend, Kansas. I was probably three or four, and we were alone in the church, early in the morning. I can’t remember exactly why Aunt Lonnie took me there, but I assume she was a part of the altar guild. Or, knowing her piety, perhaps we went there to pray. When I saw the red altar candle in the dark of the church, I became fascinated if not a bit mesmerized. I’m sure I’d seen it at Mass every Sunday, but I’d never seen it in that morning light, the sun barely beginning to stream through the glass windows. I should mention, as well, this parish church, St. Rose of Lima, isn’t the kind of modern church architectural monstrosity one finds all over the American landscape—the kind that makes one uncharitably wonder which level of hell is reserved for modern architects.
St. Rose of Lima is a glorious red-bricked building, built at a time when Catholics realized that beauty and truth are one and the same.
I asked Aunt Lonnie about the meaning of the candle. Somewhat surprised at ignorance, she gently replied, “Bradley, that means that Jesus is actually present in the bread, reserved in the tabernacle.”
This was heady stuff for me, especially coming from Lonnie. My father died in November 1967, just two months after I was born. One of my grandmother’s younger sisters, Lonnie and her own daughters cared for me quite often. Lonnie was (and still is) one of the wisest persons I’ve ever met, and she is also perhaps the best cook I’ve ever known, next to my grandmother. What she said mattered to me.
But, this really was mind boggling for a small boy, aged three or four. Jesus was present?
At that moment, Lonnie connected me to all time and eternity. Or, more accurately, the grace of God flowing through Lonnie (she will be a saint someday) gave me a glimpse of a reality well beyond this world.
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