Today is the 42nd Anniversary of my First Holy Communion. Every May 3rd, I spend much of the day drifting off into thoughts about the gift of Jesus in my life, especially the gift of the Holy Eucharist. The photo above captures a spiritual thought I often have when I watch people go to Communion at daily Mass. In the photo, as a battle rages around them, two soldiers devoutly kneel to receive the Bread of Life. In the midst of it all, with death hovering over them like a cloud, they know what’s important: faith and hope in their savior, the Son of God who came so that they might have life.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst… Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

Every time I go to Mass, I see those two soldiers. They come in different forms, but they always come. As they approach the Most Holy Sacrament, they sometimes look like a single mother trying faithfully to raise her kids alone. Sometimes they appear as an embattled professor unfairly persecuted by his own department. They come as a young man tragically confined to a wheelchair, a grieving widow, a well dressed person who seems chronically unhappy. They come as a friendly homeless man with a very long beard and a gentle man named Juan who stares a lot with his wide beady eyes, but talks very little. They appear as the woman who dramatically kneels to receive, the one who responds too loudly and sings off-key. Sometimes they look like the empty nest parents who discreetly carry within their hearts a feeling of regret mixed with deep anguish over what has become of their children.  Other times they look like the newlyweds dealing with the harsh reality that their honeymoon ended way too fast.  I could go on and on.

st.mattIt’s all of us, really. In the Eucharist, we all take momentary shelter from the bombs and the gunfire and the relentless demands of our lives. With the aid of Christ’s power, we turn suffering on its head. We transform these struggles by uniting them to His redemptive act on the cross. Transcending time and space, Christ offers them to the Father as a living sacrifice. Holy Communion helps us climb up on the cross with Him. In receiving Him devoutly, we simultaneously offer an act of adoration, thanksgiving, atonement, and petition. It’s so profound that it’s difficult to fully comprehend.

Scratch the surface of any human being, and you’ll find someone who is quietly fighting a battle. This world is where we live, but it’s not our home. To get back home we must fight, but our weapon is love. The Eucharist is our provision for the journey. In Latin: Viaticum.

On the outside, we look ordinary, but on the inside we are soldiers.