The Church Militant by Father John Higgins

 

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I grew up Methodist. My closest friend in Junior High (they call it Middle School now) was named Eddy. He was Presbyterian. We were a couple of rascals. Often on Sunday mornings I’d go to Eddy’s. He lived across the street from St. Emydius Catholic Church in Lynwood, California. We’d hide in the bushes in his yard and throw rocks at the Catholics as they drove into the parking lot for Mass. Yes, we were little devils. If my my Mom or our Methodist Minister had known we were doing that I would have been in big trouble. But we never got caught. One hot and smoggy summer weekday I walked over to Eddy’s house to find he wasn’t home. Not knowing what to do, I walked across the street to the Church and found the doors open. This, I thought, was odd. Here it was a weekday, in the afternoon and the Church was open. I walked in and found that they had a place to wash your face and hands. I didn’t know it was Holy Water. I walked into the big, cool building and saw people there. I thought that there was going to be some kind of “service”. After all, why would people be in there if there was nothing going on?  I sat down to see what was going to happen. I was in for a surprise. There was no “service”. Nobody came to preach or read anything. Nobody was in charge. People were just in there praying, in the middle of the week! I not only saw older people, but children from the Catholic School, young mothers and men. Then I saw a Police Officer come in and get down on one knee for a moment and make the sign of the cross. He only bowed his head for a moment and then got up and ran out. I thought it all very strange, but in a way I was intrigued. There was a sense of something greater there than I was used to. There was a sense of reverence and holiness. I was very attracted to it, but I didn’t know what it was, exactly. Later I was to find out, and you probably already know what it was if you are reading this. It was the Blessed Sacrament, The Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. I couldn’t see it. I didn’t know about the Tabernacle. But I saw the Holiness of it in the actions of the people who were there that day.

I stayed awhile, not knowing I should pray, but I think I did anyway. I don’t remember saying or thinking any particular words. But I got up and went next door to what I thought was the Church office. It was, and when I knocked at the door a Priest in a cassock answer. I didn’t know enough to be afraid of him so I blurted out “How do I join your Church?” He smiled and asked me into the front office where he sat with me for a few minutes. He was a kind man and he asked a couple of questions. I told him I was a Methodist, but that I had just had this experience in the Church. He put his hand on my shoulder and asked “What do your parents think about this?” I said I hadn’t told them yet, and that there was only my Mom. He said “Well, you come back with your Mom and if she says it’s OK then we can work on you joining the Catholic Church.


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That night at dinner I asked her if I could become a Catholic. She looked at me in shock. She said “No! And I never want you going back there again!” I didn’t know why she said that. Later I was to discover that her father was very anti-Catholic. But of course, you know what happens when you tell a young teenager “Never do that again!”

On Sunday mornings I stopped going to Eddy’s house and started going to St. Emydius Church. My first Sunday there I ran into another boy named Alex who lived down the street from me. He invited me to sit with his family and he started to explain things to me about Mass. I found myself going to Mass nearly every Sunday without Mom’s permission. But I didn’t feel guilty. I’d still go to Methodist Service with her sometimes, but mostly I liked going to Mass. Why? Because I witnessed Holiness at Mass in the people. I still didn’t understand the Eucharist. That was to come later.

This is our mission as Catholics; to show the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist though the actions and words of our own lives.  We don’t just do that when we are in a Church building (although that’s our starting and ending place). We are to do this wherever we go. Catholics should start making the sign of the Cross again in restaurants, wearing their Crucifixes and Religious Medals, showing in word and action that they believe what the Church teaches in the Doctrine and Moral questions of the Church. I see important people who claim to be Catholic saying things like “Personally I am opposed to abortion, but as a public figure I don’t want to force my personal morality on other people.” I think such a statement is a betrayal of Christ and His Church. I see people who go to Mass, but act in ways that say that they think themselves to be better than other people, or gossip or cheat people or act or say things in word or in their writing that betrays their attraction to the sinful things in the world. But more importantly I see other people truly living the Sacrifice of Jesus in their personal lives. They sacrifice for other people not because it will gain them a good reputation, but because they love other people.


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This is the mission of our Church. This is the “Church Militant” in action. The enemy, which is the evil one, cannot stand love, generosity, sacrifice for others, goodness and joy. We Catholics must show the world how much we love and enjoy being Catholic and how much we appreciate the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

In another message I’ll explain how my Mom became a Catholic. Who would have known that the woman who told me never to go back to the Catholic Church would, later, be received into the Catholic Church herself, and not because I talked her into it, but because of something else entirely.


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For more on Father John Higgins

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