In the process of juggling the heavy chalice and coarse white napkin during my first occasion of serving as a Eucharist Minister, I managed to spill the sweet, red, consecrated wine—the Blood of Christ. It spilled all over my shaking hands. It formed a tiny puddle atop of the burnt red tile of the Mission Church floor. I shook with panic and embarrassment, but could not manage any productive move in response to what I had done. I had been careless with the gift of the Eucharist. I had spilled the Blood of Christ. And everyone watched me.
I was amidst an intimate evening liturgy with the Jesuit community and a small collection of guests from our university community. There were maybe thirty of us in attendance. Everyone could see me as I fumbled around with our Faith. This was at the heart of my momentary, paralyzing anxiety. My panic did not stem from a burden of personal shame about carelessly handling the Eucharist—I was confident this mistake was not unforgivable in God’s eyes. It was the gaze of my fellow Christians that terrified me. I knew how much the Eucharist means in our tradition, and I feared being judged a sloppy, unfit Catholic because of this incident. In my struggle to participate and serve the community, I had committed a grave liturgical sin, and everyone watched me do it.
Sometimes I think this is what it is like, being a theologian, or a minister, or simply just a Christian in our world today. We publicly take up a faith, a claim to a community, an allegiance to particular authorities (however ambiguous or ambivalent that may be), and everyone is watching us do it—fellow Christians, religious skeptics, curious inquirers. Everyone is watching.
And sometimes all I can do is stand there before everyone, the Blood of Christ dripping from my fingers, all too keenly aware that I am not the appearance of what a good Christian should be.
Seeing the shock and embarrassment in my frozen expression, Father Ravizza rescued me. This kind, gentle man stepped out of the communion line, came forward and leaned in close to me. “I spilled,” I said in a whispered confession. “It’s okay,” he replied. “Let’s do this…” He removed the white napkin from my clinched fingers, unfolded it and covered the small red puddle on the floor. He hurried over to the side altar for another napkin, and before I knew it he was at my side again, placing a clean cloth into my hand. He did not tell me to sit down. He did not replace me with another more competent minister. “Go ahead,” he said, nudging me back to the patient people in the communion line. “The Blood of Christ,” I began again…
When I struggle with the public imperfections of my Christian life, with the guilt of not being the community member I wish I was, or the person that I should be, I return to this moment for a reminder of redemption. Jesus will step out of the communion line to clean up this mess with me. And Jesus will tell me to “Go ahead,” again.