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Confessions of a Mega Church Pastor
The Catholic Church has so much to offer, but sometimes it’s tough to comprehend all the ins and outs of the faith. Let Allen Hunt walk you through Catholicism in the same way he’d show you around his home.
JUNE 6, 2021
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples said to him, "Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?" He sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him. Wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says, "Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?"' Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there." The disciples then went off, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover. While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is my body." Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God. "Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Remember Who You Are
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them and said, "Take this is my body." These words revolutionized my life, perhaps you know my story, I love being Catholic. I truly love it for all kinds of reasons. But these words, they're not just words. And as they were eating, Jesus took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them and said, "Take this is my body." When I was in graduate school, I became very close friends with Father Stephen. I'm going to call him Steve from this point forward, because he's still my best friend, other than my wife and Steve really helped me through the program, his Catholic formation was invaluable as we were working on that degree.
And about two years into our friendship, he came to me and he said, "I've got an idea for you and me Lent." I said, "What is it ?" He said, WI'd like for you and I to go give a Lenten retreat to a group of cloistered Dominican nuns." I said, "That sounds good." I said, "Before we go, though, what are we going to do ? And more importantly, what's a cloistered nun ?" He said, "Well, we're going to go talk for an hour. We each talk for about a half hour. But you don't know what a cloistered nun is?" I went, "No. I'm a Methodist and you're the first priest I've ever been friends with, so I don't know that much about Catholicism." He said, "Well, cloistered nun, there's a group of about 50 nuns or 50 women, and they live at the monastery of Our Lady of Grace in North Guilford, Connecticut. And they take a vow of community or stability or constancy to be a part of that community. And most of them won't even leave the property even in the event of a medical emergency." I said, "Wow, really ? So there's 50 women who live out there and they don't leave?" He said, "Yes." "Now, what do they do?" He said, "Well, they pray." And I said, "Well, I know that. I mean, they're nuns. I mean, of course they pray, but I mean, what do they do?" He said, "That's what they do. They pray." I said, "So you're telling me there's 50 women who live together and all they do is pray and they never leave?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "I've got to see this. I never heard of this."
So we drive out there on the first Wednesday and we pull into the parking lot and we walk across that gravel parking lot there in North Guilford and we knock on the door, peep hole opens and a woman opens the door, it's Sister Dianne who's the prioress of the community. And I looked at Sister Diane and she had on her full Dominican habit. And I thought, "You may be the most attractive person I've ever met." She had this light emanating from her eyes, a radiance leaping off of her face. There was almost a glow about her. It was otherworldly. And I don't mean attractive in the way the culture uses that. I mean it in the way that it literally means that you just attract people to yourself. Holiness is attractive. It draws people to you.
Sister Diane, led us back behind the cloister wall and I didn't realize at the time, but Steve had gotten permission from the bishop in Hartford and also from the provincial, the Dominicans for me to go behind the cloister wall to address the nuns because no male other than a Catholic priest had ever done that before. And so we went back to the community room and the the nuns were all gathered there and there were folding chairs, the 50 of them there. And Steve was getting ready to introduce me to the group. And I leaned over to him and I said, "This may be the most non Catholic audience of all time." He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Well, they're all on time." He said, "I know." We chuckled and I said, "And look at that, they're all smiling. Smiling, punctual Catholics. I've never heard of that." He goes, "You've got a point." And I said, "And they're all carrying Bibles. I mean, these aren't Catholic nuns. You're pulling my leg, man. These are Baptist nuns, aren't they?" And he goes, "No, no, no, no, no, no." I said, "Smiling, punctual, Bible carrying Catholics? I've seen it." So he gets up and he introduces me and I get up in front of the nuns and I looked at them, that group and I had to take a step back because as I looked at their faces, I realized that almost all of them had that same radiance and light attractiveness as Sister Dianne did. and as a Methodist pastor, as a Protestant, I didn't have a category for that. And so it took me a moment to get oriented and to get my composure, my poise back. And I gave my first talk. And then Steven gave his. And we did that for-- I guess it was six Wednesdays. We went out there. And the last Wednesday we saved some time at the end for question and answer. And the first sister to raise her hand was a woman, Sister Rose. And she's no longer with us. God rest her soul. And Sister Rose was elderly. And she was short and stout. And she stood up and she said, "Alan, I want to thank you for coming. You're the first Methos pastor that most of us have ever met." And I said, "Right back at you, Sister Rose" [laughter] I said, "I didn't even know a group like you existed a few weeks ago." She said, "And so I want to thank you. And I also want to tell you, after listening to you for these past six weeks, you sound really Catholic." And [laughter] I said, "Well, thank you. I guess it's coming from a nun. That's a compliment." And she said, "So I have to ask you, why aren't you a part of the church?" I thought to myself, "That's a strange question. I am a part of the church. I mean, it says right here in my card, Allen, Pastor, United Methodist Church, C-H-U-R-C-H, church. I'm a part of the church." I said, "Oh, I don't understand the question." And she said, "Well, let me ask you again. Why aren't you a part of the church?" Asked me the same question, same way [laughter]. I said, "I guess what you're asking me is, why am I not Catholic?" She said, "No. What I'm asking you is, why aren't you a part of the church?" Same words. Gentle smile. Persistent but gentle and loving. Three times in a row. And I said, "Sister Rose, I don't really understand your question so I'm just going to tell you why I'm not Catholic." I said, "I don't really know why I'm not Catholic, to be honest. I grew up Methodist. I don't know that much about Catholicism, as you could tell [laughter] in these talks. And Steven's. the first Catholic priest I've ever really gotten to know particularly well." But if I had to answer, I'd probably say, "I'm not Catholic because I don't really understand what you all believe about communion." For me, it's just obvious that the bread and the wine or the bread and the juice, because as Methodist, we used juice rather than wine, they're symbols. They're special. They're important. They're holy. But to somehow believe that they're miraculously transformed mysteriously into the body and blood of Jesus, literally, that just doesn't make sense to me. I said, "So I love you and I respect you. And this has been an incredibly enriching six weeks for me. But I'd have to say that's probably why I'm not Catholic." She said, "Okay." She said, "You got your Bible?" And I said, "Yes, ma'am." And she said, "And you and Father Stevenare becoming Bible scholars, right?" And I said, "Yes, ma'am." She said, "Would you open to First Corinthians, Chapter 11, verses 23 and 26?" And I said, "Yes, ma'am." And she said, "Would you like to read those words aloud or shall I?" I said, "You know what, Sister Rose? You're doing a great job [laughter]. You go ahead [laughter]." And so she said, "These are the words from Saint Paul as he wrote to the church in the Corinthians and the church there in [inaudible]. And St. Paul wrote, 'And he said, I hand it on to you what I received from the Lord that on the night he was betrayed, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to his disciples and said, take, eat, this is my body.'" And then Sister Rose closed her bible. And she said, "Alan, what don't you understand?" And all the nuns and sisters giggled. And we had a little bit of a laugh. And I wish I could say that at that moment the heavens opened and God called me into the Catholic Church. But that's not what happened. Although looking back now, 14, 15 years later, I do see-- or 17 years later, the hand of God did come down and plant a little seed about the size of a mustard seed in the back of my soul that eventually did draw me home into the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Because these words are who we are. These words are who we are. We are the people of the Eucharist. That's who we are. I was in Mrs. Blythe's class, second grade, when my parents picked me up from school early. I knew something was up because my parents never checked me out of school early. And messenger came from the principal's office and called me down to the office. And mom signed us out. And we walked out to the car. And I saw my dad in the front seat wearing a suit. And my brother James, six years older than I, in eighth grade, wearing a coat and tie. And on my seat, in the back seat, there was a little jacket and a tie. Mom said, "Put that on and just be quiet." And so we drove over the mountain from Transilvania County, North Carolina, Haywood County, North Carolina to Waynesville. And we pulled into the driveway and my dad took my brother and me out of the car. And he held our hands and he walked us up to the door. And he knocked on the door and an elderly woman opened the door. And she just looked tired. And her face was drawn and my dad said, "Is he ready?" And she said, "Yeah. He's ready." So my mom followed the woman and they went into the kitchen. And my dad took my brother and me. And we walked down the hall to the second door on the right. My dad gently opened the door. And we walked into that little bedroom. And my dad dropped our hands. And he walked out and closed the door. And so James and I, my brother and I are there and we're looking at the bed. And lying on the bed is a man who a few years before had been six feet tall, 180 pounds, big square jaw, and a booming voice. But today he was maybe 120 pounds, emaciated, worn out from a couple of years worth of cancer. And he looked at us in his weary eyes and he said, "Are you ready?" And we said, "Yeah. Yeah. We're ready." He said, "No. Are you ready?" And we said, "Yes, sir. We're ready." He said, "Are you ready?" We said, "Yeah. Yeah. We're ready, sir." He said, "Get a pencil and some paper and write this down." So we looked around the room and we found some pencils and pieces of paper. And we said, "Okay." And we looked at him. And we leaned over and he said, "Are you ready?" We said, "Yes." He said, "Write this down." We said, "Yes, sir." And he pushed himself up on his elbows as he looked us in the eye. And he said, "Always remember who you are. Always remember who you are." I remember that because I wrote it down as a second-grader. And I wrote it down. And I still have it with me. And I keep it in my Bible so I can always refer back to it because those were the last words my grandfather ever said to me. Always remember who you are. The gospel we're reading today says, "As they were eating, Jesus took bread and blessed it. And broke it. And gave it to them and said, 'Take. This is my body.'" I love being Catholic. And Corpus Christi is one of the big reasons why. Because this is who we are. We are the people of the Eucharist. Always remember who you are.
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