During the offertory, I started thinking about bananas.
It was a Friday in Lent and I was at 8 a.m. Mass in part because Bill and I were going to have a staffing that afternoon with our foster daughter’s biological parents, her social workers, her guardian ad litem, the foster parents of her biological brothers and their social workers. Quarterly staffing meetings are often uncomfortable, sometimes volatile and usually unproductive. Waking up the day of a staffing produces in me the same emotions as waking up the day of a scheduled tooth filling, but without the assurance of Novocain.
And that’s why I had bananas on my mind.
At the afternoon’s staff meeting I was planning to ask T’s biological father for permission to have her baptized and receive her first Communion. The social worker had asked him for permission a couple months earlier, and the answer had been an unequivocal no. Despite T’s father’s two-year no-contact order with his children, he still had parental rights, and as such, retained authority over decisions in his children’s lives in areas of religion, health and travel. He said “no” simply because he had the right to do so — refusing T the opportunity to cross state lines for our family vacation last summer; refusing to allow the medication that his son needed; and now, refusing permission to baptize.
Complicating the matter was that T was focused on receiving first Communion in a way that went far beyond what I saw of my sons’ interest when they were second graders.
“Of all the children in my class,” Mrs. Wong told me at conferences, “no one wants first Communion more than T.” So I needed that permission – because T needed the permission. She had been hurt by her father enough.
Bananas. I sat there in church, not feeling spiritual in the least. The readings did not produce that sense of resonance they sometimes do, as if the writers were speaking about my life in particular. The homily didn’t stir me. I was not moved by the congregation around me, the songs, responses or the petitions.
The offertory song began and I realized I was there for the Eucharist, for the grace it offered, with a dry, matter-of-fact belief in the Eucharist that was suddenly reminding me of bananas.
When I was a competitive runner in high school and college, I would get so nervous before races that I didn’t want to eat at all. I wasn’t hungry and had no desire to do anything but get the race over with. The morning of each race, though, I knew that whether I felt like it or not, my body needed energy. And so, dry-mouthed and sometimes slightly nauseous, I would force myself to eat a banana, knowing they were quick energy, easily digestible and provided 100 precious calories. I didn’t eat the banana because I felt strongly about the banana, or had a desire for the banana. Instead, I ate the banana because, strangely, I had faith in that banana. Not the kind of faith that makes you cry or tell your story of conversion. Rather, my faith in the banana was simply that I knew the banana had 100 calories, and those calories were going to work for me.
Before the offertory song began, I had been alarmed by my own sense of spiritual apathy. I knew it was an important day; knew that I had chosen to attend Mass for a reason. I wanted to be buoyed by faith; I wanted emotion and connection to the liturgy around me. Yet, as I sat, barely singing, watching the words in the hymnal go in and out of focus, I understood that I would take the Eucharist that day much as I used to eat bananas – without desire or emotion but with the knowledge that I was doing the most nourishing thing I could at that moment.
The gift bearers handed the bread and wine to the priest and I noted, without joy or excitement, that I would receive grace from the Eucharist that day – not because of anything that I was, but because of what the Eucharist was. The banana’s power was in the banana, not in my belief in the banana, and the same was true for the Eucharist. I would receive Christ, and Christ’s grace would fill me whether I desired it or not; whether I had emotion about it or not, whether I understood how it would happen or not. Bananas give energy and the Eucharist gives grace. My emotional state at the time of consumption of either was irrelevant.
And so I received Communion. I went back to my pew, knelt down and did not pray. Could not pray. I just knelt there and looked around, feeling nervous and thinking of bananas.
Later that afternoon, the grace came. It came so brightly and so well that I didn’t even have time to think of bananas. I brought to the staffing a letter T had written to our seminarian, explaining why she wanted to receive her first Communion. I told T’s father about how well she was doing in school, in sports, in her life at home. Her father nodded, listened and then asked if we had a picture of T playing soccer. I did not, but Bill opened his wallet, took out his picture of T in her M&I pink jersey, holding a soccer ball, and gave it to her father. Then I showed T’s father her letter; told him how much it would mean to T to be baptized; to be a Christian; to receive first Communion.
Her father nodded, then said, “Well, if it’s what she wants. OK.” He signed the necessary forms. He looked at the photo again. I blinked back my tears.
T’s baptism will be April 18. Her first Communion will be May 2.
We’ll have banana cream pie for dessert.
(Scobey-Polacheck, her husband Bill and their children belong to St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Milwaukee and St. Monica Parish, Whitefish Bay. Her book, “Discovering Motherhood,” a compilation of her columns, is available at local bookstores or at www.discoveringmotherhood.com.)