Accompaniment, Communion, Community

Still a Catholic: Living Gluten Free

The following is a guest post by an incredibly bright, articulate, young Catholic girl named Emily Pruyn. What a privilege it has been to come to know and spend time with her this past year! 

To be a Catholic means to be a part of a community and a universal body of believers, united in Christ Jesus. Partaking of Holy Communion is essential to us as followers of Christ and doesn’t only remind us of His suffering but also shows us the amount of love Jesus has for us. Here, Jesus comes to us in a beautiful way in the Eucharist! This is a unique, personal, and intimate part of our lives and it should not be taken lightly. And for 19 years, I have been blessed to continue discovering a beautiful faith, and to be a part of a welcoming family of Catholics.

One of the biggest changes in my own life, however, affected my daily life in college and impacted how I practice my faith started in 2018.  Around February, I started having symptoms of what seemed to be acid reflux. My family has had a history of acid reflux so, I started taking medicine at night before bed which seemed to work for a while.  The sensation of “choking” continued to get worse and worse as the months passed till I could barely get through a meal without horrible coughing fits and terrible stomach pains.  So too after receiving the Eucharist at church every Sunday.

Through Children’s Hospital, they discovered that in addition to my earlier diagnosed asthma, I had Celiac Disease as well as a soy allergy. As they explained, even a crumb of gluten will severely damage my intestines and lead to serious health complications without adherence to a non-cross contamination gluten-free diet.  Yet, after diagnosis, little did I know how much my daily life would change and how it would interfere with the practice of my faith.  Because of the degree of my disease, I cannot tolerate gluten sensitive communion. Hearing this news hit me hard, because in one day that all of my earlier years just disappeared.  I struggled with wondering if God would be upset with me because I can’t orally receive communion.  My mother supported me and explained that God doesn’t want me to get hurt or sick when I receive either.  He knows this isn’t my fault or that I’m choosing not to receive communion to rebel or be ignorant.

As I continued to pray, I felt God encourage me to inquire about spiritual communion.  I conducted some research and learned that spiritual communion is “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament and in lovingly embracing Him as if we had actually received Him” (St. Thomas Aquinas).  So, on that following Sunday I attended Mass at Curry and received spiritual communion for the first time.  I allowed the Word of God to reach deep in my spirit and I suddenly felt at peace and comforted!  After mass, my boyfriend Peter said to me, “Emmy, the one thing I adore about you is that during such hard times you keep that beautiful smile on your face.  Remember how special you are and how much God loves you!  God wants to include you, his child, in receiving Him – you just have to do it in a different way than others!”.

At Curry, I felt comfortable receiving spiritual communion because I wasn’t judged and no one asked me why I didn’t receive Eucharist in the traditional way. Yet, I was apprehensive about asking for spiritual communion and receiving it differently at home, especially where I have known my parish priest and deacon for a few years now.  Unfortunately, my concerns were valid as I received negative reactions both from my priest and parishioners. My pastor questioned if my faith had changed or if something happened during my first semester of college, instead of respecting me.  I had to explain my situation to him and then he went on to try and convince me to take the gluten sensitive Eucharist.  When I explained to my priest that I can’t receive the gluten sensitive Eucharist either he seemed only more frustrated with me.  I felt alone and rejected by my own church.  To make matters worse, I had some well- meaning parishioners say, “Welcome to St. Mary’s, are you thinking about joining the Catholic church?” or “Are you not a Catholic anymore?…I noticed you didn’t receive the Eucharist like you used to. Are you okay?”.  Hearing these statements made me feel badly and even slightly embarrassed about my situation.

Just recently, I attended church at home and asking for spiritual communion from a lay Eucharistic Minister was questioned once again. Explaining my situation to her she retorted, “Well what do you want me to do?” then blessing me, she walked away laughing in disbelief!  Both surprised and sad, I chose to pray for her instead that God may bless her with understanding and training.  I can understand why someone may ask me these questions because physically I appear to be a healthy, normal, young adult woman.  However, what people do not realize is that my ailments are inside my body not on the outside.  As they say, never judge a book by its cover!

The same goes for when someone requests spiritual communion. No matter how old or young someone is, if they politely ask to receive a blessing no one should be asked for the reason why.  Since Catholics are called to create a community of love as brothers and sisters and belong to a Christ-centered faith, shouldn’t gluten-free parishioners also be included, loved, and respected?  I am still, and forever will remain, a Catholic too.

Emily Pruyn
Curry College, School of Nursing, Class of 2022


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