Mostly, I live alone. Well, I have a dog, but he and I both know he’s a dog. As far as the IRS is concerned, I live alone.
On occasion I like to eat out with friends. It beats eating alone. Getting together for a meal can be a truly enjoyable experience especially when we gather with those we like. The more festive occasions are usually the more memorable as well—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, 4th of July, graduations, first communions, weddings. And since the occasion happens but once a year or less, and we have to eat anyway, the table is a good place to meet. Those gathered will focus on their fellowship and friendship. Sometimes one speaker will command everyone’s attention, as when a toast is delivered. At other times everyone may converse freely with those close by. We also observe other customs—like what to wear, and rituals—like who sits where, the turkey carver for instance, and who needs easy access to the kitchen, and places for the elders and honored guests, as well as places for the more recent additions, a high chair or a separate table altogether.
Recently in my family we tried naming what we were most grateful for before digging into the turkey. I don’t think that’s happening again. But we tend to retain some of the other rituals and customs particular to some festive meals. We know who attends the grill, who brings the dip, who pours the wine, who makes dessert. And when you don’t have a specific role, you compliment everyone doing something, and you offer to help clear the table. And when it’s time to break up the party, you wish everyone well and make plans to get together again soon.
In contrast, we don’t make such a big deal of the ordinary times we sit down at table. We still have to eat, but we are tempted to take for granted our fellowship and friendship. We have all seen families at table more engaged with their smart phones than with each other. Oh, we are those families. It’s really not the fault of technology. I think it’s rather our unfortunate habit of diminishing the importance of what is routine and common, and ordinary, and easily accessible. We regret how we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. But we keep doing it. We rush from one thing to the next, we ignore the ones we love, we fail to grasp the deeper meaning of words and gestures, and we miss the fleeting moments of genuine communion. Still we say we want better.
On this feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, I could talk about what Mass should look like, what we’re doing wrong, that we need to do better, be more attentive, participate more. We all know how effective that approach is at the dinner table.
Instead, I invite us to reflect on the wonder and beauty of this sacred meal, what God hopes to accomplish, and the meaning of our own presence and participation. The roots of our Christian faith in the faith of Abraham, Moses, and the prophets remind us of our connection to greatness. We often boast of the accomplishments of our ancestors and heroes. They laid the foundation for who we are today. We celebrate and honor them with monuments and holidays. So in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses implores us to remember, to not forget what God has done, and that God is doing some pretty awesome things right now. God freed Israel from bondage, and fed them in the desert with food they did not recognize. Right now God offers us freedom from our bondage to sin and selfishness, and feeds us with bread that is steeped in meaning and mystery.
In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul points out that the Bread and the Cup we bless and share unite us with one another and with our crucified Lord. This meal is unlike any other meal. When we break the one Bread, we acknowledge how Jesus’ body was broken on the cross so that we might be healed and reconciled with God. But in that same action of breaking bread, we acknowledge our participation in Jesus’ cross as well, that we too must be broken for the healing and reconciliation of others. This Bread upon the altar, like manna in the desert, is not bread we know or understand. Taking it and eating it carries consequences we cannot ignore. The people of Israel named the strange bread “manna,” literally “what is this?” They thought they knew where it came from and what it meant. But clearly they did not. We also often think we know where the Bread upon the altar comes from and what it means. St. Paul reminds us that in the Eucharist, we participate in the body and the blood of Jesus, the body that is his church, and the blood that is his passion. Participation in the body and blood of Jesus has got to be more than just watching from the bleachers.
Long before he embraced the cross, Jesus told the crowds that he was going to give his very own flesh for the life of the world. They didn’t grasp his meaning. But only after did his followers connect the dots remembering that at table he took bread, declared it was his body, broke it, and gave it to them to eat. Jesus came to us from the Father to give us the fullness of God’s life. How fitting he would give us Bread that was truly more than bread. When we take it and eat it, Jesus promises us a share in his very own life, the life he shares with the Father, a life much unlike ours—awesome, fulfilling, eternal. And along with the gift comes the responsibility of joining with Jesus in the work of reconciliation and healing. We are nourished with ordinary bread so that we might take up the task of living and making a life. We are nourished with Bread from heaven so that we might embrace the very life of God and bring that life to others. The parallels are striking, similar but different.
When we once again make our way up to the altar today, palms up to receive Holy Communion, not snatching it when it is offered, not disrespectful or distracted, may we ponder this strange and unusual food, once ordinary bread and wine now veiled in mystery and meaning, as we acknowledge our participation in the Lord’s passion, and our bond as members of his Body. God desires to encounter us up close and personal. So put your smart phone away. God gives us a share in his very life. It’s not just bread anymore. Or can we not tell?
Rolo B Castillo © 2017