May 5, 2005
In last August’s issue of
The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, a Minnesota survey reported the results of a study conducted with 4,746 adolescents. The young people came from diverse ethnic, social and economic backgrounds. The study examined a phenomenon quickly disappearing in our fast-moving culture.
Parents holding two jobs, young people going to school and working, studying and participating in extracurricular sports events, TV, computers, cell phones—all these realities continue to eat away at our time. One special victim of our modern life is a staple of every sound civilization—the family meal. The study showed that about 26% of the adolescents ate family meals about seven times in a week. And approximately 33% of adolescents ate family meals twice or less in a week.
The more often young people share meals in the home, the less likely they are to have problems with tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana use. They achieve higher grade points. They are generally more optimistic and less prone to depression and even suicide.
Common meals provide a time for the whole family to be together. They are an opportunity to become more connected. They help create a sense of acceptance and security. The health and well-being of adolescents are stronger and better in homes where families share common meals.
At table together, we catch up with each other and find out what is going on in each other’s life. Whether it is a quick burger in a fast food line or a leisurely dinner with a good friend, eating together is always something more than ingesting food. At table, we learn to listen and to communicate. We are strengthened not simply by the food we share but by the bonds of love we form.
Jesus tapped into this basic reality of our life. So often Jesus sat at table with others. In Kefr Naum, in the home of Peter. In Bethany, with his close friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus. In Jericho, with the tax-collector, Zacchaeus. And often even in the homes of his adversaries. Jesus knew the power of the common meal.
From a merely human point of view, there is great wisdom in Jesus gathering his disciples in the Upper Room on the night before he died. His last meal became his last will and testament.
Do this in memory of me. He made the table where the bonds of our human family are strengthened the altar where our relationship with God is renewed.
Do this in memory of me. He, Jesus, left us the gift of the Eucharist—the memorial, the sacrifice, the banquet of his love. This is the table that ties us to the past, enlivens us in the present and readies us for the table we are called to share in heaven.
We say, “We go to Mass”. We say, “We celebrate the Eucharist.” But in the oldest New Testament account of Jesus’ giving us this great gift, Paul simply speaks of
κγριακόν δειπον, the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11). The Eucharist was given to us in the context of a meal. At the very beginning of the Church, the Lord’s Supper was celebrated with a regular meal. Certainly this was still happening twenty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. At Corinth around 55 A.D., Christians were coming together, just as Jesus did with his disciples on the night before he died. They were having a meal and, in the context of that meal, celebrating the Eucharist.
By the first half of the second century (
Didache, 9), they began to eat the ordinary meal first and then celebrate the Lord’s Supper. By the middle of the second century (Justin Martyr), there was a complete separation of the two. Numbers had increased. Order and rule were needed.
But the very connection of the ordinary meal with the sacramental meal teaches us something. Every Eucharist is a commitment on our part to strengthen the spiritual and the physical bonds that unite us. In receiving the Body and the Blood of Jesus, we are united with the Lord sacramentally, really and truly. And we are also drawn together in forming a community where the greatest serve the least, where those with gifts abundant place them at the disposition of the needy and the poor.
Every Eucharist knits us closer as God’s family. Terrorism and the tragedy of war – in fact, all sin divides and isolates us from each other. But in God’s plan revealed in Christ, we are called to be a people united in faith and love. The Eucharist is the school of that unity. As St. Paul says, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, because we partake of the one bread.”(1 Cor 10:7)
The Eucharist is the great source of the Church’s unity. In the Canon of every Mass, we pray for our Pope and our bishop by name. Certainly they need our prayers. But that is not the only reason why we mention them at Mass. When we pray for the bishop by name, we are saying that, as we celebrate the Eucharist, we are one with the shepherd of our local Church. We are saying that we belong to the Church of Paterson entrusted to the pastoral care of our bishop. We stand one with him in faith and morals and in ecclesial discipline. And when pray for the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, we acknowledge that this particular Church of Paterson is united in faith and in love with the Successor of St. Peter. Together we are the Catholic Church Jesus has placed in this world as the sign and sacrament of salvation.
The world needs signs - signs of faith and hope. The Eucharist is the greatest sign that the world is given. For with the eyes of faith, we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. With great hope, we receive him and join our lives with his to become the Body of Christ where all are welcome, where all can experience the grace of God.
During the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi last June, Pope John Paul II announced that October 2004 to October 2005 would be a special Year of the Eucharist. Pope John Paul called each of us to re-enkindle our amazement at such great a gift. This past Sunday at Delbarton in Morristown, more than 1,000 young people gathered with the bishop and many, many of our priests and youth ministers to reflect and to share, to celebrate and experience the gift of the Eucharist. What a powerful witness to the vitality of the Church. Some noted that it was the largest gathering of youth in the history of the diocese.
Those who gathered with the bishop were young. But so is the Church. For in every Eucharist, her life is renewed. The presence of so many committed young people spoke great promise. The Eucharist is Jesus and He is life eternal in our midst. And when we live Eucharist-centered lives, the Lord’s love touches the broken, heals the hurting and brings life to the world.