“Sacred Words & Tables”
“This is my body.” Sacred words. We Catholics take them so very seriously. I can still remember the Baltimore Catechism definition we had to memorize as children prior to first communion in the fifties. “An outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” I still like it. This weekend we honor the divine presence in the Liturgy, the Eucharist and the Church. We celebrate from last weekend’s feast, the Trinity available to people of faith and our hungry world in the most ordinary details of human life.
Before COVID, it felt like the daily family meal was a tradition disappearing quickly in American homes. Many homes rediscovered it in these months of sheltering in place. I noticed a public service ad a few years back that advertised an imaginary product for parents. It was a gadget that temporarily handicapped all electronics in the home. Imagine? One family found themselves at the table for an evening meal when TV, computers, cell phones and video games all ceased functioning. It is tough for all us to fast from these gadgets long enough to join each other around the table. But the payoff is magnificent. The table is the foundational human ritual that prepares us for other sacramental things. It is hard to understand the Eucharist without it.
Fr. Henri Nouwen wrote a book called With Open Hands (Ave Maria Press, 1972). In it, the Dutch priest suggested that many of us come before God with clenched fists and, as a result, are unable to receive God’s gifts, one of the most important of which is the sacramental and real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Nouwen also suggested that it is fear that often causes us to clench and refuse and, as a consequence, walk away empty. This Corpus Christi marks my 40th anniversary as a Friar priest and gratitude fills my memories of these four decades of adventure within the Santa Barbara Franciscans. St. Mary’s began my story with some amazing friar preachers that caught my attention and heart. They were amazingly funny, hands on and prayerful in their style of being with people and preaching. That style continues to attract me.
The renewed stance for communion after the renewal of the Second Vatican Council was to stand before the priest or minister with open hands. St. Augustine’s church in the 4th century received communion like that… one hand laid on top of the other like a manager for the Christ child. It moves me. To cultivate this openness requires a daily practice that, on our own, we are limited, dependent, weak and vulnerable. But when our hands are filled with trust of a Provident God, we become inspired and empowered for service and for witnessing to the goodness and compassionate care of God. With open hands we gather this weekend to celebrate the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. It invites us to clear a space and to let go of fear and doubt. I sometimes pray with that gesture in the early morning. As we go too communion, it signifies an attitude of openness required to allow us to be fed with the Bread of Life… at the table of the Lord and even at the tables in our own homes.
Thanks for all the generosity that flows from the Lord’s Table here at St. Mary’s. St. Mary’s Food Bank and Andre House, the food boxes of St. Vincent de Paul, from the ministers of care passing through the rooms of the sick at Banner- University Hospital to those who volunteer for the liturgy and to catechized our young people and adults for Confirmation the last weekends, from the song of our choirs and the volunteers at the front door, we are a Eucharistic community – giving and giving thanks.
A gentle week.
Fr. Michael Weldon, OFM
Adapted from Patricia Datchuck Sánchez’s 2015 article in Celebration.