Readings: 1 Kgs 19:4-8; Eph 4:30–5:2; Jn 6:41-51
In 1979 I received my first academic sabbatical. I chose to study what was a fad at that time, phenomenological theology, at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. I traded off part-time help in Holy Rosary Parish for room and board. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that I was going to learn a lot more from serving in the parish than I would from any amount of phenomenological theology.
Over time I noticed at the 10:30am Sunday mass over in the side pews there was a group of fifteen to twenty people who came faithfully, sang mightily, and were obviously very engaged in the service of the mass. But they never received communion. Puzzled, I asked the pastor about them. "Oh," he said, "they are those who are divorced and remarried without an annulment. They aren’t permitted to receive communion." I thought to myself, "Wow! There are people who really hunger for the bread of life. Even though they can’t receive it, they just want to be close to it." I thought about those people for a long time.
I was reminded of them recently when I read a passage in Fr. Timothy Radcliffe’s book, Why Go to Church? The Drama of the Eucharist. He writes: "The Eucharist is our home, whatever we have done and been. So many people feel excluded because of their personal circumstances, surprisingly often to do with sex! People are divorced and remarried, live with partners, are gay or whatever and feel unwelcome, or second-class Christians. But these are the situations in which ordinary people find themselves in our society, and these are the people whom Jesus surely invites to come and sit and eat with him on the beach. God accepts our limited, fragile forgetful loves if that is all we have to offer him now." (p. 194) I was to discover that there were a lot more people in that group than just those sitting in the side pews.
Anyway, back to 1979! After learning the situation of those people who attended mass so fervently, yet could not receive communion, I determined to look for special occasions when I could make an exception to the rule. Sadly, one occurred about a month later. A little twelve-year old girl in the parish was accidentally electrocuted while playing on her grandparents’ farm. The parish’s CCD director filled me in on the family history. The girl’s mother was Catholic, but divorced and remarried outside the Catholic Church. The mother had no involvement with the parish, but she was insistent that the girl receive CCD lessons. The mother brought her daughter faithfully every Sunday. At the funeral mass right before communion I made the announcement that the regular practice of the Catholic Church is that only members in good standing receive communion but that special occasions like a funeral are an exception. I hadn’t even finished the sentence before the girl’s mother was climbing over five people to get out of the pew. She received the Eucharist with great reverence.
I’ve told you some stories today of people who really hungered for the bread of life come down from heaven. In a few minutes we shall receive that bread of life. How much do we, how much do I hunger for it? We celebrate the Eucharist almost daily; it is so easy to begin to take it for granted or forget the great gift of God that it is. I think it would be good to revisit some of the words of Fr. Timothy Radcliffe that I quoted before: "The Eucharist is our home, whatever we have done and been. God accepts our limited, fragile forgetful loves if that is all we have to offer him now." Let’s take a moment and let ourselves truly become those who hunger for the bread from heaven!
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Posted by Sr. Nicolette Etienne, OSB at 7:40 PM