When I lived in Rome I noticed a curious phenomenon from time to time. No matter with whom I was conversing, no matter what we were talking about, the conversation eventually, inevitably, drifted to food and wine. I would be talking to some egregious ecclesiastic. Or, I would be joking around with my students. Or, I would be having a relaxed conversation with some of my Italian friends. We might be talking about philosophy, religion, culture, theology, art or everyday life. In about fifteen minutes we would be talking about food or wine. I conducted this experiment many times. Every time the result turned out to be the same.
I began to question myself: “Why do we always come back to the topic of food and wine?” Then it dawned on me. Food and wine are central to the Italian ethos. When you mention “Italy” to anyone one of the first things they think about is food or wine. It is then that I recognized the centrality of food to the Italian culture. I also understood the reason why. Food and wine are crucial to the Italians because family is very important to them. And they know that family is created, nurtured and strengthened by gathering around the table and sharing food and wine.
The same is true in India. I remember the numerous occasions when the family gathered around the table. Not a day went by when we did not share meals together. Eating alone was never an option. All our celebrations and festivities revolve around food. Once again food is very important in Indian culture because family is central.
The same is true for us here in America. We become family by eating together. We forge our families around the kitchen table and the dinner table. We form friendships sipping coffee together, or if you prefer, wine. Often I encourage the couples I prepare for marriage to learn how to cook. I insist that they should share meals together on a daily basis. I tell them that between preparing the food, setting the table, sharing the meal and cleaning up afterwards, they would spend at least three hours of quality time with each other.
The God who made us is fully aware of this fact. He knows how we humans are wired. Jesus gave us the greatest sacrament in the form of food because he knows that we become community by sitting around the Eucharistic table. We need to break Bread together. We need to share the Cup. Jesus is categorical in his command: “Take and eat. Take and drink. Do this in memory of me.” We need to nourish our spirits on a regular basis.
Sometimes Catholics ask why they should go to Mass on Sunday. Here is one valid reason. If we take our belonging to the community seriously, we cannot but gather around the table every Sunday. If we are Catholic not just in name only, we have to participate in the Sunday liturgy. That is where we become community. In fact, the community is at its best at the Eucharist. We grow as God’s family as we share the Eucharistic meal.
Over these two weekends, our second-graders will be approaching the Eucharistic table for the first time. They are old enough to receive “solid food.” Coming to Communion is not a one-time event. It has to be repeated. The Eucharist is the food for their journey of life. Our children need to be nourished on a daily basis – or at least on a weekly basis. While we congratulate our communicants, let us keep them in our prayers. May they always receive Jesus and grow daily in their personal friendship with Him!
The apostle John who does not give us the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, devotes an entire chapter (chapter 6) to Jesus’ great discourse on the Bread of Life. Take time to read that chapter and meditate on the beauty of this great sacrament. As we contemplate the wondrous gift of Christ’s presence with us, let us thank God for the gift of the Eucharist. Let us heed the Lord’s command and gather to celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday. Let us not forget that it is the Lord who calls us around the table. We are not worthy, but God invites us anyway.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...