Year of the Eucharist: What are we hungry for?
One day a woman was walking through a beautiful meadow, meditating on nature. While strolling about, she came upon a field of golden pumpkins. In the corner of the field stood a majestic, huge oak tree.
She sat under the oak tree, musing on the strange twists in nature which put tiny acorns on huge branches and huge pumpkins on tiny vines. She thought to herself, “God blundered with creation! God should have put the small acorns on the tiny vines and the large pumpkins on the huge branches.
Getting tired, the woman stretched out under the oak tree for a nap. A few minutes after falling asleep she was awakened by a tiny acorn bouncing off her nose. Chuckling to herself, she rubbed her nose and thought, “Maybe God was right after all!”
As you may know, our bishop, Bishop Byrne, has invited us during this Year of the Eucharist to come to a deeper understanding and appreciation for God’s real, genuine, and true presence in our lives. Now, many Catholics, as we know, have drifted away from the Eucharist and the community of the Church. They say that they are happy to have spirituality, but they do not need religion. Could it be that Jesus was wrong in giving this gift that so many no longer seem to want?
I think that, if Jesus wants to feed us and to be an intimate presence in our life, it would be good to start with the question: Are we hungry? Or better, what are we hungry for?
Now, it can be said that many of us have “arrived”—at least compared to our humble beginnings. Maybe we’re not rich, but most of us have a roof over our heads and food on the table—and a lot more besides! But I think we can still be hungry. The other day at Mass I used the image of feeling hungry, opening the refrigerator door, and staring in, but not really knowing what we want, what could satisfy the hunger we’re feeling.
Well, maybe it’s like that in our relationship with God and with the community of the Church. What hungers might be fed here? Let me share some of my hungers, and how I feel fed…
- Our world can feel large, impersonal and uncaring. We instantly have news reports and images of school shootings, of politicians who are constantly fighting rather than helping us, of earthquakes and hurricanes, of numbers of people dying from the pandemic. And some days, it feels so overwhelming. I’m hungry for intimacy, for a community in which I am known, and supported, and loved.
- I often hear people saying that, years ago, they could name every one of their neighbors by name. Now, they say they hardly know anybody, and nobody seems to have time for them. I’m hungry for a community where I’m known by name—even by nickname.
- I hear poor people complaining constantly that almost their whole check each month has to go for paying rent. There’s no money left for much else—even food. And I hear others complaining about gas prices, or the rising prices of food, or the sticker shock they experience when seeking Christmas presents. I want a community that can help me when I need help, and where I can pool resources to help others in the community who are struggling to make ends meet.
In a world that often feels like it’s racing out of control, I’m hungry for a place that provides intimacy, stability, simplicity and deep-spirited friendship. These are the hungers I bring to Jesus, and it is here, around this table, where I believe my deepest hungers can be met—in communion with God, in communion with a hungry community that knows it needs God.
Let me share with you a beautiful Polish Christmas custom that I have cherished since I was a boy. It is the custom of the “opłatek” or Christmas wafer. It is made of unleavened bread, usually rectangular, with Christmas scenes imprinted on it. It was blessed and given out in church during the Advent Season. People used to mail pieces of it to loved ones in their Christmas cards. I remember my father receiving a card with a piece of opłatek in it from his mother, whom he had left behind in Poland.
At the festive Christmas Eve dinner, the wafer would be broken and shared, with each person offering wishes for the New Year. I think the genius of this tradition was that it was basically the same type of bread used for the Eucharist. Jesus becoming flesh, being born at Christmas, and Jesus, broken and shared in the Eucharist—that was the faith brought into the home and shared across thousands of miles with loved ones: Jesus is born, Jesus is truly with us, under the appearance of a simple piece of bread, in the church community and in the family at home. With this simple custom, we were fed at Christmas with intimacy, stability, simplicity and deep-spirited friendship. And I felt the love, embraced by my family, my community, my church, and my God. My deepest hunger was satisfied, and I don’t think God made a mistake in giving us to each other, or in giving himself to us completely, down to a body that was broken, down to his last drop of blood.