This week, I spent several days at the Trappist monastery in Snowmass, Colorado and spoke at a reception in Aspen with my friends Daniel Berrigan and Jonathan Schell. The monks at the monastery, as you know, get up at 3 a.m. for prayer vigils over the psalms, then sit in silence for one hour together, then have liturgy together, then spend several hours working in the fields, then have prayers, then lunch, then more prayers, then more work on the land, then prayers, then dinner, and finally evening vespers, again praying through the psalms. They basically never leave the monastery, but live a life of prayer and silence. It is a beautiful life, centered around the Eucharist.
The news about the U.S. church this week is so distressing, with the ongoing priest scandal, and former Governor Keating resigning as the head of the bishops’ committee investigating the scandal and attacking the bishops for “obstructing justice” and comparing them to the mafia over the apparent failure to heal the victims, make reforms and protect our children. Then the Bishop of Phoenix acknowledged he covered up the scandal, was then arrested in a hit and run accident. It’s all very discouraging, and we need to pray for healing for the victims, safety and protection for our children, and reforms in the church.
Each year the church invites us on this feast of “The Body and Blood of Jesus” to think about the Eucharist, about receiving the body and blood of Jesus each week, and I was thinking, we do not come to church because of any priest or the bishops or the archbishop or the Pope. We come to church because of Jesus. Jesus is the center of our lives and the church and the Eucharist, not the priests or the bishops or the Pope, and that is very heartening, very encouraging. This week I thought we could ask ourselves, “What does it mean for us to be Eucharistic people?” and I thought of three points, how the Eucharist brings us together, how the Eucharist helps us to remember Jesus, and how the Eucharist sends us out into the world.
First, to be Eucharistic people is to be brought together each week by Jesus, to share his holy meal together, to be a people in communion in Jesus, in other words, to become his community. In the Gospel stories, Jesus was always creating community around him and today Jesus is creating community among us, and it’s the most beautiful, most sacred, most important thing in our lives, this holy community right here around the table of the Lord. So each week, when we gather to hear the word, break the bread, and pass the cup, we forgive one another, we love one another, we make peace with one another and we become the Eucharistic community of Jesus. So the church is not the institution or the buildings or the hierarchy or the administration. As the Second Vatican Council said, it’s “the people of God,” the community that gathers around Jesus.
Second, to be Eucharistic people is to be people who remember Jesus. He said, “This is my body. Eat it. This is my blood. Drink it. Do this in memory of me. Whenever you do this, remember me.” So we celebrate the Eucharist to keep the memory of our Lord alive in our hearts and in the world. We remember him, we turn to him, we think about him, we surrender our hearts to him, we give him our brokenness, we listen to him, we recommit ourselves to him, and we become a Eucharistic people who live in his memory. In the process, we re-member him, we become him, we become his body and blood.
Finally, to be Eucharistic people is to be people sent out from this sanctuary into the world to share Jesus and his love with everyone. Martin Luther King, Jr. defined the church as “the place you go from.” The church, the Eucharist, this sanctuary, this place where we remember Jesus is the center of our lives. We are rooted and grounded here, and go forward from this sanctuary into the world.
So, when we come to the table, we are reconciled with one another and sent out to reconcile with one another. When we come to the table, we are forgiven and sent out to forgive one another. When we come to the table, we are disarmed and sent out to disarm the world. When we come to the table, we are loved and fed and sent out to love and feed others.
In fact, just as Jesus is bread broken for us, we too have to become bread broken for others. Jesus does not say, “This is the body of your neighbor. This is the blood of your neighbor, given for you.” He does not say, “This is the body of your enemy. This is the blood of your enemy, given for you, so you can live in peace and security.” He says, “This is my body. This is my blood, given for you. Do this.” Just as Jesus refuses to shed the blood of others but sheds his own blood and gives his life in love for us as a martyr, so also, we too refuse to shed the blood of others, no matter what the country tells us, and instead, we shed our own blood for others. We give our lives in love for one another because we are a Eucharistic people.
The problem with Mass is that it can become routine and boring and you think, “Will this guy ever shut up?,” but really, if we center ourselves in the presence of Jesus, it’s exciting and dramatic and hopeful and healing and human and holy and revolutionary. If we open our hearts, focus on Jesus, meditate on the Gospel, take this holy time as a formal check in with Jesus once a week, we will more and more recognize Jesus here in our midst, in the breaking of the bread, get a foretaste of the eternal wedding banquet in heaven to come, see Jesus in one another, and leave here transformed, on fire like those first apostles at Pentecost, and go forward to love for everyone we meet, and love everyone in the world, just like Jesus.