Sunday, May 12, 2013

At Table

A very happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there!

   Seventh Sunday of Easter   C 

Two weeks ago today,
my Mom and Dad celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary.
To mark this important milestone,
we went out for a very nice dinner:
my parents and grandparents,
my siblings and their spouses, my nieces and nephew.
When the food was served,
I assumed—as the “professional pray-er” in the family—
that I’d be called upon to say grace,
as often happens at family celebrations.
But instead, the honor fell to the youngest one at the table:
to my three-year-old niece, Abby.
First, we made the Sign of the Cross together.
Next, after telling us al to hold hands,
Abby gave a very spirited rendition
of her favorite church song: Alleluia.
(She’s the one I told you about on Easter Sunday.)
And then my brother asked her, “What do we thank God for?”
She answered, “We thank God for Nana and Papa!”
To which we all responded with a hearty, “Amen!”

"Nana" and "Papa" with their grandchildren, after a blessing but before heading out for dinner

As we fast approach the end of this Easter Season,
the Church presents us with Jesus at prayer.
Now, he’s not off, all alone, in the wilderness,
as the gospels so often portray him.
Nor is he in the formal setting of worship in the temple
or of the Sabbath service at the synagogue.
Rather, we find Jesus praying at table.
Our passage from John’s Gospel this Sunday
is taken from the end
of Jesus’ long, beautiful Last Supper discourse.
The prayer we are privileged to hear on his lips
serves as it conclusion and climax.
It’s a very intimate prayer,
addressed to the Father by his Only Begotten Son.
It’s a very personal prayer for his closest friends and collaborators:
the Apostles seated there at the meal beside him.
And Jesus prays intensely, too,
for all those who will come after them—
those who will believe because of their word.
Which is to say: he’s praying for you and for me.

We benefit not only from Christ’s intercession on our behalf,
but from the compelling example he gives.

In most of the world’s cultures,
eating is accompanied by some sort of prayer.
Anthropologist Robin Fox has pointed out, 
Making food is a sacred event.
It's so absolutely central—
far more central than sex.
You can keep a population going
by having sex once a year,
but you have to eat three times a day.
It's like the American Indians.
When they killed a deer, they said a prayer over it.
That is civilization.
It is an act of politeness over food.
Fast food has killed this.
We have reduced eating
to sitting alone and shoveling it in.
There is no ceremony in it.  (cf. Time, 6/4/06)

There are so many benefits that flow
from taking the time in our families—even as busy as we all are—
to sit down to eat together and to begin the meal with grace.
Studies have repeatedly shown
that when families eat together with some regularity,
kids are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs,
develop eating disorders, get depressed, or consider suicide,
while the same kids are more likely to
not only eat their vegetables and know which fork to use,
but also delay becoming sexually active and do well in school.

So, on this Mother’s Day,
I want to encourage moms—and dads, too—
to restore prayer to its rightful place at the table.
What is there to lose?
And there is so much to be gained!

Don’t save grace just for special occasions,
and don’t limit it to when you’re eating at home.
My young niece showed us how it’s done
right there in the middle of a busy restaurant.
Granted, my family had certainly
already been tagged as a bit different:
we were slightly on the rambunctious side (not just the kids),
and there sat a priest in his Roman collar right in the middle of it all!
While saying grace at home
is a powerful way to build up one’s family,
saying grace when you’re out
is a powerful way to give public witness to your Catholic faith.
What will people think?
Hopefully, they’ll be reminded to think of God!
It’s not about being preachy
and showing off how holy you are;
it’s about being grateful,
drawing attention to the Lord, rather than yourself.
Be like St. Stephen: unafraid to stand up for what you believe.
Sure, it's risky:
People might throw odd looks in your direction...
...but they’re pretty unlikely to cast any stones.

You may have noticed that Abby’s grace made no mention of the food.
A wise man once said,
“It isn’t so much what’s on the table that matters,
as what’s on the chairs.”  (W. S. Gilbert)
Here in the Eucharist, they are one and the same:
he who is our unseen Host is himself also the Banquet;
it is the Body of Christ which is present upon our altars,
and the Body of Christ which gathers around them.

Today—and in every Mass—Christ prays for us again at his Table.
Let’s be sure to leave a place for Christ at every table at which we eat.

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