For many, it’s hard to imagine a time when families regularly gathered around the table for meals and conversation. The idyllic picture of a family sharing a home-cooked meal may feel like an artifact of a long-gone era. Ours is a culture preoccupied with fast food and fast service. True, holidays and other festive occasions bring us together; but for the modern family, these are episodic moments, and not the norm.
Even when we come together around a common table, we soon find ourselves distracted by social media or other technology. The idea of sustained and undivided attention around a common table is somewhat impractical for many of us. Similarly, giving any one person face-to-face consideration feels rather intimidating and uncomfortable.
Without dismissing the digital culture or the many things and events that keep us busy and somewhat aloof from one another, we can still affirm and acknowledge the value and benefits that come from eating a meal together. Social sciences and studies show that family dinners mean better family relationships, an appreciation for better food choices, less stress and more joy or happiness in our lives.
For people of faith, the opportunity to eat together in communion also can have profound spiritual implications. From our Gospel stories, we have inherited a spirituality of communion that challenges us to reach out to one another, generously. Rooted in the examples of Jesus’ encounters of hospitality, our Catholic spirituality of communion remains a hallmark of our way of life and holiness. We value that Jesus pursued people from different cultures and lifestyles to engage in meals and conversation. His example of communion with the rejected encourages us.
His meals and hospitality at the house of Levi (Luke 5:27-39), His breaking bread at Bethsaida (Luke 9:10-17), His friendly visit at the house of Martha (Luke 10:38-42), His dramatic encounter and visit at the house of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) and His compassionate teachings during His visit to the house of Simon (Luke 7:36-50) are but a few examples that manifest the importance and value of sharing meals and communion with others, especially with people who are different from us.
Perhaps most emblematic for us is Jesus’ last supper. We witness a person who isn’t afraid to take time to be with friends, encourage personal contact and engage in critical reflection on service and mercy (Luke 22:7-38). The commitment to communion is so strong in Jesus that He even reaches to others in His post-resurrection appearances. We witness Him breaking bread on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35), and see Him present to the community in Jerusalem (Luke 24: 36-53).
How will we continue to remain faithful to the Gospel mandate to cultivate a communion with others will take different cultural and social forms. Whether we practice this communion virtually or physically with others, we all will bring our own comfort and personalities.
More than 50 years ago, it was remarked that Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours in society. For followers of Jesus, this insight continues to be a challenge and an opportunity. Reaching out in the spirit of communion will no doubt bring rejection by some and acceptance by others. Yet we know deep in our hearts that ours is a commitment to be one in Christ. In the words of St. Augustine about the Eucharist: “Believe what you see, see what you believe and become what you are: the Body of Christ.” Let’s find time to eat and be together beyond Sunday. Will you join me?
Orozco is executive director of Human Dignity and Intercultural Affairs for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.