All too often, I stuff myself with junk food. The sweet or salty fatty fare tastes so good at the time when I think I want to fill the void of hunger. I am always aware that I am trying to fill up more than my body’s desire for nutrition. I am really hiding my feelings of wanting to be connected, loved, and accepted in the world. Food can often play tricks on me, making me feel I am in charge of my own life. Stuffing my body can also mask my feelings of not belonging in the world.
I understand this feeling of emptiness every day working among the poor. I am engaged with people who believe they do not belong in the church because they fill up the void in their lives with multiple sexual partners or by shooting up drugs or constantly acting out in anger and violence. Beneath the surface of all of our anxiety is a deep, profound craving to belong to God and to the gift of being fully alive.
Priscilla deepened my understanding of the real food God offers to all of us. Priscilla always sat in the front pew during Sunday Mass because of her fading eyesight. Even though her eyes could not go the distance, Priscilla perceived more at the Eucharist than most of us. I noticed her
feisty, fiery, youthful self hidden in her aging body. She always looked forward to her seat in the church because her family lived in another state and her health kept her home most of the week. Priscilla’s vision was anchored on the action of sharing our common story in Scripture and praying the Eucharist.
Every Sunday after Mass, Priscilla would hobble up to me, stare into my eyes, and say with loving confidence, “Thank you, Father, for the beautiful supper!” Her words always adjusted my perspective back on the real meaning of my own hunger.
Priscilla was deeply connected to the Eucharist because of her poverty, illness, and loneliness. Her piety was not nostalgic, rigid, or maudlin. She admitted her hunger and she believed God would feed her. She better understood God’s care for people because she spent years rolling up her sleeves to feed people on our Portland streets. She got her hands sticky spreading peanut butter and jelly on white bread. She stained her soul with involvement by remembering people’s names and welcoming the poor in our soup line.
Priscilla’s words of gratitude teach me about the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ as we continue to pray in these months of Ordinary Time. We celebrate in all of our parishes the sacrament that feeds our deepest hungers. We name the reality that all of us starve for the life God has for us. However, this solemnity cannot become reduced to a rigid or static notion of the real presence of Christ. Priscilla showed me again that Christ reveals his presence in relationship to people and to honest hunger.
Some parishes may be tempted to celebrate this solemnity by focusing on adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. When this becomes the only focus in our parish celebrations, adoring the eucharistic bread at a distance becomes more important than the action of the celebration of the Liturgy. People may perceive that the Eucharist we kneel in front of is better, holier, and even more present than the Eucharist celebrated every day in parish life.
The lives of the poor show me that the action of the Eucharist calls us all into service and love. The presence of Christ must remain rooted in what Christ actually did on earth. He gathered people who were hungry and multiplied loaves and fish and had full baskets left over. He fed people in ways they could least imagine, not only with bread and fish but by curing diseases, expelling demons, and even raising the dead. On the night of his death he stooped down and washed his friends’ feet at the same meal in which he told his apostles to remember him when they break bread and share the cup.
Priscilla died this past year. Every day as I stand at the altar and hold the Eucharist in my hand, I remember her gratitude to God for real and authentic suppers. I look past her empty seat to other people in the pews starving for love and longing for relationship. I feel a deep, satisfying fullness of tasting God’s presence as we all approach the beautiful supper of the Lamb.