Ministry and Liturgy Magazine: August 2014

416coverCracked open

In the summer of 2013, I moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado to become pastor of three churches. After getting settled, I started to explore the three church buildings. I unlocked every closet door and sorted through sacristy drawers. I found a chasuble and several stoles that I left behind at the parish when I departed in 1987 after serving as associate pastor for three years.
I spent some time examining the sanctuary furnishings at Sacred Heart Church, the largest of the three churches. The rood screen, the ambo, the presider’s chair and the altar are new since I left the parish years ago. A local artist handcrafted the wood furnishings in the 1990’s. I approached the square, Spanish-style altar and removed the altar cloth. I quickly noticed that the altar table is cracked. A large crack runs the entire length of the top of the table. I stopped in my surprise and began to run my hand over the entire length of the separated wood. I paused in shock. The flaw took my breath away.
I realized deep within me that our cracked wooden altar tells the story of our human need for Christ’s real presence. I now feel so much more at home in that sanctuary knowing that the wooden flaw is just under the cloth that covers the altar on most weeks during the liturgical year. Since discovering the flaw, I often pray at the altar alone, in quiet time. I remove the cloth, unveiling the flaw so that I have a visual reminder of our community’s hunger and need for Christ’s real presence.
The flaw has touched me deeply. The visual reminder of our humanity speaks profoundly to my own human defects as I preside at Eucharist. The depths of my human hunger, my longing for love, my desire for intimacy and connection, my quest for forgiveness of the past and my desire to be an instrument of mercy are more real knowing that just under the tablecloth is an altar that is also not perfect.
As I reflect on the gospel for the end of our liturgical year, I see the connection of this wooden imperfection and The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King. Our liturgical year ends with a challenge to enter into relationship with people who are considered flawed by most other people in society.
We will inherit the Kingdom of God if we give food to a hungry person. This food is not only from an altar table that is faulty, but we learn to feed people because we are all human and in need of God. I often hear some people blame the people who come to our parish food pantry for their hunger. I hear, “If those people just got jobs, then we would not have to feed them.” We all must realize that we cannot blame people in poverty for their poverty. Sometimes what we consider “flaws” are only our judgments. We will never fully understand people’s stories of mental illness, past abuse and emotional instability. Our posture of blame already separates the sheep and the goats.
Every parish community is called to feed the many hungers of our people. The Eucharist challenges us to offer the abundance we receive at the altar table to people who live in scarcity on a daily basis. We are to feed people from our own flawed humanity, from our own daily hunger. We will be judged by how we feed a stranger, a person hungry for the love in which God feeds the rest of us.
I realize that my own salvation depends on this simple command to be with people who have simple needs. I find this startling and also so complicated. I still need to grow into this command from Christ. My relationship to the hungry, the prisoner and stranger is the heart of my ministry that puts love into practice.
This simple understanding of our relationship with God must not be hidden from people who stream toward our altar tables. We all must build our communities on the fact that our salvation depends on how we welcome people from our flawed humanity. Perhaps every altar table should be cracked open and flawed so that we could better see ourselves receiving the Eucharist in our human and judgmental nature.
The perfect nature of Christ’s real presence takes us to places we would rather not go. The food from the light of heaven invites us to minister in a dark and lonely prison cell. The Eucharist invites us to pray at the bedsides of lonely and dying individuals. The comfort food of Eucharist challenges us to enter into the uncomfortable situations of fear and death. Our salvation depends on how we enter into relationship with an elderly person in diapers dying of cancer or the young tattooed prisoner begging for our attention. This is the mission of Christ our King.
I find my real life and ministry now on our cracked, wooden table. I now celebrate the Eucharist throughout the liturgical year knowing that our salvation rests here among people who are hungry, ill, alone and desiring to be fed from heavenly food from our imperfect, wooden altar of God.

4 thoughts on “Ministry and Liturgy Magazine: August 2014

  1. Wow, Ron, some great insights, thank you! I agree with Maryleek’s comment above: it’s through the cracks in ourselves, our lives, that God’s presence can flow.

  2. Powerful illustration of the flaws deep (and not so deep) inside of us. Thank you for sharing this and inspiring me to embrace the flaws within in order to strengthen my relationship with God. Thanks Fr. Ron!

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