Food For Friday

Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, February 2011
– PDF version –

I crave the Eucharist on Good Friday. Perhaps my hunger is most pronounced then because Good Friday is the only day of the year in which the celebration of the Eucharist does not take place. Nevertheless, my hunger grows strong. I intellectually realize that the Body of Christ is distributed on this sacred day consecrated from the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. Even with that knowledge, my hunger pains cry out. These liturgical arguments do not take the longing away from my soul. Nothing really soothes my hunger on Good Friday.

I experience great hunger on Good Friday because I pray with people who feed only on their loneliness and suffering on most other days of the year. People stream into our chapel at high noon on Good Friday. Some cross the line from the business world to the world of poverty by simply walking across Burnside Street. Some people stroll into the chapel after spending the morning in our Hospitality Center seeking clothing, a new backpack or clean pair of underwear, or just to be acknowledged by name. Some people stroll in recalling childhood memories of kissing the cross, inhaling bellowing incense and humming long Latin chants. Still others are curious about what Catholics do on Good Friday since Jesus stays on the cross all year long in our sanctuaries.

No matter the curiosity of some people or the memory of others, there remains a collective hunger for God. For so many people the hunger is bone deep because they are crushed by relationships of abuse. Many of our worshippers hate themselves for how their lives have turned out from serving in wars or selling their bodies for drugs. The collective hunger in our worshipping assembly settles into our common songs and liturgical responses. People remain emotionally empty and are looking for a way out of the circumstances that have brought them down. We are all hungry for God’s love and compassion on the day when we remember the death of Christ Jesus.

Several years ago our staff tried to address this common hunger in a different way during the Good Friday liturgy. We looked to a common item that we distribute each day that comforts people, yet a reminder of hunger itself – a bag of food. On most weekdays, our community distributes food bags to people living in single-room occupancy hotels. These single rooms are no larger than a parking space. People need food to get by because the monthly rent remains outrageously high. So our community offers bags of canned goods and items that can be warmed on a small hot plate.

These food bags are a reminder of poverty itself. They speak volumes about our inability to feed people’s needs. We only offer them a few cans and packages to survive a long month of high rent and skyrocketing food prices. The presence of these brown bags reminds people of their own hunger as they also symbolize our help for them.The bags tell the stories of severe loneliness that eats away at those whose lives are so tenuous. Living alone in a bug-infested, noisy room destroys one’s dignity. The bags of food become a sign of hope even in the midst of poverty and loneliness, of hunger and broken dreams.

We stationed members of our staff carrying bags of food on each side of the cross as people came forward to reverence the cross. We then invited people to also touch the bag, to pray for our starving neighbors and the millions of starving people around the world. Since so many people count on our bags of food this was a simple reminder that the Cross of Christ is lived here on this block amidst great hunger. Many visitors ignored the invitation; some did not get the connection to Christ’s presence. However, for many people the Cross of Christ and the bag of food became the source of real and substantial nourishment.

I realize this gesture would not work for every worshipping assembly. I know it may even confuse many people. However, I keep trying to discover ways that people in poverty can find their home in any of our worshiping communities. I am at a loss to feed people’s unfathomable and lasting pain. This is Good Friday. Only God can restore people’s lives and feed their deepest needs. This is the place in which I learn to trust God. The Cross of Christ is the place for real, rich and sustaining food even though I remain so hungry on Good Friday.