Just recently a woman called Betty came to see me. She was a lovely person, who almost immediately began to tell her story. It was as though the pain of years burst forth like a dam that had been breached.
She had had a very hard life, from her birth as an illegitimate child and the stigma that accompanied it in the 1940s, through her mother’s marriage to a man who hated Betty and beat her regularly. She then had to cope with her mother’s early death and her subsequent ejection from the family home.
She described the breakdown of her two marriages, the death of her daughter at the age of 20 from drug abuse. She talked of her son’s mental-health issues and the loneliness of her life.
At some point on her journey, though, she encountered God and came to recognise that nothing in her life was wasted and that she could use what had happened to her for the sake of others. While living in the midst of all this brokenness, she qualified as a teacher. She started to work in her spare time with homeless young people to give them a chance. She took on the pain of others and walked alongside them.
I love Matthew’s story of the feeding of the five thousand. He uses Eucharistic terms to point us to the meaning of the story. He took the bread, gave thanks and handed it; very Eucharistic terms and also a reminder that what we are given is to be shared.
Father Ronald Rolheiser, in one of his reflections on Eucharist, says this: ‘It is a call to move from worship to service, to take the nourishment, the embrace, the kiss, we have just received from God and the community and translate it immediately and directly into loving service of others.’
Eucharist is about service and becoming the presence of Christ for the world. We are to be compassion, love, mercy, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding. There can be no room in our hearts for bitter attitudes or for self-righteousness towards others. We are one body. Even those on the edges of society who for whatever reason experience alienation or isolation, are our brothers and sisters. We are family.
The Eucharist binds us together and invites us to become like the master. What have we done? We have taken this incredible gift, the very presence of Christ, and many of us have worshipped it rather than allow it to transform our hearts and our minds so that we become what we receive. Eucharist invites us to do what Jesus did and get down on our knees and wash the feet of those around us.
The only way that the world is going to believe in this God who is good and loving is if they see, in the lives of believers, real and loving service; if they see within us attitudes of love, compassion and mercy to all people. My prayer is that we become what we receive and allow our hearts and minds to be transformed for the sake of the world.