Reflection: Eucharist and unity

By Father Chris Thomas

I was invited not so long ago to talk to a group about transformation and the Eucharist. I told them about the time a woman, who lived on the streets, had kissed me and held me as she cried some of her pain away. She stank of stale sweat and alcohol. I was challenged about how transformed I really was when this happened. She needed human warmth, comfort and to be held. If I appeared to her like a lump of stone, she graciously never said. That experience allowed me to reflect on transformation and Eucharist and our call to be one with the least of our brothers and sisters. Afterwards, a woman came up to me, horrified that a woman of the streets should have been the means of transformation.
It was a gospel moment but not a comfortable moment. I had a certainty I was there to tell that woman the story. Her understanding of Eucharist had been hugely challenged by my sharing and what that might mean for her. It frightened her as she recognised the need for deep inner transformation, if she were to really serve.
Eucharist draws us deeply into relationship with Jesus and with others. We need to be transformed to see that clearly. When we break bread, we identify with everyone who is broken. When we drink from the cup, we identify with everyone who shares themselves with another. It is not an individual devotion but the sacrament of unity through which we become what we receive and learn how to serve one another. Richard Rohr says: ‘We keep eating and drinking the Mystery, until one day it dawns on us in an undefended moment: my God, I really am what I eat.’
I remember attending a Sunday Mass in a place that is rich in community values. When we got to the offertory collection, a man got up. He wandered down the church with his basket, talking away to himself and occasionally to others. Then a little girl decided it was her job so when she received the basket, she handed it around. The man was bewildered and began to mutter. He was obviously distressed. Behind me were three women whose conversation had kept me entertained as I listened to various health problems. One of these women, moved with compassion, went and put her arms around the man and said, ‘C’mon love, you come and sit with us for a while’. He began to cry as she held him. At that Eucharistic gathering the unity and service that we are invited into every time we gather was apparent in the gift of an elderly woman to that man who would experience rejection in most other places.
So, to the shores of Galilee and the words to Peter: ‘Do you love me … then feed my sheep.’ He stands as a symbol of the Church, invited to feed the world with the presence of Jesus that is recognised in the breaking of the bread. He stands as a symbol of all, called to unite the world in the mystery of love through the service of the most broken. He stands to challenge us to recognise the invitation to unity that the Eucharist holds out to us.