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5 March 2018
(First published in UCAN and reproduced with permission)
We Catholics believe the frequent reception of the Eucharistic bread, which is transformed into the body of Christ at the altar of Mass, enhances our spiritual health. But this enhancement is subject to certain conditions, just as material food to benefit our physical health is subject to what we eat and how we eat it. Without fulfilling the essential conditions, the reception of the Eucharist alone will not provide us the "abundance of life" (Jn.10:10) that Jesus has destined for us. There are similarities between the Eucharist and the material food we eat.
As a theologically trained Catholic mother, I see the dining table as having the innate capacity to enhance the Eucharistic experience. The merging of the two tables, as Jesus did on Maundy Thursday, will help us experience wholeness. It will enhance our dining table and build us into people who are socially and spiritually healthy.
Indian Catholic Priest Susai Kannu offers The Holy Eucharist during the Mass of the Lord's Supper celebrated as Maundy Thursday service at St. Anthony's Church in Hyderabad on March 24, 2016. The ceremony commemorates the symbolic example of Jesus Christ washing the feet of his apostles at the Lord's Supper on the eve of his crucifixion. (Photo by AFP/Noah Seelam)
Jesus celebrated the first Eucharistic meal with his disciples at the dining table on the feast of the Passover, when families gather to share a meal in the Jewish tradition. It comprises certain rituals but remains at heart a family meal. Great emphasis is placed on the food and what it symbolizes. Jesus raised the meal to a spiritual fellowship experience when he broke a single piece of bread — his body — and called his disciples to take a piece from it and eat it; and drink from the same cup of wine — his blood. As such he invited his disciples to sacrifice themselves for others, just as he did.
Eating together at home enriches relationships due to the time and care involved in both preparing and sharing a meal. It often involves a degree of self-sacrifice. And if we include the table fellowship of Jesus as part of those special meals shared among the family or community, we are reminded of Jesus' invitation to sacrifice ourselves for others. That poses a challenge for families and communities to accept this invitation and incorporate it into their lives.
Can we begin to look at our dining table as a family "Eucharistic" table, where we share food, conversations and so much more?
The suggestion is not to replace the Eucharist in parish churches with family meals, but rather to enrich the Eucharistic experience by establishing a truly Christian life within communities. This would provide greater meaning to the dismissal "Go, the Mass is ended," which is indeed a call to "go and live the Eucharist" in the world.
Food and gatherings are synonymous in India: They cut across all religious communities and bring people together. For example, the Sikh community has its Langars while Hindus distribute "prasad" at religious functions. Moreover, during the Ramzan month of fasting, Muslims have the Iftaar, when communities share a meal to break their collective fast.
Sadly our celebrations of the Eucharist or Mass have become so ritualized that they remain exclusive and in many ways distant.
The dining table in Indian culture is generally open to all people who are willing to accept an invitation to a meal, with the sad exception of caste and class.
An Indian Catholic Christian receives the Holy Eucharist during an Ash Wednesday service at St. Mary's Basilica in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad, on Feb. 10, 2016. Catholics began the 40-day Lenten season by observing Ash Wednesday, which culminates in Holy Week. (Photo by AFP/Noah Seelam)
However, this can be overcome when we merge the table fellowship of Jesus with the temporal meal, as Jesus gives himself to all. He challenges us to be inclusive. We take extra care to make sure that food on the family table is fresh, tasty and suitable for all those who are gathered to eat. We also take care to respect religious sentiments and the different tastes of all the parties at the table, bringing in an element of solidarity as well. These positive aspects of sharing a meal are valuable in building a sense of community.
Small Christian Community (SCC) meetings often include shared food, and combining the spiritual and material in this way generates a positive feeling. Just as we do at the Eucharist, a fellowship meal can begin by welcoming, then go on to thank those who produced the food, who are almost always inadequately compensated and forgotten — for example, the farmers, vendors, cleaners and cooks. This helps to remind us of our social responsibilities.
A fellowship meal can also bring about reconciliation in the community or family. The sharing of the word using one of various gospel-sharing methods reminds us of our moorings with Jesus' teachings. In this setting, the Word of God is better internalized and implemented when shared with others. Sitting around the dining table, members share their joys, successes, disappointments and failures — and receive support and affirmation. This kind of sharing creates a greater understanding. It helps people bond and be more sensitive to each others' needs. It can truly make the home feel like a domestic church, and this is something that can be done once a day or at least once a week within the family. At special occasions, like feasts and birthday gatherings when extended families and friends or neighbors show up, the fellowship can focus on thanksgiving.
In the Small Christian Communities, a fellowship meal can be celebrated when the neighborhood community gathers to pray and share experiences based on reflections of gospel. The dining table will effectively enhance our celebration at the Eucharistic table when the sharing of a simple meal is tempered with values that flow into us through Jesus.
Virginia Saldanha is the former executive secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences Office of Laity and a theologian and freelance writer based in Mumbai.
In September 2017, Voices of Faith conducted a flash online survey for young women (ages 18-35) and invited them to share their perspectives on faith and the Catholic Church.
The survey does not statistically represent the views of young women but it offers a frank, authentic glimpse into the spiritual lives of young women from around the world who perhaps have little voice in official Church processes.
Survey respondents come from 22 countries from six continents. 53 percent of the respondents are students, while 68 percent stated that they hold full-time or part-time employment.
An estimated 300 young people from around the world will come to the Vatican March 19 - 24 for a week-long conference to prepare for the October meeting of Catholic bishops on issues facing the young today. But other young people can participate in this meeting via Facebook. The October Synod of bishops will be held between 3 and 28 October 2018 on the theme: "Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment." Cardinal Baldisseri, who heads the Vatican's synod office, said the March pre-synod event will help the bishops direct their preparations for the later meeting. "We are not speaking only 'about' them but 'with' them: They will speak to us with their own language, their own enthusiasm, their sensibility....In short, even through the new technologies of communication, the pre-synod meeting wants to broaden as much as possible the audience of young people involved so that no one should feel excluded," Cardinal Baldisseri said.
"This is a step the Church is making to listen to all youth," said Stella Marilene Nishimwe, a participant in the pre-synod gathering. "It will give us an opportunity to say everything that we think. This is an opportunity that we must really take."
A young Burundi woman living in Italy, Nishimwe told journalists that she believes the March gathering is "something that God wants from the Church, to do something new for all the youth of the world."
"Because youth from all over the world, whether they are Catholics or from other religions, have the same questions," she said, adding that she thinks it is important that the Church wants to walk with young people "in this world with so much pain, with so many questions that don't have answers."
The pre-synod meeting will give young people - those present in Rome and those online via Facebook - an opportunity to interact with Pope Francis and ask him some questions. The participants will then be split into groups based on the languages they speak and will be asked to discuss specific topics in view of creating a final document from their meeting.
So, Millennials, don't miss this opportunity of a lifetime. Go now to sign up on Facebook and make your voices heard online at this important meeting. Don't let the Vatican operatives do an end-run around your parents. Take this opportunity to let Church leaders know what you want and need from the Church. Our fear, well founded based on research, is that the deck is being stacked with obedient "yes, father" youth to be the attendees sent by Bishops Conferences worldwide to the Pre-Synod meeting in March and the Synod on Youth scheduled for October 2018. If there is to be any change in the Church, if we are to return to the spirit of Vatican II and the message of Jesus Christ that love is the fulfilling of the law [Romans13: 8-10], we need many more young people to speak up and respond to Francis's outreach. It is crucial that the voices of young people reach the special meeting called by the Holy Father this March in preparation for the Synod on youth in October. Learn more about this meeting and learn more about signing up on Facebook.
In an NCR article, it is reported that a study asks: Why are young Catholics going, going, gone? It is a well-known fact that vast numbers of young people have turned away from the Church. Why? Because they are more open to a rapidly changing world, having grown up in it without the prejudices of prior generations. From this vantage point, they see the grace of God in fresher and more vibrant terms than a Church governed by older generations. Whether it's feelings of being judged by religious leaders who don't know or understand them, or being forced by their parents to attend church, or witnessing the sexual abuse scandal and the hypocrisy of church hierarchy, young people are expressing a desire both to break free from organized religion and to be part of a community. From the perspective of those of us interested in bringing about needed reform in the church, there are certain topics that Church hierarchy noticeably avoids, particularly those directly related to:
This is a time for bringing these and other issues up that represent the wants and needs of youth today.
We live in times marked by change, but there are places where gender equality is being systematically overlooked. The Catholic Church is one of them.
Today, women are asking why the Church is so slow in recognising their value and opening governance and ministerial roles to them; roles that incorporate their faith, gifts, expertise and education into structures of authority at all levels.
Our world is facing a future more meaningful by the inclusion of women in significant positions. We will not let gender inequality undermine the longevity of the Church.
Our voices stir the winds of change, so we must speak. Will Pope Francis and our pastoral leaders listen?
Register to attend at https://voicesoffaith.org/event/
OR LIVE STREAM via the website 14:00 CET, 08:00 EST, 18:30 IST
Mumbai is a city that never sleeps. It is the industrial capital of India and much of the international business and offices are situated in the city, employing staff that are familiar with or getting familiar with the international culture. The lifestyle is fast and highly competitive for young professionals. With unforgiving workplaces that often result in people working anywhere between 8 to 14 hours a day mostly six days a week, young adults are quickly moving towards a burnout at an earlier stage of their lives. Thus, the underlying stress only seems to get carried over every weekend and entertainment or social networking becomes an easy outlet.
Amid all this, religion, faith and the family have a great potential to bring a balance in the lives of young people. However, many Christian youth in Mumbai are disillusioned by what is offered by the institution of the Catholic Church. I worked with youth for years as a student and a young professional and have had such discussions with numerous colleagues, classmates and neighbours. For this report, I invited over 20 youth to answer the questionnaire, and while all were interested, only eight could make enough time to answer a few questions and present their views about the Catholic Church. Most of the respondents informed me that they did not attend Mass regularly. They respected the Institution of the Church but could not relate to its current way of functioning. While all attended Mass regularly with their families when they were children, this practice has waned for most of them. Some found peace and solace in the quiet at home rather than the repetitive ceremony at Mass, while others found peace in the atmosphere of their church. Some attend only because they want to spend that time with the family or because of familial pressure (in Asia, most young adults either live with their parents or in-laws in a joint family system). Considering the stressful work life in Mumbai, some respondents simply chose to rest on Sunday. Mass isn’t the only place we find God. Sunday School prepared us to understand our faith, yet, it was better understood when we made our own inward journeys, analysed what we learned and applied it in our lives. Because of this, the compulsion or the dependence on Sunday Mass is reduced and we continue to live Christian lives and only attend Mass when our minds and bodies are prepared for it and are capable of making it a complete spiritual experience.
From the responses, it is evident that the youth feel that the church refuses to move with the times. However, all agreed that they noticed attempts by the hierarchy of the Church to catch up with the modern times (such as equality in the washing of the feet, mercy towards refugees, etc.), although the traditions still remain medieval. We have observed a contradiction that Christianity is about love but forces the followers to fear God with the threat of eternal damnation. The church must move ahead from believing that ‘only prayer can solve problems’ to a more realistic approach of ‘action can solve problems’ – keeping in mind the inequalities and poverty that exists in the world.