By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published July 3, 2008
The Eucharist is a living mystery, the gift of Jesus of himself to his church. It is his life, given to us, that makes us a church, a people gathered by the Spirit and renewed with the very life of God.
The archdiocese celebrates this great gift with an annual day of festive remembrance, a day set aside to remember how Jesus remembers us.
We do what he asked of us to do—to remember him in and through the Eucharist.
Recently, our Abbot Francis Michael expressed to the community a concern that we are entering a time when we may not have enough adequately trained monks to teach our new arrivals—the men who come to join us and who are in need of theological training. He said that we would soon meet as a community and discuss possible alternatives to offer those who come to us a good and solid basis in the teachings of the church, the tradition of our order, the paths of spiritual growth.
On other occasions, he has said as well that it is the community that really forms a man. I agree with that. I know from my own years here how deeply I have absorbed a richly textured pattern of life, given to me by the day-to-day living with so many different people. Ideally, theological training as it is offered in a classroom environment should open one’s heart to what is taking place outside the class—the ways and means of God as He reveals himself through our community life. Our life here is an ongoing lesson, a classroom of church, psalms, sharing meals, work, sleeping, waking, praying, struggling with the highs and lows of what it means to be human and made in the image and likeness of God.
Seen in that light, our life here is a wealth of learning. The seemingly small things are harbingers of great lessons. My hope is by the end of this brief essay, you may look into your life, on any given day, and see and taste what the Eucharist is about.
If we were to reach a point where our formal educative endeavors are weak, I take heart in knowing that the best of lessons will still continue.
Most evenings, I head over to the retreat house after vespers to be available to the guests. It is then suppertime, and Father Anthony is most always a welcome presence in the retreat house dining area. He has a warm way with people. He says a nice grace before meals, welcomes the retreatants with a smile, and then when the guests have taken their food, we head back and sit together at a small table. If there is pasta, or a salad, Father Anthony always nudges the plate before me and says, with a smile, “Here, take, have some.” Sharing comes so naturally to him.
He gave a homily this past week on love and told us about how when he was a little boy, growing up in the mining area of Pennsylvania, he would hear men talking as early as four in the morning, and when he looked out his window he saw the miners gathering to be taken to the mines. They would not come back until four in the afternoon, their faces covered with grime and dust, and once a week they would go to the bank and cash their paychecks. The money was used for food and rent and necessities for their families.
Father Anthony was talking about the love of God that came through the ordinary labors of the lives of those men. As he spoke, I thought of how those men had no idea that a young boy was watching from a window, and how that boy is now a Trappist monk, and how it is that he has mined his own heart for such a beautifully ordinary memory. Those long ago men mined coal and in a wondrous way became the diamonds of an older man’s memories and his hunger to see God in human labor and love. Father Anthony shares his memories in as generous a way as he shares his food.
There may come a time when we lack here the scholarly expertise to fine-tune words and theological approaches to the divine in our midst, in our history. A new arrival may meet Father Anthony, who will smile at him and welcome him and offer him food, and share with him tender and moving memories of the past, when he saw God at work in the ordinary, in work and grime and hunger.
Maybe, too, someone will take note, and, like me, write about it and share it with others. But I want you to know that the sharing comes first. The event takes place, and then we marvel and rejoice, and eat—and then, maybe, write.
God feeds us first and always—such is Eucharist, such are our lives with each other. We may run out of books and teachers, eloquence of words and lofty patterns of thoughts and words. But food will be passed across a table with a smile, and in the morning, bright and early, bread will be blessed and broken and wine shared, and hopefully we will delight in the lesson God gives us through how we live and love each other. This gift of life, best expressed and shared through the Eucharist—right here.
“Take, eat, have some, have all, forever.”