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The Catholic moment: What’s for supper, Grandpa?

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January 12, 2011

By Jeanne Hunt


There was a country television program years ago called “Hee Haw” in which the audience asked the question, “Hey, Grandpa, what’s for supper?”
Grandpa would come to the window of his house and reel off a delicious menu. “Southern fried chicken, mashed potatoes and country gravy, real buttered beans and savory biscuits….” No matter what Grandpa said, I wanted to come to his table.

It wasn’t just the menu, it was the implication that, when family gathered at the table, memories were being made. In the deep of winter, we have a perfect opportunity to celebrate family values at our tables. When we come to the secular table and break bread, we are teaching something deeper: At every table, as we break bread and share our thoughts and joy, Eucharist continues. Jesus Christ comes to table with us.

Altars are echoes of what we have encountered in our homes. I like to imagine that Jesus had His own memories of great family moments. Mary’s home cooking and Joseph’s passionate family talk formed their son to believe that the table was the heart of the home. The sacred altar stands in the center of every parish church as a mystical sign of the union of God and His family. We can only enter this mystical space if we recognize it, if we already know what happens at a table.

When we begin to see on this deeper level, there is a grace to every gathering. Last month, I joined three priests — a pastor, his senior priest resident and my preaching partner — at supper before preaching a parish mission. The meal was simple, but the spiritual food was pure gourmet. Over soup and salad, we talked of the parish, the meaning of our ministry, our frustrations and our triumphs. Each of us acknowledged that we are grateful for the understanding and support we experienced. What knocked my socks off was the fact that ordinary bread breaking was so holy. I felt bolstered up, restored, hopeful.

In these times when priests struggle with outside tensions, these three brothers encouraged and lifted each other up in a way that only Jesus could manage. As I reflected on that graced meal, I realized that all of us have a similar opportunity: Such grace is available at every table for every family.
We can restore the power of the family meal with very little effort. It is time to change the way we eat supper, especially Sunday supper. While family life is not like it was in Grandpa’s time, we can single out a few meals each week for a celebration of nourishment and love. Eucharist is exactly that kind of celebration.

Invite your family and friends to come your table. Don’t worry about fancy food or elaborate menus. The important thing is that we have come together to open our hearts and homes to one another and God. Of course, the meal begins with a blessing. Each person should be invited to pray. This is not the place for the quick, memorized table grace. We need to make it personal and intimate. Thank God for food and friends with gusto, light candles to reinforce our Catholic belief that light symbolizes Christ with us at the table.

Then, let the Spirit orchestrate the meal: While you eat, start the dialogues of love. Ask questions of children that require more than a one-word answer. Tell family stories, listen to the unspoken feeling being expressed and share the good and bad of your week. At the end of the meal, pray again for all that was said and ask a blessing on each one at table.

Is this a holy encounter? You bet it is. God is just like Grandpa at the window: He wants us to come to His table and enjoy it all.

Hunt is the catechetical and evangelization advisor for St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications.

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