Sunday, July 22
By Father Tom Hurley
Many years ago, when I was a student in the seminary, I can recall that in many Catholic circles there was an increasing emphasis upon the value of hospitality when it came to the rite of holy communion. As many were trying to better appreciate the gift and the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical reforms, I remember that many churches were introducing an adaptation to the communion rite by having the communion ministers themselves receive AFTER everyone else in the assembly had received. The point of having the ministers receive afterwards was a theological attempt to say “just as in your home, the one hosting normally eats last, so too in this moment, the one sharing holy communion should also eat last.” While I totally understand the theological underpinnings of such a move, I know that adaptation was short-lived in the church’s liturgical life. It was just something the Official church couldn’t fully embrace. As we know, that happens.
I was a young priest when the late Archbishop Francis George came to Chicago for his new assignment back in 1997. While I respected him as the Cardinal Archbishop, I can vividly recall the first time he saw that liturgical audible taking place. I happened to be one of his Master of Ceremonies at the time and during one of the first masses he celebrated in Chicago, he turned to me at communion time and asked when the communion ministers were going to receive. I reported to him that those who organized the mass said they would receive last, after all the people. (I totally threw the liturgical planners under the bus…shame on me!) He was none too happy to hear that. And I knew then that a new sheriff had arrived in town! On the ride back to his residence, in his frustration, Francis George schooled me on the theology of why the ministers should receive first: “You can’t give what you don’t have!”, I remember him saying to me in the car. That made sense to me. Though I didn’t always agree with the late cardinal, I always enjoyed listening to him. He was one intelligent cookie.
The point of this reflection is not to argue, rightly or wrongly, about when communion ministers should receive. It’s not exactly a compelling topic. But the words of the late cardinal ring in my ear as I think about those words from Mark’s gospel today. Referring to the life of the apostles who had just returned from their mission trips to proclaim the Kingdom of God, Mark tells us: “People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat!” I think of the cardinal’s wisdom: you can’t give what you don’t have! We can’t do much on an empty tank. If there’s no spiritual nourishment coming in, then how can we expect to be those who nourish the souls of another?
So what does Jesus do for his hungry, tired friends? He takes them away in a boat by themselves to a deserted place. We need to renew. We need to replenish the tank. We can’t possibly do the mission of the Church unless we are feasting on the Bread of Life. We will grow lethargic in our spirit if we don’t take care of ourselves. We can’t feed the crowds unless we allow the Good Shepherd to feed us.
Having just returned from the border of Mexico and the USA last week, I was struck by the many immigrants and asylum seekers I encountered in a short three day immersion trip. It was an eye opening experience to see not only the plight of the poor immigrant, but also the tender response by some of the greatest heroes of the church. We visited various Catholic respite centers on our trip in Texas and in Mexico and at each location I couldn’t help but think about the words of Mark’s gospel: they were like sheep without a shepherd. So many of the people we met appeared so sullen, as if their hopes for a better life had been dashed. But when I think about the amazing ministry of so many women religious (nuns) who minister on a daily basis to these sisters and brothers of ours, I marvel at the ways in which these holy women and countless volunteers feed and nourish the gift of Hope and Compassion to those who need it most.
We live in a demanding world. Let’s take care of ourselves as best we can. Nourish your soul. Take care of your spirit. We can’t give what we don’t have.
Fr. Tom Hurley