Edwin Victor, S.J., a native of India, has spent lots of time living among Muslims in his country, acquiring an intimate knowledge of their religion and language (Urdu).
In a March 21, 2005, article in America, a Jesuit weekly magazine, Father Edwin wrote about an experience he had while studying in a prominent Indian madrasa (religious training school for Muslims).
“At the madrasa,” Father Edwin writes, “the students and I ate together off the same plate. One student told me: ‘We eat together like this at home. It is the mark of being together as one family. You are a member of our family. It is a sign of our trust for one another.’ As I shared meals with my Muslim friends, I felt close to the way Jesus related to people. For Jesus a meal was a symbol of life and relationship. Through a simple meal he built up an everlasting relationship between his friends and his Father.”
Father Edwin quoted one of the Muslim students as saying, “When we eat from the same plate, our love for one another is deepened.” Father Edwin went on to observe, “Sharing meals in this way helped me to feel more deeply united with them and to understand the joys and agonies of their lives.”
The symbolism of eating from one plate is very meaningful—and a wonderful idea to apply to the Eucharist.
Pope Benedict and Eucharist
The day after his election to the papacy on April 20, Pope Benedict XVI made several comments on the Eucharist in his first message to the cardinals.
“In a very significant way,” Benedict said, “my pontificate starts as the Church is living the special year dedicated to the Eucharist....The Eucharist, the heart of the Christian life and the source of the evangelizing mission of the Church, cannot but be the permanent center and the source of the Petrine service entrusted to me.
“The Eucharist makes the Risen Christ constantly present: Christ who continues to give himself to us, calling us to participate in the banquet of his Body and his Blood. From this full communion with him comes every other element of the life of the Church, in the first place the communion among the faithful, the commitment to proclaim and give witness to the gospel, the ardor of charity toward all, especially toward the poor and the smallest.”
Pope Benedict assured the cardinals that the Eucharist would be at the center of World Youth Day in Cologne in August and at the Synod of Bishops in October.
“I ask everyone,” he added, “to intensify love and devotion to the eucharistic Jesus and to express in a courageous and clear way the real presence of the Lord....”
From One Plate to One Body
Just as eating off the same plate can deepen unity among family members or friends, so when we share with proper awareness the one plate at the Eucharist, we deepen unity and love among ourselves and with the whole Catholic community.
Pope Benedict took this eucharistic dynamic one step further. “Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist,” the pope asserted, “Catholics cannot but feel stimulated to tend toward that full unity for which Christ hoped and prayed in [the Upper Room].”
The pope then confided that “his primary commitment” as the successor of Peter would be “that of working tirelessly toward the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers.”
Building Up the Whole Human Family
Just as Christ in the Eucharist calls us to pursue the ecumenical dream of becoming one vast eucharistic community embracing all the Christian Churches, so also he calls us to promote the unity and development of the whole human family.
Again, the one-plate model helps us here. A basic principle of Catholic social teaching is that the earth’s resources belong to all. Mother Earth, so to speak, presents to each of us the goods of creation on one plate, and each deserves a fair share of the Creator’s blessings.
The Eucharist serves as a good model in this regard. In that Holy Banquet, each person receives an equal part of the one loaf, which is Christ himself. And each is fully satisfied. And so it should be with the banquet of creation. Everyone has an equal right “to be seated at the table of the common banquet,” to use the words of Pope John Paul II in On Social Concern, #33.
Because of human greed, however, faulty international policies, unfair trade laws and the tendency of the rich to exploit the poor, many disadvantaged brothers and sisters are not able to find even a seat at the table—much less a fair share of the one plate of creation.
Part of our calling as a eucharistic community is to go out and work alongside people of all faiths and perspectives in the struggle for a more united, loving and just world where everyone in the human family has an equal right to participate fully in the banquet of creation.
In similar tones, Pope Benedict affirmed that the Church wants to work with everyone “in a search for the true good of mankind and of society.” Asking God for “unity and peace for the human family,” Pope Benedict pledged “the willingness of all Catholics to cooperate for true social development, one that respects the dignity of all human beings.”—J.W.