I’ve always been drawn to tables. One of my favorites is a simple enamel top kitchen table circa 1930s that was in my grandmother’s kitchen. I would sit on a red vinyl high stool while she would prepare pies, roasts and afternoon snacks on its cool white top with black trim. I would imagine my mother sitting in the same high chair when she was a girl watching the same way I did. The table bound these three generations of women together.
Tables, by their nature, bring people together. Whether it’s an intimate family dinner or a banquet of many, tables are where we share our hopes and dreams, our hurts and sorrows. Tables are where life happens: meals, homework, paying the bills, late night talks and early morning coffee. It is no wonder that Jesus chose the table as His preferred place to minister. He understood the intimacy and healing that comes from sitting at the table.
Sadly and too often, tables become places of exclusion. Race, economics, gender, religious affiliation all become barriers to full participation in society. Often institutions and governments create policies that keep people excluded from the Table of Life. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are reminded of our call to welcome all to the table, especially the economically poor, the vulnerable, the outcast. Part of that call to welcome is working for changes in policies that keep people excluded.
At the 2008 Columban U.S. Regional Assembly, we said of our mission in the U.S., “We are called to a spirituality of tablefellowship.” In the five years since that gathering, we have placed our structures and programs at the service of fulfilling that vision of communion. Our mission centers, invitation programs, Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Ministry are all ways that we seek to bring people to the table and into the fullness of life. (John 10:10)Not surprising, more recently at our 2012 General Assembly we named “Called to Communion” as our guiding vision for the international Columban Society for the coming six years. We were inspired by the image of communion that came from the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, Aparecida, 2007 which says “The Church is communion in love.”
Today, my grandmother’s kitchen table now sits in my home. More than a piece of furniture, it reminds me of the warmth and love that comes from sharing at the table. This month we celebrate Pentecost, another reminder that God’s love is endlessly personal and universal. It is this love that binds us together and brings us all to the Table.
Originally seen in Columban Mission Magazine (May 2013)