February 13, 2011 / Praxis
An interview between TOJ Editor-in-Chief Chris Keller and the author of GENERATION EX-CHRISTIAN, Drew Dyck.
November 1, 2007
On a cold, cold night in December, just one week before Christmas, a small group stood huddled on a street corner in Galati. Among us were the college-educated and the illiterate; some came from big families; some had no one to call family; some had warm coats to shut out the wind; some had thin jackets. My journal entry records that evening like this:
Our community has done this for years, and it always runs kind of the same. We meet in the dark and stand around talking, joking, sometimes singing. Then a staff goes with a kid to get the food. The menu ranges from bread and bologna to bread and hot dogs to bread and sausage with some fresh fruit and veggies thrown in when in season. It is enough for these hungry stomachs. On Friday the condiment du jour was ketchup and I couldn’t help but notice the bread and ketchup resembled body and blood.
In the church I grew up in, before we took communion we were reminded that the bread and wine were ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.’ Well, as we stomped our feet and clapped our hands to keep warm, I was having trouble seeing the grace. I mean, the whole situation looked pretty unholy. Just a few minutes before, we had patted down the boys to check for drugs. Our feet were numb, our hands ached from the cold as we munched on processed meat, slathered with ketchup, wedged between two enormous chunks of bread.
Just a block from that corner is the church where Joel and I celebrate the Eucharist, or as they say in Romanian, “the Mystery,” each week. The setting at church is full of beauty: embroidered cloths, gilded wood, painted walls and ceilings. It is an environment fit for a king. But as I watched the boys that night through the fog of our breathing, I saw that this too was the place where a king, or rather, the King of kings would be welcomed. He dined with harlots and thieves, the most reviled of society, so drug-addicted street children would not be too much for Him. He would likely feel at home among our rag-tag dinner party.
Father Bert Thelen, a Jesuit priest and Word Made Flesh U.S.A. board member shared this about the Eucharist:
So, every time Christians anywhere gather at the Lord’s Table they have to be acknowledging their solidarity with the world’s poor. Without that, it does not make any sense. They acknowledge solidarity with the outcasts, the marginalized, the unlovely, the unloved, the unwashed, the unwanted of our species. When we do that, when we acknowledge that solidarity at that meal, we are also making a statement. This is the difficult part, this is the prophetic part: that the world’s socio-economic order is doomed to be replaced. It is not going to last. It’s going to be replaced by God’s reign, where everyone has equal access to the feast and where the only power is the power to really reach out to the poor, the power received on behalf of the poor and for the poor. Our Eucharist participation depends upon commitment to the poor.1
Perhaps the most prophetic facet of our feast was the location, right across the street from McDonald’s. In Galati, only the wealthy eat at McDonald’s and the reason the boys gather there is to beg from the people in luxury cars who come in and out. As we gathered in our very unholy setting and dined with the lost boys of society, we made a small statement about the kingdoms of this world that were turned on their head by Christ. The ketchup on bread reminded me of the very sacrifice that made our communion with God—and thus our community with the poor—possible. In my journal, I recorded, “So there can be grace, even in the absurd places, be it an upper room in Jerusalem, or a street corner in Galati.”
At church one Sunday, my son, Simeon, saw the line of people waiting for the Eucharist and said, “Mama, are we going up to take community?” We all smiled and laughed, but the impact of his word tangle has stayed with me. Community is only possible through communion. Letting ourselves be received by the Host is the only way we can truly receive others. Whether it is a cathedral or a sidewalk, the sacrament of life is a dance of opening ourselves up more and more to the grace at hand, so that we may, in turn, extend that grace to others.2
2. This article © 2006 by Word Made Flesh. Printed with permission. www.wordmadeflesh.com
Monica Klepac and her husband, Joel, have two sons, Simeon and Abram. They live in Galati, Romania, where they have been since 2000 with Word Made Flesh (WMF). WMF Romania focuses on working with children who live on the streets.