Wednesday, April 3, 2013

(112) Easter Dinner at the St. Peter's Episcopal Church Soup Kitchen and the St. Louis Church Connection..........a Beautiful Ecumenical Effort Among a Number of Local Churches in Gallipolis, Ohio


Published in the Gallipolis Daily Tribune April 2013

A typical scene at the ecumenical soup kitchen of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Gallipolis
          Every Easter is different, especially this one.  My wife works the last Sunday of every month at a local soup kitchen, which happened to fall this year on Easter Sunday.  For some 20 years now a group of volunteers from several churches cook and host a monthly Sunday dinner for the community at the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Hall in Gallipolis……a beautiful ecumenical effort among Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics, the Church of the Nazarene, etc.  The local Episcopal diocese gives a grant for equipment, food, etc. that keeps it going. 

         Our own St. Louis Catholic Church is well represented.  Gary & Sherrie Fenderbosch were involved in its founding and are currently the prime movers of Outreach, a community effort to help the poor, which got its start with St. Louis Church years ago.  Jennie Kaiser was very active in its early years.  Currently Allie Clark, Jaga Sebastian, Bruce & Jan Davison are regular volunteers.  A number of our parishioners donate food as directed by the sign-up sheet in the back of the church.  For example, Amilda Thompson donates the bread every month.  Then don’t forget our Catholic Women’s Club, which has been generous with donations as it quietly continues to make an impact upon our parish and surrounding community.  This shows that our parish not only worships and professes the faith; it puts the faith in practice……love thy neighbor. 

         Different church youth groups help occasionally as well, including our YACHT Club with their advisers, Barbara & Alan White.……packing carryouts, setting, waiting on, and bussing tables, washing dishes, etc.  It gives them all a taste of reality and social awareness.  Sooner or later a looming question must enter their young minds:  “What are YOU going to do about this?  What can WE as a community do?

            The Easter meal was substantial with the traditional Easter ham, potatoes, and string beans with a choice of tea, lemonade, and punch.  Each person received an Easter bag with imitation green straw, an Easter egg, and a plastic egg with candy inside.  For dessert they served very artistically decorated cupcakes, all with an Easter theme.  At the table there was a bowl of jelly beans.  What would Easter be without jelly beans?

          Since Jaga would have to cook again, it dawned upon us:  Why not help out and have dinner with God’s poor?  It was a great experience and an opportunity to communicate just a little bit of God’s love as His instruments!  The people were of different races and backgrounds.  One was sitting alone and so I asked if I could join him.  I started with small talk and others joined us.

           Getting to Know the Diners. “A happy Easter to you!  Kind of cold for Easter”.  “Do you come here every month?”, I asked.  “O yea.  The food’s good.  By the end of the month my money runs out.”   Thus I finally realized why they chose the last Sunday of the month for the soup kitchen, which they call “Loaves and Fishes”……a very fitting name.  Some people begin to go hungry and skimp on food as the cupboards begin to go bare at the end of the month.  With the volunteers shopping (often using their own resources), cooking, and serving, the food does seem to multiply.  The patrons count on “Loaves and Fishes” and food pantries as well as meals given by other churches around town.  The volunteers prepared and distributed a total of 276 meals, even delivering a number of meals to shut-ins.  Well over 80 people came……76 dined in the church hall and they along with others brought the remaining meals home to their families, perhaps saving some for the next day.   No questions asked.

          “Are you working or are you looking for something?”   “No, I have schizophrenia, but I’m under medication” came the reply.  Then he talked a little about himself.  Later another said he is bipolar.  Later a woman joined in and the other left.  “I had a nervous breakdown after my abusive husband left me”.   When I finished eating, I bussed a few tables.  One very articulate and talkative person started a conversation.  “I had a debilitating stroke and get dizzy.  So I can’t work near machinery and I’m on disability”.

            Insights Gained.  These are beautiful but hurting people with such great dignity and value, created according to the image and likeness of God.  They don’t fit the common stereotype of “lazy people who are happy to collect welfare checks”.  They would love to work if they could, but are not capable of holding a steady 40 hour a week job due to mental or physical disabilities.  In fact some of the patrons are also volunteers.  Nothing raises the dignity of a person more than being able to hold a job.  Of course, the ideal is to help people to help themselves through job training and education or to provide at least routine part time menial work to help them supplement their incomes.  For example, people with developmental disabilities once trained usually do better and are happier than the so called “normal” people in doing simple tasks such as janitorial work or washing dishes.  Every one of us is handicapped in one way or another and are dependent upon God.

         Communities and churches mobilizing their resources and volunteers to work with the poor as in soup kitchens is a much better and a more efficient way to help than dehumanizing handouts by Big Government because it is a labor of love and the motivation is to follow Christ’s teaching.  Furthermore, according to the Principle of Subsidiarity in Church social teaching as defined in paragraph 1883 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."  In other words, governments should not do what lower levels of Society are capable of doing. 

        The volunteers usually receive more than they give……personal satisfaction, spiritual enrichment, and the opportunity to grow in virtue as they follow the commands: “love thy neighbor”; “do unto others”; “you do it unto me”.  Here they can discover the Risen Lord in their brothers, who in turn sanctify them.  Liberal Catholics and conservative Catholics can find some common ground by working together in serving the poor in a soup kitchen.  We can never repay God for all that He has done for us, but we can serve Him by serving His people. 

        On the other hand, so often government bureaucracies are secular and impersonal where it becomes giving without love and care without concern.  But until individuals, communities, businesses giving something back, and churches are willing to do much more, we will have to be dependent upon Big Government to help local communities with aid such as matching funds.  Then we must bear the burden of continuing government deficits and an unsustainable national debt that continues to increase.

        We cannot ignore the social ills of our society; we must do something.  Since God gave the riches of the earth to all, not to a chosen few, we are stewards of our wealth, be it large or small.  Andrew Carnegie, the great but sometimes ruthless industrialist and later philanthropist realized this truth.  Thus we have a choice to make:  1) Shove our individual responsibilities upon Big Government?  Then pay more taxes and stop complaining.  2) Do we want less taxes?  OK…..then accept our social responsibilities to do our part as individuals, as businesses, as volunteers in faith based organizations, and as communities.  Retirees who are able:  volunteer your time, talent, and treasure.  Don’t become couch potatoes only to wither away and die.  You’ll be happier, more fulfilled with a sharper mind, and live longer.                  

            The Eucharistic Meal.  On April 21 ten children of our parish will receive their Holy Communion.  That brings in more insights.  At the Loaves and Fishes community dinner volunteers serve and dine with the poor, who have different handicaps and backgrounds, breaking bread with them.  That creates empathy, greater understanding, and a bond of love.  At Mass we have the same on a grander scale…….the Eucharistic Banquet.  People from all walks of life, rich and poor, healthy and disabled, different racial and ethnic backgrounds all share in the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ Himself in a mysterious way under the appearances of bread and wine.......really the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit which are inseparable.  The Eucharist binds or connects us together more closely in the Mystical Body of Christ, which we are all a part of.  This facilitates unity, reconciliation, and cooperation among people in furthering Christ’s kingdom on Earth.

          According to Fr. Robert Barron in his book, “Eucharist”, “God hosts a banquet at which His human creatures share life with Him and each other”.  Later, he notes: “Only when we sit together at the meal hosted and made possible by God will we truly sit together in peace.” 

        It’s fascinating to google “Miracles of the Eucharist” on the internet to strengthen your faith.  This will give you many videos and articles.  The most extensive is the Vatican Photographic Exhibition of the Church Approved Eucharistic Miracles of the World in several languages.  Click on  That same home page also has links to three Children’s books on the Eucharist with activities.  It also has another link to a short but fascinating descriptions of the major Marian shrines around the world and their histories, showing that Mary has been active interceding for her children and nurturing the faith through the centuries.  There is ample biblical evidence of the real presence in the gospels, especially in John 6…….”Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:54).  "This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me" (Luke 22:19).  Is the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ beyond God?

            At the Eucharistic table we receive the bread of life, heavenly food, and the graces that come with it.  Christ loves us so much that He not only suffered and died for us, but also gives us Himself in the Eucharist as often as we attend Mass.  The Creator of the universe, the King of the Universe, the Almighty, the all-knowing ingeniously creative God comes into our hearts in a real way but mysterious way, physically and spiritually for a short period of time…….a communion with the infinite!  Never, NEVER, take the Eucharist lightly!  The Eucharist brings us closer to God and gives us the strength to continue on in our quest for holiness as we journey to eternity.  In gratitude we are motivated to return some of God’s great love for us by loving others and by expressing our love to Him through praise, sacrifice, and worship.  Christian love is simply a sincere preoccupation for the good of others.  That entails putting our love into action by serving others as the volunteers do at the soup kitchen… love all, not necessarily to like everyone.

            The Jews celebrate the Passover Meal in memory of the flight from Egypt to freedom.  They offered an unblemished lamb to the Father.  Then they would consume it.  At Mass we offer the Lamb of God to the Father, as the bloody sacrifice of Calvary for our redemption is brought to us and made present in an unbloody way that transcends time.  Similarly, the Last Supper is brought to us at the Consecration and we consume the sacrificed Lamb of God, the living resurrected Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet.  Some learned theologians know all about God, but don’t know God.  The best way to know Christ personally is by receiving the Eucharist often and through Eucharistic Adoration.  Sometimes one can feel or sense the divine presence when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed.

            May our innocent first communicants stimulate their parents and us to appreciate the awesome gift of the Eucharist and to receive it EVERY Sunday and sometimes during the week.  May they and all of us grow to love Christ in the Eucharist more and more as the center, the source, and the summit of our Faith.  May we consider Eucharistic Adoration an awesome privilege to be taken advantage of at every opportunity.  May the Eucharist keep these children and every one of us always faithful to Christ and His Church……especially in fulfilling the very grave Sunday obligation.  When one becomes lax in regard to Sunday Mass and the Eucharist, one will suffer from spiritual malnutrition and sooner or later will lose the faith.  Don’t let that happen to you!  Thanks to Fr. Thomas Hamm, our very learned pastor, for checking my Theology for accuracy and giving his imprimatur.

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