The teacher says, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”
With this question in this kind of clandestine encounter in Mark’s gospel the stage is set for the Last Supper where the Lord enters into his sacrifice for us and where he gives us his very body and blood that we might have life. It is worthy, I think, to reflect on this question of our Lord, “Where is my guest room?” because it is a question that our Lord continues to ask now throughout history and in each of our lives. Where, amidst all the distractions of life, might I meet you? Where might I encounter you? Where might I be welcomed by you? Where might I bring you life and share with you my very body and blood?
One way to begin to understand the great mystery we celebrate today as Church – the mystery of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – is to reflect on the different contexts, the different “guest rooms” through which we ourselves have been privileged to encounter and experience that mystery.
On June 3rd I celebrated my twentieth anniversary of ordination. As a priest – not by merit but by call – one is privileged to serve at the altar and in this “guest room” of our Lord. Whenever we gather for Mass we are gathered at that Last Supper of our Lord with his disciples. It is an amazing thing really yet so common that it can be taken for granted. Praying over the gospel this past week has led me to reflect on all the “guest rooms” that I have been privileged to enter into these past twenty years where our Lord encounters his people in the gift of the Eucharist.
The chapels at the two seminaries I attended – daily encounters along with friends wrestling with the same questions of call and vocation. The warehouse church of All Saints Church in Knoxville which had no air-conditioning; where you had to turn off the industrial fans in order to hear the readings and the homily. The chapel at Knoxville Catholic High School celebrating Mass with classes and different sports teams before a game. The old A-frame church of St. Mary’s in Athens which shook whenever a truck drove by and then the new church that we built with devotion and sacrifice. The little chapel of the ETSU Catholic Center tucked away in a neighborhood by the university where we would celebrate Mass, move the chairs around and then sit down for dinner together. The chapel at UTC where we did the same thing … college ministry revolves around food! The auditorium at Notre Dame High School, up on a stage trying to help high school students encounter Christ as both Lord and friend. Now here, in this beautiful church and community of St. Dominic’s – at the church and at the school.
But there have been other “guest rooms” I have been privileged to enter these twenty years – the chapel where Bl. Oscar Romero was shoot and killed, the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastavere, Rome for the celebration of Pentecost when at the main altar my friend, Fr. Marco Gnavi, tapped me on the shoulder pointing upwards where I looked to see rose petals being dropped from the top of the church’s dome for the feast, the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the chapel of an orphanage in El Salvador, an outdoor altar in Assisi, Italy where St. Francis often prayed, at a poor senior center on the outskirts of Rome, on the boat of some friends, at national youth gatherings of twenty-five thousand people and in innumerable small gatherings of two or three, in nursing homes in South Bend, IN and New York City. In my mother’s room at the Assisted Care facility where she lived her last years with just she and I sitting at a table.
It is worthwhile to reflect on the “guest rooms” we have been privileged to enter in our own individual journeys of discipleship. On this feast when we reflect on this great mystery of the Eucharist, I encourage us to take the time to do this. We each have them – our home churches, places of retreat, churches we have stumbled upon while on a trip or vacation, churches we have entered for funerals, baptisms or weddings. For each of these places and each of these moments sharing in the Body and Blood of our Lord we should give thanks because they are indeed holy places and moments filled with beauty and life – places and moments where we have encountered the Lord and where he has fed, nourished and strengthened us with his Body and Blood and with his Word. The very contexts of encounter, the “guest rooms” where we have met and received our Lord in the Eucharist themselves lead us into a greater understanding of this most sacred and holy of mysteries.
I think it safe to say that the true “guest room” our Lord most earnestly seeks to be welcomed into and dwell within is each person’s heart. God wants nothing other than what is best for us. God wants relationship with us and to give us his very life! If priests are able to help facilitate this encounter, even in the smallest way, then we are indeed among the most blessed of people – given a richness that the world can never afford.
I give thanks to God for these twenty years and for the “guest rooms” that the Lord has allowed me to enter to encounter Him and to serve his people.