Receive, Thanks, Break, Share
Father Shea tells a parable about a peasant from Crete. Story goes this way:
“There once lived a peasant in Crete who deeply loved his life. He enjoyed tilling the soil, feeling the warm sun on his naked back as he worked the fields, and feeling the soil under his feet. He loved the planting, the harvesting, and the very smell of nature. He loved his wife, his family and his friends, and he enjoyed being with them, eating together, drinking wine, talking, and making love. And he loved especially Crete, his tiny, beautiful country! The earth, the sky, the sea, it was his! This was his home.
One day he sensed that death was near. What he feared was not what lay beyond, for he knew God’s goodness and had lived a good life. No, he feared leaving Crete, his wife, his children, his friends, his home, and his land. Thus, as he prepared to die, he grasped in his right hand a few grams soil from his beloved Crete and he told his loved ones to bury him with it.
He died, awoke, and found himself at heaven’s gates, the soil still in his hand, and heaven’s gate firmly barred against him. Eventually St. Peter emerged through the gates and spoke to him: “You’ve lived a good life, and we’ve a place for you inside, but you cannot enter unless you drop that handful of soil. You cannot enter as you are now!” The man was reluctant to drop the soil and protested:
“Why? Why must I let go of this soil? Indeed, I cannot! What’s inside of those gates, I have no knowledge of. But this soil, I know … it’s my life, my work, my wife and kids, it’s what I know and love, it’s Crete! Why should I let it go for something I know nothing about?” Peter answered: “When you get to heaven you will know why. It’s too difficult to explain. I am asking you to trust, trust that God can give you something better than a few grains of soil.”
But the man refused. In the end, silent and seemingly defeated, Peter left him, closing the large gates behind. Several minutes later, the gates opened a second time and this time, from them, emerged a young child. She did not try to coax the man into letting go of the soil in his hand. She simply took his hand and, as she did, his hand opened and the soil of Crete spilled to the ground. She then led him through the gates. A shock awaited him as he entered heaven …
there, before him, lay all of Crete and so much more!
When Jesus gave us the Eucharist, he left it to us with the words: receive, give thanks, break, and share.
With these words, he was referring to a lot more than ritual for the reception of the Eucharist at a liturgy. These words contain an entire spirituality in that they lay out the way that we must live all of life.”
This story helps us to understand how to become a Eucharistic person: A person who knows how to receive, give thanks, break, and share.
Since God’s love is a free gift given unconditionally to us. We can only receive it. We cannot earn it or demand it as if it was our right. We can only receive it. The very act of holding out our hands, our body position, is an outward symbol of receiving God into our hearts.
And because we receive, it is only loyal and natural for us to give thanks. That is what the word “Eucharist” literally means, “thanksgiving.”
Next is break: breaking the bread, breaking of the Body. That is, we must break from our old selfish, prideful selves, our narcissism, individualism, self-serving ambition, and all the other things that prevent us from letting go of ourselves so as to truly be with others… then we must turn to the new, turn toward God. “Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev 21:5)
And here we are: share. Sharing is about getting out of oneself and connecting to something larger than oneself. It is about connecting to God, about connecting with others, realizing that we are part of a community, the Body of Christ… we are a branch of the Vine. It is about sharing those received God’s gifts of love with others.
Once, someone summarized all that is wrong the world in one image, that of the group photo. Whenever anyone looks at a group photo, he or she always first looks how he or she turned out and, only afterwards, considers whether or not it is a good picture of the group. Now breaking the eucharistic bread has a lot to do with looking first at how the group turned out.
At this time of the year, during Lent, our church invites us to recognize what each has received from the Lord, to give thanks and then to share -at least- a portion of it for the good of others. Because if we insist on holding on to what we have received, as the man in our parable, then we risk losing everything.