By Dennis Recio, S.J.
I once heard a talk about the three tables at which Jesuits participate. The coffee table is where Jesuits congregate to discuss news, read newspapers, or chat informally. It is there that men comment on the events of the day and find conversation over mugs of coffee or bowls of cereal. From the coffee table, one can seek companionship for entertainment events. While there are elements in this first table that are social, one reads the newspaper to gather the events of the day which, in turn, inform our approach to the mission.
At the second table, the dinner table, Jesuits gather to share meals and to visit in a more formal setting. During formation, superiors train Jesuits to refrain from committing “the salad bar shuffle,” a habit of hovering at the salad bar in order to sit with persons we like better. Just as one accepts the call to religious life as Jesus Christ invites us, so too we live that call by dining with brother Jesuits in a spirit of charitable relationship. We may not befriend all our brothers, but we expect to treat one another with a certain gracious respect which reflects the vows we live freely: poverty, chastity, and obedience. Poverty allows us to share the meal, to work for the cost of the meal, and to live with one another in freedom. Obedience makes us free to sit as the community dictates, never shirking the responsibility to have to be present to one another. Chastity makes us free to seek no relationship in exclusivity, but to allow God to grace the table through the generous spirit of one’s brethren.
Finally, Jesuits gather at the eucharistic table, the third and final table where we find rejuvenation, direction, and cause for celebration. In Jesus Christ we are unified. Through our shared prayer coupled with the life-giving fuel of the Eucharist, we gather strength to build God’s kingdom as Christ calls us. It is a place where we may listen to one another through homilies, readings, and spoken prayer, but it is ultimately a place where we listen first and foremost to our loving shepherd, Jesus Christ. Without him, the other tables lose their meaning.
As Jesuits in the 21st century, our three tables all offer something in common that challenges a culture dangerously preoccupied with technology and its myriad inventions. With these three tables, men must be present to one another, face to face, as the situation demands. At the coffee table, the dining table, and the Eucharistic table, we can neither skype our way in nor text message our response. We are expected to be present to the community we join in choice and freedom.
To be a Jesuit in the present age is to accept human relationships that will demand sacrifice and change. To be a Jesuit in the present age is to accept a richer relationship with Jesus Christ. In exchange, one may find his true authentic person, a sinner called to serve, who will spend his life deepening his relationship with Christ.
When we stand with one another before the altar, we stand united as brothers. We pray for the students we teach, for the parishioners we serve, for the homeless who seek shelter, for the sick who suffer in agony, for the dead whom we have buried.
What difficulties do you find in your relationships? What do you learn by eating and living with others?