Table fellowship. Sharing a meal. Breaking bread together. Think of all of the Gospel stories in which themes of food for the body and food for the spirit are intertwined and lead to breakthrough-type growth: the feeding of the multitude with a few loaves and fish, dinner at the tax collector’s home, supper on the road to Emmaus, breakfast by the lakeshore and, of course, the Last Supper.
Yesterday, I had two refresher courses in the power of the meal — experiences that invited all of us present to tell stories about life, to remember blessings, to dream dreams. Both meals were fun. They were encouraging. Each carried lessons for all of us.
The first meal — lunch at Bully Hill Vineyard in Hammondsport — honored Bob Turissini upon his retirement as chairperson of the Steuben County Board of Catholic Charities. Sister Mary Ann Binsack, RSM, Vicars General Father Joseph Hart and John Mulligan, diocesan Catholic Charities Director Jack Balinsky and I joined Bob’s wife, Liz, his fellow board members, Catholic Charities staffers and other friends to honor Bob for his remarkable contributions to the development of Catholic Charities in the Steuben region.
Bob was the driving force behind the movement. He recruited people to join him in his groundbreaking efforts. He has been generous in his financial support from the beginning until now, and has successfully encouraged others to share their time, talent and treasures to make Catholic Charities in Steuben County the important presence it is now in the region.
It was quite a moving experience to hear a variety of individuals tell stories of Bob’s impact on Catholic Charities. I had the sense as I listened that their experience of Bob was similar to my own. We all admire what he has done. That’s for sure. But, perhaps even more, we admire the way he has done it. He does everything with a true reverence and respect for the dignity and humanity of coworkers and the people they serve. He is honest, mature, wise, smart — and, unfailingly a gentleman.
To hear the stories, to note the humility with which Bob received such honest praise, to share Liz’s joy and to be in the company of great friends was indeed wonderful nourishment for the spirit. All of it reminded me that great things happen when individuals, like Bob, share their God-given gifts generously and wisely.
The day took us from Hammondsport, where we honored Bob, to Weedsport, where we celebrated Eucharist and confirmation with Our Lady of the Snow Parish.
Another memorable meal. This time, I was at the table with Father John Gathenya, Sister Mary Ann and the four young people who were to be altar servers at the liturgy: Matthew and Cortney Harris, Erica Bye and Carrigan Serafine.
It was the first time in my memory that I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a meal with altar servers before a liturgy. I hope that it’s not the last! Siblings Matthew and Cortney are in 11th and 9th grade, respectively; Erica and Carrigan are sixth-graders.
We explored issues like hair and shoe styles, text messaging, hopes for the future, music, sports, family, favorite foods and life in the parish.
As you might expect, it was a wonderfully life-giving experience for me and — I think I can say safely for their pastor, Father John, and Sister Mary Ann. I must confess that I needed a great amount of tutoring from the kids when the conversation flowed into today’s language and technology of social communication. But they were patient and kind about it, and I learned a great deal. Dear Carrigan also was patient with us when we sang “C-A-double R-I-G-A-N spells ‘Carrigan.'” She had to explain Twitter to me. I had to explain George M. Cohan to her.
Erica spoke about her love for bread, talking and school activities. Cortney and Matthew’s interaction at table was a window into their warm relationship with one another and with their family. I smiled through the evening and have smiled often at the memory of those moments.
Today, looking back at the two meals, I remember that the food in both cases was great. And, I remember the nourishment received from the people at table. Bob with a lifetime of achievement behind him carries a thirst for and openness to life into tomorrow. The kids at Weedsport look to the future with a similar thirst and openness. They all inspire me very much. They invite me and help me to appreciate the reality of my own life at this time. I am happy to do that. I’m happy about that not because my life is perfect but because, as Bob and the kids so beautifully remind me, that’s where and how I’ll find God’s ways with me.
Peace to all.