Setting the Table for Eucharist and Dignity

This past Sunday, the Gospel focused on Jesus, the bread of life. In this blog post, Michael Carlson reflects on how our celebration of the Eucharist leads us to mission in our communities.

Michael Carlson HeadshotFood is a crucial part of Catholicism. Most obviously, the true presence in the Eucharist is our spiritual nourishment. It is also important, though, to remember that we receive the Eucharist as a community. In an elementary way, sharing a meal is an intimate act, a mutual admission of our humanness and reliance on food. It is generally considered impolite to eat in front of a guest without offering her the opportunity to share that experience. Inviting someone to dine with you in your home remains a significant gesture of friendship. Sharing a meal is an ancient sign of trust. Recognizing this, Jesus challenges us:

“When you give a luncheon or dinner…invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” (Luke 14:12-14)

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) funds organizations that are managed by people in need who serve those in their community also in need. By funding them, CCHD doesn’t just invite them to dinner; CCHD gives the hungry a way to invite others to dinner. Community organizations funded by CCHD are groups that don’t simply provide food to the hungry. These groups set tables and invite the hungry to dine with them.

In the Naugatuck Valley in the Archdiocese of Hartford, employment is scarce. However, the region’s aging population has recently created a burgeoning local market for domestic workers for home health care. Unfortunately, these workers often lack rights. For example, domestic workers were excluded from laws protecting them from discrimination and sexual harassment. The Naugatuck Valley Project listened to the experiences of the community members and their stories. CCHD helps fund the organization’s work; after all, Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum and numerous social encyclicals following it have insisted that all workers deserve dignity in their place of employment.

Naugatuck Valley Project’s persistent advocacy for workers’ rights paid off on June 30, 2015, when the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was signed into Connecticut law. The law benefits not only the workers in the Valley, but also the entire community, which is challenged and invited by the new law to better recognize the dignity of all community members. Just as food and the Eucharist itself are meant to be shared, so is dignity. CCHD helps organizations like Naugatuck Valley Project share the dignity that all people need as much as all people need food itself.

There are many organizations around the country that do work similar to the Naugatuck Valley Project. See how organizations in your community address the root causes of poverty by visiting the Poverty USA.

Michael Carlson is an alumnus of the CCHD intern program who served the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office of Catholic Social Justice in New Haven. He is currently a master’s candidate at Yale Divinity School.

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