Guess who’s coming to dinner? was the title of a provocative movie fifty years ago, but it may as well be the subtitle of my life. Reflecting last week over the experiences that marked my two decades of being a priest, one of the aspects that struck me was the people with whom I have dined.
My family had dinner together every evening; the five of us were the constant cast at our table. Sure, we would dress up and move from the kitchen table into the dining room for holidays and such, but we were always there together.
Moving off to college brought the adventures of a university dining hall, and never knowing who would be seated across the table. My senior year, my roommate and I dined in together four nights a week; it built a great friendship – and was very cheap.
Moving to Washington bought me into the proximity of all sorts of people, though I dined with few of them beyond my peers. I do remember dining at midnight in a conference room one festive Thanksgiving with my entire shift.
It was then I met Father Brainerd – remember him? Dining with him was always an adventure and instructional. He introduced me to French restaurants – including the one halfway up the Eifel Tower.
Once I entered seminary, and especially the North American College in Rome, dinner got really interesting. It was like the randomness of the undergraduate dining hall, but with priests, seminarians, and other people from around the U. S. and the world, and the occasional Cardinal sitting down just to keep us alert.
Once I was ordained a priest, the most amazing thing happened: people invited me to dine in their homes. All sorts of people, all sorts of dining: with and without babies and small children, in large families and small; with friends and neighbors mixed in, or just us; formal, or frenzied.
When I worked as Cardinal McCarrick’s secretary, I sat down with him and his guests rarely, but those occasions included international celebrities, his extended family, and government officials local and national.
But when I moved in with Cardinal Baum, it got really interesting. He included me at every meal he hosted in his formal dining room overlooking Saint Peter’s Square. One memorable dinner conversation explored the Second Vatican Council – and there were six people present who had participated in it. I heard about the Nazi occupation of Rome from a Benedictine who was sub-prior when the Gestapo came to search the monastery. And once I was at the same table with Cardinal Ratzinger, less than a year before he became Pope Benedict XVI.
At those dinners, I spoke little and listened much.
It is because of this experience, I suppose, that since coming to Saint Bernadette, in order to build the community of the house, I have hosted dinners for the priests and seminarians who have lived here, including but not limited to the inimitable Father Food; I have extended invitations to friends and newcomers to give them an experience of that community; and I have dined often with you, the faithful and generous people of this parish. It is at the table that authentic communion is established.
Blessed is he who is called to the banquet of the Lamb. I guess it is you and I who are coming to dinner; thank God!