There was room at the table. In fact, there was more than enough room as I joined my friends in the dining hall after mass one Sunday at school. It was a beautiful tradition – after mass, we shared in faith and fellowship over Sunday brunch at our “Catholic table.” Squeezing as many Catholics as we possibly could around a round table in the middle of the dining hall, sometimes people placed their plates on their lap, just because there wasn’t physical room on the table, but they wanted to join the crowd. They knew they belonged there. It was a wonderful, loving place. A place where friends convened, inspired, discussed, and shared about their weeks and their plans for the upcoming school week.
So, during my last semester at school, as I walked into the dining hall after Mass, I searched out our Catholic table and went to join the 4 others who had started it that day. No doubt others would join us – they always did. Sure enough, after I sat down, 3 others joined us, followed shortly by 2 more. The 10 of us sat comfortably around the round table when 3 of our close Catholics friends came by. Hurriedly, we began the well-known routine of scooting over, moving cups and plates, grabbing napkins and shoving aside chairs to make room. We called out joyfully as the small group approached – “hey guys! Come join us!”
They paused, looked at the table, and said “but there’s no room.”
No room? We’d just made room.
“Yes there is!” We insisted. “Come sit down! See, look! We made room!”
“There’s no room.”
We at the table looked at each other confused. These were 3 people who had been witness to our crammed tables before. They’d witnessed when we’d fit a record 27 people at a table. What did they mean there was no room?
“More people are coming… there’s not enough room.” One of the girls said. “We’ll start another table.” As the 3 of them walked off, we sat and looked at the table – half empty where we’d cleared our stuff to make room.
Another Catholic friend came up and paused. Seeing the 2 tables, he looked from one to the other and back. “What’s going on?” He asked.
We explained to him what had happened and asked him to join our table. The other table called out “We moved over here to make room for you! Sit down!” And he sat with them.
We jokingly began to yell insults at each other – the tables teasing each other over the lack of unity. As people arrived from mass, they joined a table, making excuses like “I like change!” when they sat with the “new” table, or “founding church is the truth!” and sitting with us. As much as it was playful, there was a part of me that was truly hurt. Why didn’t they want to sit with us? We’d made room, we wanted them to sit with us, what had changed?
The final teaser insult came from our table. “Lutherans!” someone called over. A table of Lutherans glowered at us, and then everything became quiet. We ate the rest of our meal, squished onto one side of the table, with a huge empty space staring at us from the other side of the table. It cried out to be filled, and part of me felt even more betrayed…what did they mean there was no room? Look at all the room right in front of us.
Then I realized something. The final call of “Lutherans!” fit perfectly. (And it’s not because we hate Lutherans!) It’s because I suddenly understood how it is the Church must see our separated protestant brethren. The same way that I longed for them to join us, and felt hurt when they refused, is the way the Church longs for her lost children to come back. Furthermore, I thought, maybe they really don’t think there’s enough room. If that’s the case, then it’s even sadder. Because we made room for them, and there was plenty of it, but they couldn’t see that everyone could fit. So too, it made me aware of how sad the disunity within Christianity is. It’s even sadder, because Protestants don’t think there’s room for them in the Church. I don’t mean that as in they don’t feel welcome, though that may sometimes be the case. I mean that in the sense of they don’t see where their beliefs truly fit in the Catholic Church. They don’t see where the love and the truth they seek is calling out to them “Come! Join us!” because they’re sitting somewhere else.
What’s more, I thought, it becomes yet sadder when our separated brethren see the Church and decide that it’s no place for them. Because, the fact is, that the Church does want them, and when they sit at another table, there is a large, gaping, glaring hole in the Church. Our table felt empty, and conversation hurt because our friends weren’t there. So the same, I realized, is true with the Church. There is a hole that longs to be filled, needs to be filled, because the Church hurts when it’s empty.
So I began that night to pray for unity within the Church. I remain hopeful that I may come to see a re-union of Christianity in my lifetime, and I hope that others may come to see that there is room – there will always be room – at the Table of our Lord’s Supper.