In our despair and anguish, the one thing we can be assured is that the Real Presence of God is at hand. Pixabay

We’re all worthy guests at the Father’s table

  • May 2, 2024

At a Project Rachel retreat, one participant approached a facilitator toward the end of the weekend. Since it was disclosed from the beginning, she knew that some of the people on the retreat team had abortions and others had not. “Why?” she asked, incredulous. “Why would someone who’s never had an abortion want to spend their time helping us who have?”

Surprising though the question seems at first, it reveals a kind of inner anguish that many people bear, often without even knowing. Project Rachel retreatants are people who’ve found themselves suffering from having had abortions; they’ve taken the risk of contacting strangers and asking for help in finding peace with themselves and with God. Pope John Paul II predicted such women would become “promoters of a new way of looking at life.” And they are.

But why shouldn’t someone want to help others, in whatever difficult circumstance they find themselves, including circumstances quite different from one’s own? Isn’t that a Christian duty? What’s surprising here?

These thoughts, reasonable though they might seem in response to the woman’s question, don’t penetrate very far into the human heart, with its shadows, corners and trackless deserts. Many human hearts are tightly encased by bars and walls, often engraved with labels like: “worthless,” “shameful,” “garbage.”

A person’s heart can be quite unaware of those inner bars and engravings, which keep her locked out of her own inmost self. She can simply operate from day-to-day as though she (or he) really is worthless, shameful garbage. She might spend all her energy trying to hide the “truth” from herself and others, or make up for it by doing good things, or pretend not to care by doing bad things.

We humans are equipped to cope with the pains and hurts of life, whether self-inflicted or other-inflicted, by tucking them away and carrying on. It’s a built-in protection that can keep us from utter destruction in face of shattering events. Carrying on, though, might come at the price of seemingly irrational anger or rage, depression or anxiety, compulsion or addiction, to name but a few familiar methods. These crutches and canes can look terrible to outsiders, or they can look wonderful — think fentanyl addiction on the one hand and compulsion-to-help-out-at-church on the other. The carrying-on can continue a long time, but not forever. The anguish can be deeply hidden, but doesn’t go away.

Who will deliver us from our misery? (Romans 7:24). Who knows the secret to penetrating the prison and springing the trap, without compromising the infinite dignity and freedom of the person caught within?

The answer is not to be found in ever-more sophisticated artificial intelligence, hyper-healthy diets or ingenious therapies, exciting though these may be. The remedy is already well-known, readily available and impossible to monetize. It brings healing that happens in the twinkling of an eye and which takes a lifetime.

The retreatant’s question came out of a heart long-encased in the prison of worthlessness. Unexpected, she’s now suddenly discovering she wasn’t alone in that prison, and in truth never had been. She bravely brought to the retreat her broken heart, allowing it to be heard, her face to be seen, her wound of shame to be touched by flesh-and-blood people of equal worth. Through the presence of the people gathered by Christ, and in particular through the priesthood, came the sacramental encounter of forgiveness and communion.  

Even emptiness, isolation and rejection can turn out to be doors into a Presence so real it makes the hardest things seem soft and gentle. Pain and anguish, those seemingly merciless tyrants, are revealed to be shape-shifters that know how to herald grace and joy.  

God didn’t go away after Easter Sunday leaving us to fix ourselves up and get to Him on our own. It might seem strange, so soon after Easter and soon Pentecost, to return to the Last Supper. But the Real, personal Presence of God among us remains with us. The Body of Christ is ours to know, taste and share. 

Why spend time helping people? Our own experience of mercy and forgiveness urges us on. If we forget what we’ve received, if we get comfortable or frightened and want to lock ourselves in again, those experiences remind us that peace comes from mercy that never ceases to flow. From forgiveness that never says “you don’t deserve it.” We become guests of honour at the Father’s table. Alone we can do nothing. But we are not alone.

The Church has a centuries-old practice of carrying the Real Presence in procession through towns and cities. This happens on the feast of Corpus Christi — the Body and Blood of Christ. Perhaps the procession is meant as a reminder to us all to go out from our locked doors and carry God through the streets to the suffering bodies and souls of our fellow humans.

(Marrocco can be reached at