The Eucharist is supposed to create a new culture, one that is welcoming and only sees the flaws and failures of others as a reminder of one's own need for God's mercy, said Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
The Eucharist is the Lord's meal and "when the Lord hosts the meal, be prepared to be with surprising 'others,'" Tagle told participants at the 51st International Eucharistic Congress Jan. 24-31.
"In the meal hosted by the Lord, persons recognize a close neighbor, a fellow sinner, a sister, a brother with a place at the table," he said. "In each one, I see myself ... sinful but loved, undeserving but invited, shamed but embraced, lost but trusted."
Looking at culture in concrete, simple terms -- such as seating arrangements or how parish property is organized -- should help people make "individual and corporate examinations of consciences," he said.
The Manila cardinal pointed to the eucharistic congress itself as an example. In a mock haughty tone, the prelate pointed at the front rows of the pavilion, then to the faithful far in the back.
"The venerable cardinals, bishops here. And then those there ... I could not see [them] anymore," he said. "What culture is being lived out here?" After a moment of uncomfortable silence, he made a peace sign and was greeted with laughter and applause.
If a parish has a huge parking lot and no classroom space, that says something about its culture, the cardinal said, as does the distance from the first pew to the altar in the church.
"I see many of my brother priests here. Look at your room. Does it reflect a celibate culture? The way you arrange your beds and your things. You are celibate. Your bed should be single, not double," he exclaimed to wide applause.
He had opened his presentation on "the Eucharist and the dialogue with cultures" by greeting the packed pavilion with "good morning" in multiple languages, including the Cebuano dialect, Italian, Mandarin and sign language.
For Frankie Berry of Deaf Village Ireland in Dublin, the greeting meant a lot.
"Straight away, I warmed to him. His use of everyday words helped," she told Catholic New Service through hastily written notes.
Tagle referred to the atmosphere of "eucharistic fervor" in the room of more than 12,000 delegates from 71 countries, calling it "climate change at its best."
"The climate of unity of peoples of different nations, tongues, cultures becoming one body in Jesus Christ: what warmth, what joy, what love," he said.
The same culture of unity should be found in every parish, he said, insisting that Jesus created a new culture by breaking from cultural norms. He "offered a new way of living, thinking and acting" and used space in a way that let children come close, allowed a woman known to have sinned to anoint him, touched a leper. While he "ate a lot," Jesus was always sharing those meals with people who would never be invited to dine at anyone's table, said Tagle.
"Do the wounded, lost, shamed, humiliated and despised find a family in our community?" he asked.
John Glenn Avila, a seminarian "on regency," a period for discerning further whether the priesthood truly is for him, noted the cardinal's reference to "the culture of isolation," which Jesus broke through by welcoming the unwanted. Avila said one of the most memorable highlights of the cardinal's talk was how the culture of isolation could be broken, starting with the family.
"Restore the family meals," Tagle emphasized. "The basic unit of the family meal is the common table. Nowadays the basic unit of the meal is 'my plate. And if I have my plate with food on it, I can go anywhere and eat it by myself.' But that is not a meal. That is just eating."
The cardinal hit on the pope's warnings about the "throwaway culture," one in which people buy things for the sake of buying them and then simply discard them.
"In the Eucharist, we propose the culture of gift," he said.
He pointed out that the Bible is filled with "people who are thrown away," including David under threat of being discarded by King Solomon, Joseph and Mary "thrown away to the manger," and Jesus thrown away by jealous leaders and finally tossed aside by friends who denied him. But God took all of them "in his gentle hands" and gave them as gifts to the faithful.
"Gifts that are given are not to be thrown away," Tagle said. "This culture of communion and gift-sharing will make a eucharistic community, a real, a credible presence of Christ in the cultures of the world and provide the world a reason to hope."