Gathering around a table is not only where bread is broken and shared, but it is where our hearts are broken and shared for each other.
A Heart on Fire: Conan Rainwater, SJ
Gathering Around the Table
By Conan Rainwater, SJ
What can all happen while sharing a meal together? For Christ, it was when he gave of himself at the Last Supper; for me, it is where I realized I needed to give of myself and enter the Jesuits as well as experienced unity among diversity.
Growing up in North Dakota, where there are no Jesuits stationed, I had never heard of the Jesuits. When I went to Creighton University in Omaha in 2011, I met several Jesuits there. However, meeting them was not my first exposure to Jesuits, for in August of 2010, my biological brother, Trevor, entered the novitiate in Saint Paul, Minn. Upon hearing that my brother is also a Jesuit, many people ask me how him entering affected my discernment to enter the Jesuits myself. In short, it crumbled the pedestal that I had put priests and religious on, for I realized that people from a variety of walks of life can be invited to the table to enter religious life.
One of the most significant moments that aided my discernment to enter the Jesuits happened over a Jamaican dinner my senior year at Creighton. Although I was involved in a year-long relationship at the time, I was still discerning the Jesuits. The day after I returned from the March for Life in Washington, D.C., I went out to dinner with Kyle Shinseki, SJ, who was working at Creighton University. I shared with him several experiences that had happened to me on the March for Life in regards to my discernment towards the Jesuits. Although I forget exactly what he told me in response, I distinctively remember that all of a sudden, I felt all the gears in my head click together, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that I needed to enter the Jesuits after graduating.
Right now, I am in my second of three years at Loyola University Chicago, where I will earn a master’s degree in social philosophy. That process is called first studies, which is a stage of formation that occurs after the novitiate in which a Jesuit moves into academic work, usually in philosophy.
Conan Rainwater, SJ, (middle) receives the chalice from his brother, Trevor Rainwater, SJ, (left) during communion at the Mass where Conan, Sean Teets, SJ, (right) and 13 other Midwest novices proclaimed first vows in August 2017.
Besides classwork, another important aspect in first studies is ministerial work. Once a week, I go with three other Jesuits in formation as interfaith volunteers at a detention center for unaccompanied minors in Chicago. Besides planning a small game and an interfaith activity for the children, we always join them for dinner. Before dinner is served, there is a moment of silence where the children, if they want, can silently express a prayer before eating. Despite being from countries all over the world and thus praying according to their own religions, it is amazing to see their diversity be united over a meal. That experience makes Fritz Eichenberg’s The Lord’s Supper incredibly real for me, for it is people coming in from all different walks of life to share a meal together.
Whether it is chowing down on Jamaican jerk chicken at a restaurant, or enjoying chocolate pudding at the detention center, sharing a meal with others has a significant place for me, as it did for Jesus. Gathering around a table is not only where bread is broken and shared, but it is where our hearts are broken and shared for each other. And although they may be broken, we have confidence in knowing that our true nourishment is from Jesus, the Bread of Life.
Conan Rainwater, SJ, is a Jesuit scholastic who entered the Society in 2015. He is currently in first studies, earning a master’s degree in social philosophy at Loyola University Chicago.
While at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, I embraced many of the freedoms college offers, but I failed to develop my spiritual life in any way beyond an occasional prayer to God for a date to go well or for an A on an exam. After graduating, I moved to Chicago to work for a financial firm. I was achieving my goals, yet I felt deeply unfulfilled by life. I found myself asking, “How can I claim to believe in Jesus Christ if I don’t really even have a relationship with him?”