Things just kept getting worse. Fights were breaking out much more regularly and what should have been a nourishing respite in the school day was becoming a dreaded hour for students and teachers alike. Our students came from all around the city of Chicago. Some belonged to rival gangs and lunchtime seemed to be the place where troubles broke out. Someone had the idea that we should adopt a "Closed Campus" where teachers would eat with their students. For giving up their 45 minute lunchtime away from the students, the school day would be shortened by 45 minutes. Lunchtime would become learning time. We tried it and it worked! For whatever reason teachers eating with their students put an end to the majority of the problems we were experiencing. It worked so well, teachers were asked to give up some of their preparation time in the morning and have breakfast with their students as well. That made for an even nicer day. Even teachers who weren’t assigned to a particular classroom were assigned to a class. The entire school, students, teachers and administrators had lunch together. This turned out to be my and many other teachers’ favorite time of the day.
Today, I’m a senior citizen (that means I’m over 60 according to Golden Diners-a city of Chicago initiative providing seniors a hot meal and time to socialize) and I have lunch every day at the local Prebysterian Church with people from all different backgrounds. Some of us have healthy pensions, some are totally dependent upon social security and some of us live on the streets. Every Wednesday we have lunch with the high school students who attend the Alternative School sponsored by the Church. Today, this is my favorite time of the day.
Down the street from where I live there is a rather exclusive club. At the driveway entrance, the only way I see of getting in, there is a sign posted that says: "Private Property-No Trespassing" Being the obedient Dan that I am, I heed the sign’s advice, but I must admit, I’m tempted to sneak in to see if they enjoy their lunches as much as I do.
I wonder what would happen if today we gathered people of different socio-economic backgrounds, ages, religions and nationalities to share a meal? I wonder if Jesus actually meant for us to follow not only what he said but also what he did? "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." (Luke 15:2)
Dan O’Donnell is a Passionist Partner and a longtime friend of the Passionists. He lives in Chicago.