December 10, 2012

What’s So Catholic About Food?

What’s So Catholic About Food?
Christ the Unseen Guest

… Where Food Meets Faith

There’s one thing about being The Catholic Foodie that is not necessarily highlighted all the time. I guess you can say it is a secret of sorts. Maybe the secret. The Catholic Foodie, you see, is really not about the food. At least it’s not just about the food. It’s about meals. It’s about family. It’s about communion.

Have you ever noticed that people do not like to eat alone? Even sitcoms feature the lonely eater in a sad (and often funny) way. The fact is, as human beings, we do not like to eat in isolation. Eating alone is something that we have to do sometimes because of circumstances. But it is certainly not the ideal.

Despite our culture’s emphasis on food (the diet craze, Food Network, Food TV, celebrity chefs and their cookbooks) food is really all about meals. We see this even in the Bible. Look back at Genesis. From the very beginning man was made for communion. “It is not good for man to be alone.” Genesis shows us a God who walks with man and woman in the cool of the evening, and this image is one of family, of communion.

It’s All About the Meal. Food Is Meant to Be Shared.

I find it significant that the story of the Fall (Genesis 3) features food. Of course we cannot take the creation story literally. However, the images used to convey the truth of who God is, and the truth of who we are, and how we got into this condition, all centers around food. In Genesis chapter 3 we’re privy to a conversation between the serpent and Eve. There’s no direct mention of Adam during the conversation. But biblical scholars believe that Adam was right there with Eve and that he failed to do his job… which was to protect the woman and to protect the garden. The only reference that we have to Adam is that Eve ate of the fruit and then gave some to her husband. This leads us to believe that Adam was present. Sin entered the world through the act of eating. I find that significant. But, again, is not the food. It’s the meal.

Epicurus wrote, “we should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink.” Even though this was written by a Greek philosopher, it says a lot to us as Christians. I think it points out the essence of the problem. Food is simply a means to the end, which is communion.

Sin entered the world through a meal (in Genesis 3). But salvation enters the world through a meal too. In John 6 Jesus says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.”

It’s all about the meal.

We see this highlighted in a highly dramatic way in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a sacrament, which is efficacious. That means that it actually effects what it signifies. And the Eucharist signifies communion. We even refer to the reception of the Eucharist as “Holy Communion.”

Holy Communion: THE Catholic Meal

It is no coincidence that Jesus instituted the Eucharist within the context of a meal. True, the Eucharist was instituted during the Passover meal, which was an annual ritual celebration. However, the Passover meal was one of many covenant meals that were celebrated in the Old Testament. As a matter of fact, all of the major covenants that God made with his people were sealed with a meal. Again… Meal = Communion.

So when we talk about food today, even here at The Catholic Foodie, I think is very important to keep it within its proper context: a meal. If we remove food from that context, then food really ceases to make sense.

Food Out of Its Proper Context Leads to Problems

For centuries (and even longer), removing food from the context of a meal wasn’t much of an issue. Until the Industrial Revolution, most societies were agrarian. Everything centered around the cultivation and harvesting of food. Without electricity and other comforts of modern technology, the day was much shorter. The sun dictated everything. Women spent most of the day preparing the meals, and it was an all-day affair. Men were out in the fields working, or building, or hunting. In essence, life was all about food. But food was always a communal event. A meal.

Food in its proper context can nourish our souls as well as our bodies. In a sense, we experience communion around the family table at home in a way similar to the communion we experience around the altar at Mass.

Food out of context leads to tension and frustration. The statistics of eating disorders is staggering. Many of us try to use food to fill a hole in our hearts. But that just doesn’t work. Food is not the enemy. But the many diet books lining the shelves of your local bookstore (or the virtual shelves of Amazon.com) would lead you to believe that food is the enemy. It is not. We are often our own worst enemies, and we always stand in need of the grace of our merciful God.

Keeping food in its proper context, a meal, can certainly help. It would help our relationships, our health, our peace of mind, and even our faith.

Last year my son bought me a small wooden placard that says, “Christ is the head of this home and the unseen guest at every meal.” It sits in the center of our family table as a reminder to us all.

Food by its very nature is communal. It should lead us to communion, with each other and with God. Around the table. Around the altar. It should also open our eyes to see the dependency we have on all of creation and on God. We cannot feed ourselves. Without farmers and a network of businesses, there would be no food on our tables. All that we receive is a gift from God.

We need each other. We need God.

In today’s society we glorify the self-made man. We hold in high esteem the assertive individual, the one who makes things happen. Because of our technology we are often blinded to the reality that we are totally dependent on God and his goodness.

So for us today, I believe that food is a wonderful way to grab ahold of the reality that we are indeed dependent on God and his goodness for everything. He provides for us the food that we eat. The awareness of our dependency on God, which food can help us obtain, can open up for us a richer sense of communion in our families, and our churches, and with God. Something as simple as the old tradition of the Blessing Before Meals and the Thanksgiving Prayer After Meals can help to make this dependence real for us.

Blessing Before Meals

Bless us,
O Lord,
and these thy gifts,
which we’re about to receive from thy bounty.
Through Christ our Lord,
Amen.

Thanksgiving After Meals

We give you thanks,
Almighty God,
for these and all Thy benefits,
which we have received from thy goodness.
Through Christ Our Lord.
Amen.

We always include an invocation for the faithful departed because one day, by the grace of God, I will be among their number…

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.

Grow in Faith Around the Family Table During the Year of Faith

What are some ways that you can grow in faith around the family table during this Year of Faith?

We are in Advent, so there are Advent Wreaths and Advent meditation books galore (like Lisa Hendey’s O Radiant Dawn and Sarah Reinhard’s Welcome Baby Jesus).

Do YOU have any other ideas for ways that you and your family can grow in faith around the family table? I would love to hear what you have to say! Leave a comment below!

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