I just read a wonderful article by Caroline Langston at Good Letters (the blog of Image journal) about the simple joys of cooking and the blessings of an incarnational faith and the liturgical year. It makes me want to get into the kitchen! Under the inspiration of St. Martha, my patron Saint for 2008, I’ve made cooking one of my personal goals for this year. I still haven’t done as much as I’d like, but I’m still aiming to do more! I’ve also been rather inspired by Father Z’s occasional food posts, such as this one!
It’s not something I think about that often, but I really do appreciate and thank God for the fact that He has given us the good things of the earth and the body! Sure, physical things can be abused, and can be a pain, often literally. And yes, Catholics are called to fast at times. But I find that the fasting and even the pains of being a physical creature make the good things all the sweeter and more precious! I have found that since my reversion to Catholicism, I have come to appreciate things like food much more. I have found that even the simplest of foods–a nice bread, beautiful veggies, the wonderful varieties of meat and fish, a cool cup of milk or yogurt–contain great delights and comforts that had gone unappreciated for far too long.
I think that the celebration of the Holy Eucharist has a lot to do with it. At the center of this most sublime and mysterious of feasts are two very simple, very humble, earthly things: bread and wine. At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the priest elevates each one and blesses God for providing them.
Blessed are You, Lord, God of all creation,
Through Your goodness we have this bread to offer,
which Earth has given and human hands have made.
It will become for us the Bread of Life.
Blessed are You, Lord, God of all creation,
Through Your goodness we have this wine to offer,
fruit of the vine and work of human hands.
It will become our spiritual drink.
Notice that this is before the miracle of transubstantiation has occurred and the bread and wine have become something completely different and really quite mind-blowing: the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. In order for that to occur, in order for us human beings to have that intimate Communion with Him, we have to start with bread and wine. Also notice that the bread and wine are not only God’s work but mankind’s as well. Somebody made the bread and made the wine. So we humans also make an important contribution to this holiest of holy Sacraments. Finally, notice that the bread and wine were not made by expert chefs with a lot of fancy or expensive flourishes. Indeed, such flourishes are forbidden by Church law. The bread and wine to be transubstantiated must begin as the simplest of all breads and wines. Wheat and water. Fermented grapes. That’s it.
The simplicity and the goodness of the Eucharistic elements, and the gratitude that the priest and people express for them, is really powerful. I think it can really shape how we regard food and drink in general, even the entirety of life in general! If we take time in the Mass to thank God for the humblest bread and wine, should we not also take time to thank Him for everything else? Give it a try, and you’ll find yourself brimming over with gratitude… and gratitude can really transform your worldview. Gratitude can overcome pretty much any problem and stifle any complaint. There is always, always something to be grateful for!
For Catholics, physical things and spiritual things are never mutually exclusive. We are not Albigensians–“flesh=evil” and “spirit=good” don’t fly with us. Humans are both flesh and spirit. Our Lord Jesus Himself became both flesh and spirit. He spent a lot of time praying and fasting; He also ate, drank, and attended wedding feasts. And, yes, it seems He even cooked (cf. Jn. 21:9).
So let us be mindful and grateful and every kind of happy when we enjoy even simple edibles–and even more so, when we can add our own touch of work and creativity to them! And also let us do everything we can to make sure that every other brother and sister of ours is able to enjoy them. Let us be moderate, take only our share, and offer voluntary fasts for those who are less fortunate. In that way, we will learn even greater gratitude and take even greater pleasure in what we have. In that way, we shall feed both our bodies and spirits.