Chapter 2 of Genevieve Kineke’s book, The Authentic Catholic Woman moves from the sacrament of baptism as it relates to purifying and hospitality, to our sustenance – food in its everyday and heavenly forms.
She is, of course, referring to the sacrament of Communion and the Eucharist, the true and real presence of Jesus Christ in the physical form of bread.
The theme of bread
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” (Exodus 16, 4-5)
Jesus as bread
In the gospels, Jesus feeds the 5000 (Matthew 14:13–21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15), taking five loaves and two fish and miraculously multiplying them to feed the multitudes. He takes it a step further as shown in John 6, declaring Himself to be the bread of life:
Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.33 For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” 34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus said to them, “ I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. (John 6:26-35)
During the Last Supper, Jesus makes good on His word, offering Himself as the Bread of Life by instituting the sacrament of Communion during the last passover meal he was to share with the apostles:
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying,“This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:19-20)
How can the Eucharist make meal time sacred?
Kineke, taking the literal meaning of bread as food, demonstrates how we can live out our daily tasks of preparing and serving food sacramentally by reflecting on the meaning of the Last Supper. What really happened here?
Jesus gave of Himself in totality to his disciples (and the world), sustaining them in all ways through the gift of the Eucharist. We too can offer ourselves, perhaps not as dramatically as did Christ, but through our daily meal preparation and service.
I am no cook but my husband and his family are wonderful cooks. Much love goes into the preparation of meals, done with utmost care and often, as in the case of my sister-in-law, with an artistic flair. I found meal time at my in-law’s house to be a time of healing and consolation. In my own home, due to a member of the family having an eating disorder, formal meal time first became battlefields and then dissolved altogether with the exception of the holidays. It became too painful to eat at the table so meals were taken in front of the TV.
At my in-law’s home, meals were eaten slowly at the table. Filled with laughter, stories and love, the food seemed to taste extra good in that setting of warmth. Once again, mealtime was a time of family getting together and sharing their love with one another. Holiday meals especially were legendary!
Keeping this in mind, I tried to make sure my own family sat down together at the table to eat rather than in front of the TV. As the children grew older, this became more challenging with school and work. Yet, every now and then when both kids are at home for a visit, I will get the request: “Can we eat at the table?” So while we weren’t always at the table when we ate, everyone intuitively knew that gathering at the table was special.
Where and how we feed others
Most women seem to be especially adept at feeding others, and we do it in so many places:
- in the womb
- from the breast
- at the dinner table
- at a picnic table
- at a soup kitchen
- spoon feeding an elderly parent
Feeding others is an act of giving of ourselves and it always needs to focus on others. If it turns into a performance where we are inviting praise or are too stressed out over the preparation, the point is lost. By focusing on the sacramental nature of feeding (reflecting on the ways Jesus gave of Himself as food), we find the richness that is hidden behind the veil of ordinary life (The Authentic Catholic Woman, page 23). The mundane becomes sacred.
So even for those of us who are not good cooks, we too can give love and sustenance to others through our humble efforts, especially if it is done in the spirit of love. This is something I need to think about the next time I struggle over making a meal that may be far from perfect. Perfection in the art of cooking is not the aim. Rather, what counts is the love that is put into it with the intent of giving that love to others. This lifts even the plainest of meals into something sacred, and beautiful.
Copyright 2011 Susan Bailey
About the Author
Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.