Yesterday, while sitting in our family physician's office, I noticed an article on eating food. Not food products, not processed food, not fast food or frozen dinners, but actual food that one can purchase from the Mennonite farmers down the road – apples, green beans, carrots, eggs, honey, poultry and beef.
It appears that as a society we have forgotten what real food looks like. What's even more disturbing is that, in the name of convenience, we have forgotten what real food tastes like. This is unfortunate: nothing brings together friends and family like a delicious home-cooked meal. Perhaps we have forgotten about real food because we have forgotten about the family meal.
In the past year or so, my wife and I have experimented more with home-cooking. It usually begins late Saturday afternoon. We stop off at the supermarket after a full day of children's dance and gymnastics at the local YMCA. I will pick out the meat in consultation with my wife, while she and the girls pick out the vegetables and dessert. Sometimes it's honey-roasted chicken with peas and garlic mashed potatoes, along with blueberry pie for dessert. Other times it is bear roast from my last hunting excursion, rice, asparagus, and fresh strawberries over ice-cream.
What's important is that the food is real, that we pick it out as a family, and that we spend Sunday afternoon after Mass preparing it together. This way my wife gets to rest on the Lord's Day from the day-to-day rush of meal making, we spend time as a family shaping our children's values, and our taste-buds are permitted to savor fresh food that we have come together as a family to prepare. I am convinced that one of the reasons our children are succumbing to a culture of sex and violence is because supper is no longer a sacred time in which families come together to share their day. The meal offers a family the perfect excuse to pull together as one, combine talents, communicate, and enjoy the fruits of a common labor.
All of this got me thinking about the theology of the meal. Throughout the Gospels, Our Lord uses the meal to mark important events in His life and to impart His more solemn teachings. For example, Christ's first public miracle took place over a meal. It was the wedding feast of Cana and the bride and groom had run out of wine. His first public miracle, at the urging of Our Blessed Mother, was to keep the meal going by changing water into wine.
Similarly, there is the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. Having fed the multitudes, Our Lord chose this moment to reveal that He is the bread of life, that His flesh is real food and that His blood is real drink. Our Lord reveals one of His most profound theological truths — namely, the mystery of transubstantiation — over a meal. Additionally, He institutes the sacrament to which this truth applies most directly, the Most Holy Eucharist, during the Last Supper. Thus the Mass is modeled on the family meal, within the context of our fellow Catholics being brothers and sisters in Christ.
Not even the resurrection escapes the theology of the meal. After all, it was one thing for Our Lord to resurrect from the dead; it was quite another for his disciples to believe. According to St. Luke's Gospel, the disciples at first failed to recognize Christ until the breaking of the bread. Others disbelieved and were frightened by His pierced hands and feet — perhaps mistaking Our Lord for a ghost — until He sat down and shared a meal of fish with them.
Meals signal important events and teachings in Holy Scripture. They are also instrumental to a strong family life. The family that eats together will find it easier to pray together, and the family that prays together will stay together.