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Bible Reflections View Comments

Not What We Eat, But How and Why
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, August 19, 2012
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Eating and drinking are a significant part of our lives. At the most basic level, they’re necessary for our very survival as living creatures. But beyond that, they are intertwined with most of our social customs and much or our entertainment. Who would have thought there would be an entire television network devoted to food? The centrality of food and social interaction has been true for much of human civilization. It should come as no surprise, then, that our most essential connection to God has been transformed into food and drink.

Our first reading today talks about wisdom as a woman preparing a fine banquet for those who will sit at her table. And in the Gospel, Jesus continues his explanation of how he himself is the bread of life. In both cases, the bodily nourishment is incidental. What God truly seeks to nourish is our souls. But sometimes we can’t see past the surface appearance and other times we try to make things more complicated than they need to be.

Something about food customs elicits more squeamishness in us than nearly anything else. So we’re not surprised by the reaction to Jesus telling the people that they needed to eat his flesh and blood. But his unwillingness to explain should tip us off to the fact that it’s less a question of how than why. It becomes a matter of trust and ultimately faith. Even the great theologian Thomas Aquinas knew better than to ask how this might be. Some things simply need to be accepted, and then they become quite simple indeed. We know absolutely that this is far more significant to our lives than even the everyday food that sustains our bodies.

There is a wisdom in the practice of receiving First Communion at a young age. Children don’t question their need for food. From the day they’re born, they enter into a rhythm of being fed. It can be a delicate dance at times between hunger and the guiding hand of a loving parent. And more than one toddler has been as horrified by green beans as Jesus’ listeners were by his reference to flesh and blood. Beginning to receive communion while this nurturing, nourishing rhythm is still part of our lives makes it as much a part of who we are and how we live as eating and drinking our earthy food.

Only when we become adults do we take this for granted or try too hard to understand it with our complicating minds. There’s a difference between being wise and being knowledgeable. We do well to leave the difficult things to God and not make life harder than it needs to be. If we can complicate something as simple as eating and drinking, it’s no wonder we get tangled up in so many other things in our lives.

What matters most is not what we eat, but rather how we eat. While a gourmet meal can stand as a metaphor for the lavish love of God in giving us the Eucharist, the forms of bread and wine are simple, even spartan, and yet have an explosive power to nourish our souls beyond anything we could imagine. If we stay close to the Lord who feeds us and nourishes us each day, giving us the breath of life itself and the food and drink we need, we can’t go too far astray.  


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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Trust always and a great deal in divine providence; never, never must you let yourselves be discouraged, despite contrary winds. I say it again: trust in God and Mary Immaculate; be faithful and forge ahead! <br />-Paulina do Coração Agonizante de Jesus

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