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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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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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