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Preparing For The Marriage Feast Of Heaven At The Family Table

July 20, 2023 Frontpage No Comments


A few years ago, at a Traditional Latin Mass I was attending, the priest gave a homily about the frequent references to food in the New Testament. This was for me an entirely new idea, and at first seemed to be just a rather light-hearted observation. But a deeper reflection upon these different food references, particularly in the Four Gospels, reveals a sacred purpose that is far from trivial.
We need to step back and consider how God made man in such a way that he would need to receive food and drink in order to live, especially since the fall of man, when the danger of death entered the world. We absolutely need food and drink to survive.
This being the case, one cannot help but think that God made us dependent upon the very lowly things we eat, from fruits and vegetables to fish, as a daily reminder of our utter dependence upon God for our existence and survival. The idea of the totally “self-sufficient” man is nothing but a worthless myth. There is a profound lesson in humility here in that proud and arrogant man must depend upon a little thing like a bean or a potato in order to continue living.
Those who are pet owners or who have ever had the experience of having to feed a pet or farm animal know how these animals come to depend upon them to receive their nourishment, to receive what they need to survive. This relationship serves as a vivid reminder and metaphor of our own dependence upon God for our “daily bread.”
Each year on Ash Wednesday, the Church enjoins us, “Remember, man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” Our food is a further reminder of this, for it too, whether directly or indirectly, is ultimately taken from the dust of the earth, whether it be the fruits and vegetables that sprout from the soil or the cattle that graze upon grass sprung from the earth. So not only are we dust, but even all our earthly nourishment comes from dust, sustaining our life only by the power of God.
Food and drink are a constant reminder of our need for “receptivity,” a willingness to be receptive to God and to the good things He has given us for the salvation and sanctification of our souls, and to be ever grateful for what we receive from Him. The simple prayer known as “Grace” that we customarily say before each meal expresses more than we realize.
In our modern culture, there is a danger of seeing food in merely utilitarian terms, as nothing more than fuel like the gasoline we put into our cars. The unending obsession with things like “low carb diets,” “organic foods,” and what foods will supposedly make us live a little longer can lead us to think of eating as merely a bodily function that is little more than a necessary evil. But that is not how Our Lord wants us to look upon our meals.
It is amazing just how often food comes up in the public ministry of Our Lord. We see Him eating at the homes of His friends, eating at a Pharisee’s home, and criticized by the Pharisees for eating with sinners. In the parables of Our Lord, food represents joy in the Kingdom of God, with Heaven presented as the marriage feast convoked by God the Father for the celestial nuptials of His Divine Son, and the celebration of the return of the Prodigal Son marked by the killing of the fatted calf for a great family feast that expresses the father’s jubilation upon his son’s repentance.
In the Gospels we also find Our Lord employing His divine omnipotence to provide food and drink to His disciples, beginning at the marriage feast of Cana, where He changed water into the very finest wine in response to the supplication of Our Lady. Then there are the two episodes of His feeding the multitudes by the multiplication of loaves and fishes. Likewise, the two miracles of providing to St. Peter and his fishing companions a miraculous catch of fish both constitute a gift of food by divine intervention. Immediately after the second of these fishing miracles, Our Lord invites His disciples to take some of their catch and “have breakfast” with Him (John 21:10-12).
In his account of the second catch of fish, St. John adds the intriguing detail that when St. Peter and the other disciples reached the shore and Our Lord invited them to eat, they saw a charcoal fire with some fish and bread already placed upon it in readiness for the meal (John 21:9). Had Our Lord arranged the fire, the fish and the bread with His own hands, or had an angel prepared it? Or did Our Lord simply will the fire, the fish, and the bread instantly into existence? We’ll have to wait until we get to Heaven to find out!
In any event, it indicates the great solicitude of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in giving this breakfast to His disciples. When Our Lord multiplied the loaves and fishes for the multitudes, He did so expressly out of love for them: “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days, and have nothing to eat” (Matt. 15:32).

A Gift Of Love

What Our Lord said about His desire in performing this miracle of feeding can be said also of all the food He gives us. It is all a gift of love from Him. Every meal we sit down to should be seen as ultimately coming to us from the loving hands of our Creator.
In our contemporary society that stresses eating “healthy food” and watching one’s weight as surpassing all other considerations in planning meals, the foods we call “sweets” are often vilified as nothing more than harmful indulgences. Yet in the Bible, and across the centuries in Catholic literature and hymnody, the word “sweet,” in Latin “dulcis,” repeatedly appears as indicating something that is in and of itself good. The Psalmist speaks of “the ordinances of the Lord” as “sweeter also than honey” (Psalm 19: 9-10).
In his incomparable hymn of the Holy Cross Pange lingua gloriosi lauream certaminis, the early medieval monk and poet St. Venantius Fortunatus (+605) hails the Holy Cross itself as sweet, declaring, “Sweet the wood, sweet the nails, sweet the burden they sustained. . . .” And in the Salve Regina that we recite daily in the holy rosary, we salute Our Lady with the words, “O sweet Virgin Mary.” God had to have had a good reason for making certain foods sweet. For as a loving Father, He not only wants to give us what we need, but He also wants to give us things that simply delight us, as a token of His love for us.
Of course, in receiving the good things that God gives us, we must respond by making them yet another occasion in the course of the day to turn our gaze to Him. Something as basic as a tuna fish sandwich, consisting of simply bread and fish, can serve as an opportunity to recall the loaves and fishes Christ multiplied for the multitudes. And every meal can bring to mind the Sacred Repast that infinitely surpasses any other sustenance, the Holy Eucharist, in which our nourishment is none other than Our Lord Himself.
On one occasion when the young Italian lay mystic St. Gemma Galgani (1878-1903) was about to take a meal, she spontaneously thought to pray, “Grant, O Lord, that from this small supper, I may pass to enjoy Thy immense supper.” The idea of seeing her earthly meal as a symbol of the infinitely more sacred Banquet of Holy Communion so moved her that it sent her into an ecstasy (letter of Gemma Galgani to her confessor Bishop Volpi, April 1901, quoted in Fr. Germanus of St. Stanislaus, C.P., The Life of the Servant of God Gemma Galgani, an Italian Maiden of Lucca, London, Sands and Co., and St. Louis, Mo, B. Herder, 1913, p. 289).
Inserted into this picture of the value of food as a gift from God, the ancient Christian disciplines of fasting and abstinence fit perfectly well. For the point of these sacrifices is not to cast food as evil but rather to deny ourselves for a time or season a good thing, God’s gift of good food, for the sake of the higher things of Heaven. By this means too, we purify our souls of any sinful attachments to food or drink or any other earthly things.
It is fascinating to consider how and why fish and other seafood came to be seen as something that could be taken on the days of abstinence when there is no permissible consumption of any other form of animal flesh. But in light of the unique place of fish in the public ministry of Our Lord, it does seem natural that it should hold the distinction of being a permissible food to consume even on the days of abstinence.
It is highly significant that on at least one occasion after His Resurrection Our Lord in appearing to the apostles made a point of eating something before their very eyes, in the first instance a piece of broiled fish on the first Easter Sunday (Luke 24:41-43). It certainly seems to suggest that when at the end of time our bodies are raised from the dead we will have the capacity to eat in some wonderful manner in the promised new Heaven and new Earth.

The Family Meal

All the above considerations ought to make us conscious of just how vital it is for families to eat together, to adhere to the timeless tradition of the “family meal.” We ought to see each family meal, from the grand family suppers of Christmas and Easter, to a simple meal of an adult son or daughter shared with an aged and infirm parent in a hospital, as a foreshadowing of the everlasting Marriage Feast of Heaven.
Thus, eating together with our family, and also eating with our friends, when seen from this perspective, can help us to set our hearts upon the things that are above, in preparation for Heaven, where we will be together with God and each other forever.

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