“Keeping the Feast” is a true story of a family, food and faith, told in the framework of food and meals shared by family and friends of two international reporters working and living in Europe.
The author, Paula Butterini, wrote for the Chicago Tribune and later UPI (United Press International). Her husband, Thomas, was an international reporter for The New York Times. The autobiographical account opens with scenes from the Campo de Fiori, the site of a large outdoor market in the heart of Rome. The author describes it well and draws one into the piazza filled with all sorts of fresh food and lively people.
As the story of her life and that of her husband unfolds, one is drawn into the joy and happiness that soon becomes horribly shattered during the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. The author describes the trauma that she experienced from the brutal beating she endured from the military while covering the Velvet Revolution, in the attack on her husband in the former Yugoslavia and the long recovery from his wounds, both physical and emotional. The story is uplifting in that the challenges this woman and her family faced seem insurmountable, but through family, food and faith they make it through and find joy in “keeping the feast.”
Paula’s story recalls the importance of food and relationships. Shared meals, especially those that are ritually repeated, help bind family and friends together in ways not at first obvious. Food is such an important part of life, and not just from a biological or nourishment perspective, though these are fundamental. When a meal is seen as more than functional, then opportunities abound for a rich experience with those who are gathered.
As we gather around the table of the Lord to celebrate Mass this week, we hear one of the Gospel passages from the “Bread of Life” discourse in the Gospel According to John. Last week, we reflected on the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Jesus provided for the 5,000 in abundance, so much so that there were twelve wicker baskets full of leftover fragments. In that event, Jesus gathers the faithful and feeds them. He satisfies one of the most basic needs to sustain life: food. The multiplication of the loaves and fishes are part of this larger teaching.
Today, he takes us to the next step, which is the call to faith.
Jesus starts with a reference to the feeding. He basically says if the only reason people are or have followed him is to get some food, then they are missing out on something much greater. He speaks of the “food for eternal life.”
Those with whom he is speaking ask for a “sign.” They refer to Moses giving the Israelites manna when they were wandering in the desert. This event is recalled in the first reading for today’s liturgy. Jesus corrects them, saying it was not Moses but God the Father who provided that food from heaven. He then goes on to invite them to faith in him. He is now the one sent from the Father to provide his people with what they need for life.
The big difference is that Jesus is not speaking of food for the body alone, but also for the soul — food that will nourish both body and soul, and provide sustenance for life now and into eternity.
His listeners plead, “Sir, give us this bread always.” To which he replies, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
Jesus is leading and teaching us in these “Bread of Life” passages. At this point, his reference to himself, as the Bread of Life is a call for faith: faith in him. Faith that he is sent by the Father. Faith that he can provide for life. Faith that he will lead us to eternal life.
We celebrate, and regularly renew, our faith in the celebration of the Eucharist, particularly Sunday Mass. As the People of God and the Body of Christ (two basic ways to describe the Church), we gather as a family around the table of the altar. Here we worship, thank, pray and listen. We are taught and instructed, encouraged and consoled, forgiven and healed, fed and nourished, strengthened and sent forth.
Jesus is the one who gathers us together for this celebration. He is with us in this celebration — or better, we are with him — before the Father. Our Sunday celebration provides us the regular and repeated opportunity to not only keep the feast, but to be fed with the Bread of Life.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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