Judy Coode, former communications director for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns and current project coordinator for the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, a project of Pax Christi International, reflects on the daily spiritual act of breaking bread and sharing a meal.
All living things must eat – calories, nutrients – in order to survive. Certainly the readings today recognize the profound necessity and heightened importance of food in our lives – Wisdom sets her table, Jesus offers his own body.
Other than the fact that we all need it to live, humans’ relationships with food vary widely. Some are able to live with less, to abstain on a regular basis; they may enjoy food greatly and feel the sacrifice intensely, or they may indifferent to food, due to their own taste buds or senses. Some overindulge to an unhealthy extent; one of the very things that we need to survive ends up being something that shortens a lifespan. Others are gourmets, and take great satisfaction in preparing intricate meals that balance flavors and textures.
Most of us are somewhere in between all these. Most of us enjoy meals, and some of us are gratified to be able to prepare meals for friends or loved ones – like Wisdom, we have set our tables and put out delicious things to drink and eat, and we welcome our guests. It is what humans have done for millennia: extended themselves in community, and found richness in the simple pleasure of sharing food with others. When we feed someone, we are telling them that we care for them.
How profoundly Jesus extends himself to us, in this everyday language of bread and wine. His disciples, the people around him, ate bread and drank wine every day; describing himself as bread and wine, as the gospel explains, was a bit mind-boggling, but what a beautiful description of Jesus’ love for us: He is not only feeding us, he gives us himself. Surely we will see on Good Friday that he gives his body for us – and as Catholics we believe that he continues to give his body for our spiritual survival every time the bread and wine are consecrated when we gather for the celebration of the Eucharist.
Most of us have access to as much food as we want – we probably live near supermarkets, stocked with multiple varieties of anything we might want to eat. Many of us can find farmers’ markets or organic stores if we choose to buy items that have had less handling or processing. And certainly some of us manage our own garden plots or small farms. Many of us have the privilege of choosing a certain diet – maybe we want more protein, or no animal products, or foods without wheat. We are aware of the effects that certain foods have on our bodies, and we can alter our intake accordingly in order to best manage our health. This awareness is a great gift of modern science and research, and has improved the lives of millions.
But millions and millions of God’s children around the world lack the access to healthy food necessary for their survival, and it’s often not because their regions have experienced weather catastrophes – though certainly the changing climate has shifted traditional rainy seasons in some areas, and has exacerbated desertification in places. No, the reality is that many folks go hungry due to the trade policies instilled by wealthy nations, and by the international financial markets that encourage speculation on commodities such as wheat and other food products.
When we share a meal, do we remember those who have little? Do we remember those who played a role in bringing the food to our table? Our daily moments of sharing food are opportunities to celebrate the gifts of life and community. May we work together to celebrate the gifts of life and community. May we work together to promote policies that ensure that all people have access to the food that they need and the abundant life Jesus promised.