Catholic Table BLOG

Fasting - week 4

This week I have been working on putting together some of the details for our parish-wide Progressive Dinner.  As I work on planning for this, I reflect back on our Christmas book, The Catholic Table

There are times when the church encourages us to fast – like Lent.  During Lent we are encouraged to give up something. This Lent I am learning a lot about how much food I really need to get through a day – it’s a lot less than I would have thought.  I don’t need to snack during the day – although it’s great and I love it and once Lent is over I am pretty sure I will again have a bowl of healthy snacks on my desk to get me through the days, as well as put my popcorn popper back to use at home.  Realistically though, I realize that I don’t need to eat all the time, and I’ll hesitate a little more before reaching for a snack, at least initially.  When I do reach for a snack I’ve learned to stop and think about what is causing that stirring in me; seldom is it truly physical hunger.  The times when it is hardest is when I am giving up not just food, but that quality time with others.  So as I’m fasting this Lent I have chosen to fast two types of fasting, first I’m fasting between meals – which I am pretty much doing daily, but second I am also choosing, on days when I can, to give up one meal.  I’ve learned though that I do a lot of eating with others and the meals that I spend with others are not about the food, but about the relationship.  I’m living with my sister and her family right now.  It is harder to give up a meal at the house when the kids question why I am not eating with them – they don’t understand the spirituality of fasting so for them it is confusing if I’m not eating with them.  Eating family meals together is a great way to gather, talk about life and share your stories.  To not eat with the family because I’m fasting is actual more of a detriment to relationship with others.  So, I’ve adjusted my fasting plans some.  From the reading of our book I also have taken to hear the idea of not fasting when you are with others so I jokingly tell people I’m setting up dinner dates with friends every chance I can just so I have an excuse to eat.  But truly, it’s what people do when they get together – not often does someone invite you over to just hang out, and if they do, snacks or drinks are in the plan.  Eating with others, breaking bread and sharing stories – it’s what you do when friends and family gather.  It’s what we do when we gather around the altar.  Fasting this lent has been a journey that has challenged me not only question why I eat, but also to look beyond the food on my plate. It has reminded me of the joy of gathering with others around a table and the relationships that grow from those simple encounters over a bowl of popcorn, a simple plate of spaghetti or grilled salmon.  The food isn’t the focus, the company, the sharing, the stories, the love, that is what matters!

In The Catholic Table she reminds us that times of fasting are meant to lead us to, and prepare us for, times of great feasting!  So after reading this book I am excited to have spent Lent focused on fasting so that we can joyfully enter into the Easter season and great feasting!  April 15th we are hosting a parish-wide Progressive Dinner.  We are looking for people who are willing to open their homes to other parishioners either for appetizers or for dinner.  We have started asking folks to host, but are waiting to hear from you too!  Not everyone can host and that’s great – because what a is a host without guests?  This weekend Fr Steve is going to tell us a little more about this event and I, or someone from staff, will be at a table in the gathering space to talk with you, answer your questions and get you signed up!   

Fasting - Week 3

Shouldn't this fasting thing get easier as you do it? I feel like it's' getting harder! 

As I continue with my fasting I am taking time to reflect on how fasting is freeing even when it feels limiting.  Yes, I sit in my office or sit at home and desire a snack, but I choose to not give into that desire.  I do something in place of that desire that is good, whether it is praying for a loved one, getting (another) glass of water, or pulling out some knitting project that needs to be finished.   Usually the hunger pains eventually go away because I was not really longing for junk food, but I was thirsty, or bored or in need of time with God.  Most times when hunger calls to me it's not really about hunger, it's about something else.  By not giving in to the temptation to eat I am caring for my body and my soul.  As I challenge myself to hold back from grabbing a quick snack I am listening to my body and my heart to find what I am truly hungry for, I find myself paying closer attention to what it is asking for.  I am finding moments of true freedom when I open myself to paying closer attention to what I am truly longing for and not making a quick decision based on what feels like hunger.

I see this parallel to other areas of life too.  For example, emotionally it's pretty easy to jump to feelings, like anger, when something happens rather than taking the time to pay attention to what I'm truly feeling - sadness, hurt, humiliation, disconnection.  Slowing down, assessing the situation and my thought patterns can lead me to greater understanding of where my feelings are coming from and gives me the opportunity to be able to deal with the root cause.  What about when things go wrong in a situation? I often want to immediately find fault with the other person, but when we fast from blaming we again take a moment to assess the situation and with honesty in our hearts we can find where our own fault lies first in a situation which allows us to grow in relationship with others. What about spending habits - it's way too easy to go out, or online, and purchase anything you want without really thinking about your budget (taking the Dave Ramsey course - so it's on my mind) until bills are due. When I fast from spending on every whim, I am free to do bigger, better and greater things - like go to Rome this fall. 

No one really wants to live with limits, yet limits can set us free in ways we can't imagine right now! How often we choose the quick answer without taking time to slow down and assess what's really going on, what's stirring up within me, what is it that I am truly needing/feeling/desiring.  Fasting helps to remind me to not give in to desires and wants, but to take a moment and be sure it's the right choice for right now and for later.  When a glass of water is what my body is needing, a bag of chips isn't going to satisfy the craving.  Fasting pushes me to pay attention to my body and what it is telling me.  Just like a mother with a baby - she know the cry of hunger versus the cry of a wet diaper.  We need to know our body, mind and soul in the same way a mother knows her child.  Fasting is one way to do this and it frees us to grow in love of ourselves, our future and in relationship with God and others. 

Fasting - Week 2

Well, we are into the second week of Lent now. I usually feel that the first week either goes well, or half-way through that first week I'm still figuring out that Lent started. This year week one was good. Week two has also been good. I have continued my two part fasting.

First I am not eating between meals. I won't say that it's been easy, but it is something that I have done so far. I noticed on Tuesday it was much harder when I had a huge bowl of the most beautiful strawberries sitting in my office for an event that night. I even got up and walked over to the bowl and had to do lots of self-talk to get myself to walk away - without a strawberry! But boy I felt good that I was able to do that. It felt good to know that my heart and mind could be in control of whether or not I chose to eat something. For me it's been a powerful awareness of how strong I am, or can be. I believe that some of that strength comes from the work I've done over the last 18 months with running, but it still surprises me when I see that strength come out. I know that the true strength comes from God and knowing that as I walk away from the strawberries or other tasty looking snacks I am giving this up for someone special that day.

My second stage of fasting is skipping a meal most days. Last week I talked about how I didn't think I was ready for a full day of fasting. That night I went home with the plan to not eat dinner. It wasn't until later that I realized that I had to fast in the morning for some blood work too. My initial plan was to take something along to eat for breakfast after my blood work - but then I decided to go ahead and fast until lunch. I did a 24 hour fast - lunch to lunch. Again, shocking myself that I could do it! Sure I was hungry and wanted to eat, but a little self-talk, prayer and some distraction allowed me to get to lunch without eating. I only do this second part of fasting some days. I am taking into consideration if I am with other people for a meal and so if I know I'm going to meet friends or have plans then I make sure to skip a meal the day before. As my activity level increases I know I need to take into consideration my physical needs as well. The times I have skipped a meal it hasn't been hard, but it's not easy either.

I've done a lot of reflecting on how much I need to let go and surrender to God, trusting that He will take care of me. In my times of hunger I have been offering up my prayer and fast for others. Most days I have someone special in mind and I call their name to mind as I experience any hunger. I'm a little behind on getting cards out to let people know I'm praying and fasting for them.

So, how is your time of fasting going this Lent so far? Are you seeing a change in heart for you as you fast?

So, how is your Lent? Are you feeling the JOY that Fr Steve talked about at Mass on Ash Wednesday? 

In the last week I have found some joy in fasting. I've been doing really well with no eating between meals.  But, I must admit that it is HARD!  I want to eat.  I want to snack. Yet when I start to ask myself why? Or, am I really hungry? the answer is usually it's habitual, it's situational or even, it's to fill time, a need or a void.  By fasting between meals I remind myself that I don't want anything of this world to control me - I want God to fill the voids, the needs of my heart and my life.  By fasting and feeling the hunger pains between meals I focus on the person I am praying for that day.  It's a good reminder to me to pray.  I wasn't sure that fasting between meals would be hard, but it has been harder than I thought on certain days.  I think because I am fasting I think about food more.

Another way that I am fasting most days is to skip a meal - typically I eat a light breakfast, a good lunch and then I don't eat an evening meal.  I decided when I went to my brother's-in-law mom's visitation and funeral that time spent with family and friends would be okay to free myself from this extra fasting.  I agree with our author in The Catholic Table that it's important to fast with the church and feast with the church - a celebration of life is a time of great feasting!  The nights that I do fast from my evening meal are interesting, but good none-the-less. I have found that I don't miss it as much as I thought I would.  What I miss isn't the food, but the companionship with my sister and her family around the table.  Yet this time of not eating I either read or join in conversation with the family around the dinner table, and it is freeing and beautiful too, and it feeds my heart and soul in ways that I may miss when I'm thinking about getting seconds on potatoes.  During the evenings I again am offering my hunger pains as a great reminder to me of my prayer.  I also find some satisfaction in my hunger and how it connects me with others who are hungry also. 

I read on the Bread for the World website that the 21st of the month is the day that most people on the SNAP program (formerly food stamps) often run out of their benefits.  I wasn't ready to do a full day of fasting yesterday. I think I will try that next week before the end of the month. 

During my time of fasting I keep thinking of how people who are hungry must feel all the time.  I may have cravings and desires for snacks, but so many people have nothing.  I know how fortunate I am to be in a situation where I can give up food and still be nourished enough to be focused and have energy, where so many children suffer in school due to lack of nutrition and so many people who work, much more manual labor jobs than I, suffer due to a lack of healthy foods to restore their bodies. Even when I am fasting I can eat enough to give nourishment to my body and my mind.  My soul is also nourished as I let go of desires and wants. I try to focus on what I need, and finding that to be enough for me today.  

Are you trying any form of fasting - fasting from food or other things - this Lent? Share your stories with us!  

The Food that Heals

Jesus is the food that heals us.  Lent begins this week – how will you find ways to deepen your relationship with Jesus?

The author speaks of attending daily Mass and Adoration.  Here at OLIH we offer more options for both Mass and adoration.  Come when you are able this Lent – receive the Body and Blood of Christ as nourishment for your journey and sit in the presence of Christ at Exposition or Adoration. 

Masses on Ash Wednesday: 7am, 5pm & 7pm

Weekday Masses:

·        Monday: 8:30am

·        Tuesday: 8:30am and 5:30pm

·        Wednesday: 8:30am

·        Thursday: 8:30am (Communion Service)

·        Friday: 8:30am and 5:30pm

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament: Fridays after morning Mass until noon


·        Friday, February 16 6pm-8pm

·        Friday, March 16, 6pm-8pm

Chapter 11 – Kitchen Rules: A Practical Theology of Food

I loved this book and this chapter just really sums it all up for me!  I am thankful that the author begins with reminding us that there was a five year gap between her intellectually “getting it” and being able to put it all into practice.  The habits that are good and strong are the ones that take time to nurture and build.  I know I use this example a lot but it is just so applicable… When I started running, it was clumsy, it was hard, and I had to sit down at the beginning of the week and figure out my schedule to make sure I could fit it in. Over the year+ that followed I found confidence in my steps, I found strength and endurance as I kept going, and I found that I would find a time a place to make it happen because that’s how much I needed it.  As I ran, I found myself changing the foods I ate and replacing soda with water and coffee.  As time continued, I started to find other workouts to do on my non-run days in order to focus on strengthening.  I was finding that this active life-style was what my body was made for.  I found excitement in seeing the changes physically and emotionally.  My body was finally becoming a temple that I was proud of and felt was a sacred vessel built in the image of God!  The author found all of this in food, while I found it through exercise, which I think is why it all hits home to me.

Love her “Kitchen Rules!” 

As a child, I would say that eating communally was probably the main rule that my family lived by.  Eating meals together was the norm. Growing up with 5 sisters I rarely ate a meal alone, there was always someone to eat with and meals always included conversation. When we gather as a family that is still how we gather – every one sitting around the table together, conversing, sharing stories and laughing.  At this point in my life, I think the rule that I most live by would be eating wisely.  I’m working on knowing when I am eating and what is the purpose of my eating – is it because I am truly hungry or is it because I am filling a different void? Now that I have been laid up for a few weeks with a stress fracture in my leg I have found that I eat more and crave more – but am I really hungrier or just bored? I am also working on eating the things I enjoy and not depriving myself, yet not overeating just to eat.  I like to enjoy a good meal with a friend and not stress about calories, fat, or sugar – I just want to enjoy! But to do this in moderation is key.

What are the Kitchen Rules that you most live by?

If you had to make your own list what would you add, what would you take off of the list?


Chapter 10 – Slaughtering the Fatted Calf: The Gift of Hospitality

“What they’re talking about is simply opening the doors of our homes and inviting others in – giving the lonely, the lost, the weak, the hungry, the struggling, the searching, the stranger, and the friend an opportunity to experience the love of God through the love we show to them” (page 132).

I tell people that hospitality is not one of my gifts – but when I read this chapter, I realize that even though I might not think to offer you something to eat or drink, I want you to come in and share your story with me!  This chapter reminds me of the hospitality of Martha and Mary.  I used to do Martha pretty well, but have become more of a Mary – sitting with my guests and enjoying them for who they are.  

This Lent we will focus on fasting, but during the Easter season, we will return to feasting!  We are planning a Parish-wide Progressive dinner on Sunday, April 15th.  This will be an evening of moving from one house for appetizers, to a second house for dinner and then all participants coming together at the church for dessert!  If you are a person with the gift of hospitality consider being a host house for us!  Watch the bulletin and updates as we begin or search – or email me now and let me know that you would be interested!  What a great way to share your gift of hospitality and open your doors to … “the lonely, the lost, the weak, the hungry, the struggling, the searching, the stranger, and the friend an opportunity to experience the love of God through the love we show to them."


Chapter 9 - Table lessons: Eating and the Virtues

Oops - a little late getting this one out! 

When is the last time you considered the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance? I know that for me they don't usually come up in my discussions about what I'm going to eat for dinner!  The author does an excellent job of bringing the virtues to the table.

The last two weeks have been a struggle for me since I have a stress fracture in my left leg and am unable to do much.  The more I sit with my feet up, the more I want to eat - and I don't mean salads!  I crave sugar in a way that I had not while I was still active.  Now I can't walk through the work room at work without stopping to see what deliciousness is on the counter and then indulging.  The less active I am the more I succumb to gluttony!  I am hoping I heal fast and can get back to being active! 

The author talked about how if we are having a hard time with one of the virtues to practice it in other areas of your life. I sit here eating my not-so-good-for-me snacks and consider how when I was more active I watched what I ate and made more sensible choices.  Now that I can't exercise much I am eating more - I've noticed that exercise gives me energy and when I can't exercise I find my "energy" in other ways.  UGH!  So maybe I need to go back to the basics of the virtues.  Finding that power and energy within me rather than looking outside.

How do you practice these virtues intentionally in life?  What are some of your ideas of how you practice prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance?

Chapter 7 – Holy Feast: Rejoicing with Christ

“Fasting teaches us about our hunger, our dependency, our need for Christ.  Feasting, understood in the light of faith, teaches us about answered prayer, about a God who fills our emptiness and satisfies our hunger beyond our greatest imagining.” (page 100).

Feasting is good, it is healthy, it is communal.  When we feast, we are celebrating Christ with us!  Break out the good dishes and the cloth napkins!  Open the bottle of wine and bake some sugary yumminess!  To feast is to rejoice, it’s to be filled with joy, with God.  Fasting helps us to hunger.  Feasting satisfies our hunger.

In regards to our spiritual lives, I believe that there are dry or desert times that we all go through.  We may experience these times because of tough things we are going through, choices we’ve made or even for what may seem like no reason whatsoever.  However, what I have experienced is that after those dry times I come back and embrace my relationship with God more fully and more deeply.  God is the nourishment for our spiritual lives and when we turn from Him or lose sight of Him and then find Him again, it is sweet!  It is a reason to feast! Fasting is a tangible way of bringing that to light in our lives.  Fasting from food leaves us hungry, just as losing sight of God in our daily life leaves us hungry for Him.  When we return to the food we gave up it tastes so much sweeter or pleasurable than it did before, just as turning back to God satisfies us and fills us with sweet joy!  Now there have been times I’ve fasted from something and when I went to eat/drink it later I actually didn’t like it much anymore – that’s a sign that maybe it isn’t good for me.

I love the idea that when we are fasting it’s in preparation of the feast!  Consider that this Lent – as you fast it’s to be prepared to participate fully in the JOY of Easter! 

What will you fast from this Lent?

How will you feast this Easter?  



Chapter 7: Holy Fast: Hungering for Christ

I do not know about you, but as a child the most I did as far as fasting would be when my parents would decide for us that we would not eat anything between meals and give up candy for Lent.  Although a good practice, I cannot say that it brought me closer to God through Lent.  

I’m thinking back probably 15 years ago. I was hungry to get to know God more.  I am a vast reader and love authors like James Patterson and Patricia Cornwell (so not churchy reading!).  I’d always be at the bookstore getting the newest book that came out.  So one year I decided that I needed to read more scripture and faith-based books.  My “fasting” that year was to not read anything that was not purely faith based or scriptural. It was hard but I managed it.  I noticed a difference in me at the end of the Lent – so I went back to that same practice the next Lent.  It was only a few years later that I came to realize that through this Lenten practice I had come to know God in a completely new way and that He was changing my heart to focus on Him (even outside of Lent!) rather than on the other things that had taken precedence.  That first year of fasting started something in me that I could not have done on my own. 

The author beautifully points out how our body and soul are one, how “the soul animated the body. The body expresses the soul.”  When we fast we deny our bodies something that it wants, not as punishment but to focus it back to God.  As I reflect on this I think of those years that I “fasted” during Lent from “fun” reading.  It wasn’t that hard to make the choice and I planned ahead to make sure I had some good options available for reading during Lent.  I did it initially because I wanted to learn more – I’m not sure when I came to realize that what was happening within me wasn’t my work, but His.  Yet as I went through those 40 days of fasting from fiction I was intentionally turning towards God in ways that I would not have had I not been fasting from my other reading.  Denying myself the pleasure of reading made room in my day, in my life, in my heart for God to enter in and do some spring cleaning!  Fasting from food is the same – it will open up space in our day, in our life and in our hearts for God to enter in. 

The last few years this idea of fasting as a spiritual practice keeps creeping into my consciousness in many different ways at all different times.  When I have talked to people about fasting I hear things about intermittent fasting or various diets that incorporate fasts.  I’m not looking for a fast to lose weight – well maybe I am , but for me the weight I’m looking to lose is the mental and emotional luggage I hold onto that fills up my heart and prevents me from letting God do what God does best – change our hearts.    I’ve been doing some reading about fasting and I think I’m ready to consciously focus on fasting from food as a spiritual practice this year!  After reading this chapter again, I am renewed in my desire to fast and allow God to work on my heart. 

During Lent I will continue this blog.  My hope is to share with you my successes and failures regarding fasting as a spiritual practice.  I hope you will join me!

What will you fast from this year for Lent?


Chapter 6 – Bread from Heaven: Food in Sacred Scripture

I loved this chapter!  What I hear is that as we read Sacred Scripture we hear over and over that food is good.  God created it for us, to nourish us, to sustain us, and to bring us together.  So often through Scripture you will find food within a story – like the author points out we start with food in Genesis with a piece of fruit and continue through scripture to Jesus giving us His body and blood through bread and wine. 

There were two things the author said that really struck me and I thought I would spend a little time on:

“Food isn’t always just food. Sometimes, it’s much, much more” (page 65).

That is so true in Scripture and in the world today!  So often food symbolizes something else.  When I thought about this the first thing I thought of was chicken soup, or if someone dies you take casseroles to the family – is it really food that heals the illness or the grief? No. The food symbolizes the love and compassion that others can’t express in mere words.  The other day I went to the doctor after 2 weeks of pain in my leg.  I left there with a new fashion accessory and a dampened spirit as I realized how I was not going to be able to keep running right now, and how difficult simple things are going to be for the next several weeks – so what did I do? I decided I needed some good comfort food and got myself some pasta and bread! That probably wasn’t the best thing for my body since I can’t run off that energy, but boy was it good for my soul!  Food is a great symbol. 

The second quote:

“With greater freedom comes greater responsibility” (page 68).

In all areas of my life I realize that as I gain freedom it does come with greater responsibility for myself and those around me. I think of the story of Adam and Eve – there was one tree to stay away from, they were free to have anything else in the garden, yet they chose to eat what was forbidden.  I loved when the author pointed out that in Genesis there was one sentence about eating and then in Leviticus we have a whole chapter to focus on food.  When we are not responsible with our freedom we lose it, just like a teenager or a child who gets grounded. And when we break the rules it affects more than just ourselves. We have to learn to make wise choices for ourselves and others.  I used to run therapy groups for kids who were in trouble.  One of the exercises I did regularly was to present to them “World A” with no rule, no limits, no restrictions and “World B” a place with rules and limits.  The kids would be divided into two groups to discuss some questions regarding what their world would look like now and in the future.  Of course they all wanted “World A,” until the discussion got going.  They realized that in “World A,” when there are no rules, anyone and everyone only does what they want and they don’t  consider what others may want or need. Most groups would come to the conclusion that “World A” would probably not even survive a generation. But in “World B” as you follow the rules you gain freedom and eventually you are free from rules because you have learned to choose responsibly for yourself and others so that rules are not needed as much and you would be able to live in harmony together.  Always a good lesson that would bring us back to how when the rules are lifted its because we’ve learned from them and know how to make choices that are for the good of me and those around me.

When I consider this in regards to food I think of two things:

  • Those who are hungry.  As a responsible member of society I am called to care for the needs of others – to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, etcIn my freedom with what I have, how do I contribute to those in need?

  • Purchasing local.  When I go to get fresh produce or other groceries do I consider buying from local people or do I just buy what’s the most inexpensive? I lvoe going to local farmers markets and getting fresh produce and other items produced by local people. Consider supporting local merchants to continue to grow our community and restore dignity to those who labor.     


Chapter 5: The Body Beautiful: Theology of the Body

Have you ever stopped to think about your body as an expression of who you are? as an expression of God? Loved the authors reflections in this chapter on Mother Teresa and the message conveyed to others through her body.  How often we can sense the presence of God, or lack of God’s presence, in another without them ever expressing a word? 

Hmmm… how does MY body express me? God?
(or maybe more accurately, how do I hope I share God with others through my body…). 

  • My smile.  I often get comments on my smile and that I smile through the good and the bad times in life.  Smiling in good times is easy – sharing the joy of the moment. For me to smile in the bad times is a reminder to me that I trust in God and that negative emotions or thoughts don’t get to have control over who I am.  I choose to live my life with integrity; anger, bitterness and hatred are not part of who I believe God created me to be.  I hope that my smile conveys my trust in the One who carries me through the darkness.  
  • My silence.  I don’t always have a lot to say.  As an introvert, I have a lot going on in my head and heart even if it’s not coming out of my mouth.  My silence is my way of taking in what is happening around me – loving and appreciating what others are sharing with me.  I pray that my silence isn’t a sign that I’m not interested – sometimes it’s the absolute opposite as I am so interested in the other that I’m not worried about my response – I just want to listen, to be blessed by what they share with me.

How do YOU express or share God through your body?

“Love can’t be given or received without the body” (p52).  The last few months I have been living with my sister and her family.  Coming home at night I am met with a two-year-old dropping what she’s doing and running to hug me.  There is no greater feeling than to have that kind of love meet you every time you enter the house, or come up the stairs.  Love is physically manifested through our actions, through our bodies, and it is good!

When is the last time you hugged or touched your loved ones?

As I read this chapter I thought about my running and frustrated I am because I’m currently side-lined until I find out more about the pain in my leg.  My running started out to be focused on getting healthier and losing weight, but has morphed into something so much more.  My running feeds my spirit as much as it works my body.  It’s my time to pray, my time to hear the voice of God.  So often when I am running outside I have had powerful God moments that sometimes bring me to tears.  A deer, a rainbow, a starry sky… no words are needed other than “thank you for sharing that with me, God.” Then there are the days I see another person walking or running or driving past me – and I pray for them and what they will face during the day. For me using my body in this way brings me closer to God in ways I have never otherwise experienced.  I pray that others see how I care for and love my body.  I run because I can and because it brings me closer to God.  I love to run, unlike many runners who will tell me they hate it (okay, I hate it inside on the treadmill – maybe that’s where the pain is coming from!).

Eating is something that I’ve changed – moderation in what I eat and eating less – but I still indulge and enjoy! Caring for your body requires loving yourself the way you are and keeping yourself healthy.

How do you care for your body?

Chapter 4: Our Daily Bread: Food as Sign and Sacrament

WOW!  I do not know about you – but this chapter gave me a lot to chew on!

Jesus often used ordinary things to explain or symbolize the extraordinary! A mustard seed, a lost sheep, a persistent widow… all of these things are so ordinary, but when looked at through a lens of faith they can lead us to deeper and more powerful truths than we could have imagined on our own.

As I was reading the first half of the chapter focused on food, I had to stop and think about how God chose for humans to be nourished – through food.  I’ve had plants that get water and sunshine to survive, our dogs ate the same food every day (cats too), yet as humans we have a vast banquet to choose from at every meal and most of us eat 2-3 times a day.  God created foods to nourish us that vary in taste, texture, and nutrients!  All this alone was enough for me to sit back and be in awe of what God’s plan was for us!  We have choices every day as to how we nourish our bodies.  Then add in the community aspect.  When we eat so many times a day it is natural to join with others around a table or coffee pot and share our lives – nourished not only physically, but also in friendship and love!  Then add in the layer of community of those who have come before us – who have created wonderful meals, who have tilled and cared for the land, who have found ways to create meals easier – and those who we may never know but that we will leave a legacy for them.  This chapter spoke to me in so many ways about how this idea of food and gathering together for meals is so important – in Scripture we often hear of Jesus eating with people – maybe God truly did intend that meals should be shared, enjoyed and that food is just one of the ways a person is nourished at a meal.

Jesus used ordinary things to symbolize the extraordinary… gathering to eat meals together, nourishing our bodies, growing in community are ordinary things.  Jesus tells people in John 6 that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood – many people leave him thinking he is crazy.  His disciples stay because they have come to know him and to trust what he says, even when it is difficult.  Jesus didn’t back down from his teaching because people walked away, which tells me that what we believe happens in the Eucharist is true! We consume the body and blood of Jesus!  We eat for nourishment – He gives himself to us to nourish us on our journey.  Every time I listen to the Eucharistic prayer I pray that Jesus will come into my heart and assist me to live as I am called to live.  I know that if I did not eat for a day or a week I would not have the energy or the clarity of mind to do what needs to be done; so too with the Eucharist, without Jesus I can do nothing!

This week: be more attentive as you’re eating – be aware of the time, the energy that you or others put into preparing the meal.  Add to your prayers a blessing of the hands of all those who helped to prepare your meal.  I gave a wonderful book to my three Godchildren this year – The Thank You Dish.  I may get this slightly wrong because I don’t have the book in front of me – but they lift up in thanks all those who helped to prepare the meal – even an aunt who made a scarf for the uncle so he would be warm while he went out fishing for the fish they were eating.  What a thought!  Do you think of all those who contributed to your meal?

Next weekend when you come to Mass – or consider coming to a daily Mass this week – and as you walk up to receive Jesus talk to Him – thank Him for what he has done for you and ask Him to nourish you as you journey through your week!

Chapter 3: Reality Re-enchanted

I often find faith contrary to culture, which makes it hard to live faith in our world today.  So of course when we look at food or our bodies we look at them through the view of culture, not through the eyes of faith.  How would I look at food differently if I looked through the lens of faith? What would I do differently with my body or how I care for it, if I looked at it through the eyes of faith?  Some questions I hope that we can all ponder this week!

As I read this chapter I was reminded of some of my past contemplations regarding needing to care more for my body.  I truly believe that my body is a temple in which Jesus enters into every time I receive Eucharist.  Is my body worthy of holding Him? I've heard people joke about how our bodies are temples, and how bigger people are more like Cathedrals for the holy to reside.  Over the years, as I have struggled with weight and eating I considered how I was not using my body in the way God intended, I was harming myself through poor eating and lack of exercise yet I could easily come up with every excuse as to why I couldn't do better.  As I look back I believe that I was looking at the world through the eyes of our modern world. There was always something or someone that was more important or that I felt needed to be taken care of before I looked at what I needed. What it comes down to for me is that I need to recognize that how I care for me is important.  In an airplane they tell you that you need to put on your oxygen mask first, then help those around you.  The same is true in many areas of life - if we don't first take care of ourselves we cannot care for those around us. Just as the sacraments offer us God's grace, caring for ourselves or nurturing ourselves give us the gifts and the strength that we need to do and be who we are called to be.  If I am not caring for myself I will most likely not be able to be the best me I can be. 

Some things to consider:

  • Do I see food and my body through a lens of faith or do I see it through our modern culture?
  • Where does God fit into my view of my body?
  • How might I treat myself differently if I saw my body as a temple?


Chapter 2 Wasteland: My Hungry Years

I am someone who has struggled with weight my whole life. I would never have used the word skinny to define myself, but I’m not sure I would use the word fat either.  I’ve always been on the heavier side and as I grew older the “heavier” I became.  At times I considered those too-good-to-be-true shakes, pills or diets, but those never felt right for me.  Then last year when my husband suggested I give running a chance I bought the couch-to-5K app and told him it was the biggest waste of $3.00.  However, to my surprise running became my new thing! Little did I know just how much would change for me when I started running! As I ran I realized that some days I came home feeling great and others I felt not-so-great so I started to look at my food intake.  I’ve significantly decreased fast food, beef, and soda while increasing chicken, veggies and fruits.  I’m not perfect and I still will have the occasional not-so-good-for-me food and I might regret it later, but sometimes it was worth it - whether it was the enjoyment of the food or the enjoyment of the company. Food controls us when we allow it to and that can send us down not so pleasant roads. What I’m learning is that I can be in control of what I eat by enjoying but not overindulging, by eating sensibly most of the time so that when I do indulge I’m not being “bad,” but that I’m enjoying food and community. 

In the book she talks about feeling mentally, spiritually and emotionally sick.  As I grow in my healthier habits I realize how “sick” I was too.  As I regain a healthy relationship with food and a healthy image of my body I regain strength. Strength in my body, my mind and my soul. I approach life differently than I did a year and a half ago. There is a strength within me that was missing, which has led me on a journey to start looking into the spiritual practice of fasting, which we will explore more in a future chapter. 

“I. Eat. Him. He – the almighty, all-knowing, all-loving Creator of the universe – comes to me as food, as the very thing I feared, as the very thing I hated.  And not only does he come to me through the matter I despised, but he also becomes a part of the flesh I loathed.  He gives himself to me, body to body, through the act of eating.” (page 22) 

What is your relationship with food?

Have you contemplated the connection between how we eat food to nourish our bodies and we consume the body and blood of Jesus to nourish our hearts and souls?

What struck you in this chapter?

Chapter 1: Unclean

How do you view food? Is it a necessary evil in life? Is it something that you take pictures of and post on your Facebook or Instagram? Is it something that brings you closer to God and community?

The family table is something I grew up with; dinner was on the table at 5:00pm and you were there.  We gathered, set the table, prayed together, ate together and then cleaned up.  It was a simple routine in our family, so simple that I think the depth of it was not apparent to me for years.  Having sat with my family at the table meant that we talked and shared our day with one another, we argued and we made up, we had to share food and sometimes give up seconds in order to make sure someone else could eat later.  It was not always peaceful and I’m sure my parents would argue that at times they weren’t sure it was worth it, but those meals were times of teaching, learning, sharing and loving.  I can’t remember all the meals that we ate, but I remember the bonding that happened.  Those meals nourished all of us so we could function day to day both physically and emotionally.

Over the years, society has seemed to look at food as the enemy.  It’s either “good” or “bad.”  I struggled as I went shopping with someone who wanted to focus on healthy eating so they walked the aisles at the grocery store looking for “fat free,” “90 calorie bars,” etc – when did processed, pre-packaged food become healthier than what you can find in the produce section?  I was judged because of the amount of sugar in an apple or corn and the fat in milk.  I walked away from that day wondering where the world went wrong in how we viewed food when we look at the natural foods God has given us as more harmful that the ones man manufactures.  I’m not an expert in food science, but my body tells me that natural foods that God provides make my body much happier and stronger.

One of the things I loved about this book is that it challenged me, but it also validated me.  I want to have a healthy relationship with food.  I want to eat healthy and I want to enjoy times of indulgence.  Food itself isn’t good or bad, but like anything God gives us, we need to be responsible in how we view it and how we use it. 

“Food isn’t just about calories and fat, vitamins and minerals, additives and preservatives.  It’s about God.  It’s about community.  It’s about life.  Food is one of God’s most precious gifts, a sign of the Lord’s goodness, abundance, creativity, and love. Most important, it’s the very thing that God becomes for us in the Eucharist.
For those reasons and more, food matters.  And when we see food for what it really is, life changes.  Families change.  Communities change. We change.” (page 11)


Do you have family dinners, or does everyone “fend for themselves”?

Do you eat lunch with colleagues or do you eat at your desk?

How do you view food? What do you judge it by?


Introduction to our ALL PARISH READ!

This Christmas OLIH gave away copies of the book The Catholic Table: Finding Joy Where Food and Faith Meet by Emily Stimpson Chapman.  Now let us read the book together!

What was I thinking as I chose this book? Over the summer, I offered a running group in July, we gathered on Friday mornings in the wee hours and went for a run, and then we came back to OLIH for some conversation about the spirituality of running and a light breakfast.  During the week I blogged about a book I was reading to help us focus on various aspects of spirituality and running.  It was a great way to bring faith into our habit/routines of running or walking.  As the summer progressed I contemplated what else could we do? Could we offer a similar thing in January with a focus on food? Everyone eats –so food and spirituality would be a perfect focus! Therefore, off I went searching for a book on spirituality and food.  In my searching, I stumbled onto The Catholic Table and found it to be a wonderful read!  The next question was how do I implement this… making a long story short we chose to give this book for Christmas this year and encourage the whole parish to read it in January, follow the blog and join us at any and every event that includes food – and we added a few food focused activities too!  I love tying together food and faith because both of these things bring us together around a table, opens our hearts and nourishes our bodies and minds. 

Over a year ago I started to run – well, when I first started I’m not sure anyone would have called it running, but I was out there moving – and as I grew in my running I started to notice some things, especially how my body felt.  I started to pay attention to how my body felt after a run and how that connected to the food I consumed in the last 24 hours.  That made me start to make some serious changes to my eating habits – no special diets, no cutting out anything all together, but just a listening to my body and responding.  It was good!  I then started to notice even on non-run days how my body responded to foods and by listening to my body I have continued to adjust what I consume.  I am more intentional about what I do eat, and yes sometimes I know that I am going to regret this meal later when I’m running, but I also don’t want to deny myself simple pleasures or an enjoyable meal with friends or family either.  I don’t want food to control me, but I need to listen to my body!  In the last 15 months, I have lost over 40 pounds and am feeling great!  As I continue to run and make healthier food choices I do not feel guilty about eating or enjoying something, but I also make sure that when I eat I am hungry and that I’m not just eating to fill a void that food is not going to fill.

Another reason this book speaks to me is that I believe in the art of eating together at the table.  As a child we ate dinner together every night as a family.  This wasn’t just a nice thing to do, but a wonderful time of teaching moments and creating memories!  My family still doesn’t let me live down the fact that as a child when I wanted seconds I would tap the pan or bowl with my utensil and ask for “more chicken please” regardless of what was being served that night.  I also once – JUST ONCE – ate sauerkraut and hard-boiled eggs together and loved it!  So now whenever mom makes her sauerkraut dish, hard-boiled eggs are made available also!  Memories are created at the table and memories are shared at the table.  Eating together opens doors to conversation and family life in ways that nothing else can.  The last two years I have done a parent night for second grade parents where I compare the family dinner table to the altar.  The stories and food of our family table nourishes our bodies and minds while the scripture stories and spiritual food offered at the altar give us spiritual nourishment. 

One final thought. I said earlier that everyone eats so focusing on food is good, but what if we stopped to consider all those who do not have enough to eat, who don’t have food for their tables tonight? As we fill our pantries and freezers do we stop to think about those who can’t? Take time to watch the bulletin for some Social Justice and Food connections to be made. AMOS did a needs assessment of Ankeny and will be sharing with you some of the facts they found regarding hunger here in Ankeny. Food is a basic part of our daily life, yet so many in our world, in our country, even in our town are hungry today because they don’t have the means to feed themselves or their family. 

Starting Thursday I will be reading 2 chapters of the book a week and blogging on them (Thursdays and Mondays), join the conversation and share your thoughts, reflections, and maybe even your favorite dishes!  Now letting start reading….