This Christmas season (yes, it’s still Christmas season!) is a perfect time to pause, between bites of chocolate torte and sips of sparkling wine, and consider if we have learned to feast appropriately. This is less of a financial issue than one of leisure and union with the liturgical year. And it also involves a serious look at how we receive us this day our daily bread and embrace the times of fasting. It is only by the contrasts of these three that we can know if we are connected with hundreds of years of Catholic practice. Our society is rapidly blurring lines of distinction. We see this not only in perpetual gastronomic celebrations but also in attire: as a nation we seem to have forgotten about Sunday clothes and evening dress. I remember (way back in my youth) changing out of play clothes to “go to town.” There’s a crisis in other areas as well: manners (why wouldn’t I text my friends while sitting at your dinner table?) and correspondence (what’s a thank-you letter or a pen pal?). But this is not to be a lamentation: rather an encouragement to take a look around the kitchen and decide to feast well, by understanding what it means to eat simply on a regular basis.
Our meals should nourish us body and soul by being wholesome and satisfying. Our bodies are made of what we eat. As one brief example (given while wiping away a chocolate smear), every cell in our bodies regularly recycles — drawing from available nutrients to rebuild. If each cell membrane isn’t healthy, the cell itself is limited in its ability to function. Therefore, it seems reasonable that our normal fare should be composed of simple, wholesome foods that promote health, produce satiety and comfort, and are affordable. Research into options needn’t be tedious. There’s an abundance of good reading about dietary traditions, such as the wealth of information in the second volume of Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words. With wise and faithful management, the Portuguese family ate quite well, albeit simply, in the days before the apparitions changed their lives forever. The Weston A. Price Foundation, publishers of Nourishing Traditions, is a reliable source regarding traditional diets. And countless times, in reading Catholic biographies, I have come across references to the Sunday dinner being a miniature feast in contrast to the weekly fare.
I feel a warning here is necessary. In our time, there is a mistaken perception that choosing to purchase cheap food is virtuous. Modern, inexpensive, processed products, available in abundance, create a situation where, for the last one hundred years, many people aren’t eating quality, or even real, foods. A look at the American populace indicates that we are paying a heavy (ha!) price because of it. We are not a nation of healthy people. It takes concentrated focus to find or make quality food on a tight budget — but I believe it’s a vital aspect of the vocation to parenthood.
To fast well means to pare down the regular diet to one that is less comforting but still nutritious. It is the keenest way to wake up a sluggish spirituality. The liturgical year is full of opportunities to experiment in this area. It may take consulting an older missal or calendar and looking at something a bit stricter than the current regulations of only two fast days during the entire liturgical year. A season of fasting can take great courage, but is essential to appreciate a period of feasting.
And feasting (pardon me, while I pour another glassful) is really a simple concept because it is merely an expansion of how we eat regularly. This may include desserts or seasonal treats, dinners with multiple courses, special beverages, and even eating between meals. The art of it all, however, involves not only slowing down our fast-paced lives to enjoy the celebration, but ending the feasting appropriately and not prolonging it perpetually. Again, the Church’s year is an excellent guide. Some feasts are celebrated for a season (fifty days of Easter!), some for an octave, and some for only one day. A family might have its own feast day and children (well, most adults, too) enjoy a dinner in their honor — with candlelight and a special dessert.
Because food affects us so deeply, feasting well becomes a duty in a vital Catholic life. It involves thought and discipline (and some attention to personal digestion). The shift into celebration expands our hearts (potentially our waistlines) and helps us live the Church year with a more festive connection. À votre santé!