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📖(4 min. read)Food and Faith

A short reflection on perspectives that undermine a true and deeper understanding of our Eucharistic commitment to share our resources more profoundly. Article in “Faith in Food” in A.R.C. 988 WORDS


(I was asked to write as a Catholic)

“So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink

And to find satisfaction in work.” Ecclesiastes 2:24

“I am sorry to be so late the traffic was terrible…” And Wisdom asks: ‘The traffic? Don’t you mean the cars ahead of you? You, the innocent victim. Those behind you non-existent.’ Err, yes, maybe. I’m afraid most of my language is from my own point of view, my vested interests.

I go shopping. Am about to pick and choose as if food began its life on the shelves. And Wisdom asks: ‘weren’t you going to use your LOAF and buy Locally-produced, Organically-grown, Animal-friendly, Fairly-traded goods?’ Er, yes, maybe. But it takes much more focus and care to do that. And what difference will little me make when all those with heaped-up trolleys don’t care?

I buy a can of drink, interested in the drink, of course. And Wisdom whispers: ‘what about that programme you heard on the radio about the dire conditions of miners in Latin American aluminium mines?’

‘And why, why are those at the beginning of tin can production on starvation wages when the director of the can company earns a fortune?’ Er, yes, thanks. Can’t do much about that. But I can live with the question and try to recycle more aluminium.

It’s no wonder that Jesus urges us to take care of the way we see and hear things. He found, increasingly I think, that very gifted people (especially gifted with learning, wealth or social authority) often became so preoccupied with their own way of seeing or hearing that they could not stand back and see what was really going on.

Beware you who are wealthy, not because you are sinners but because you have created your own ‘kingdom’, your own self-justifying language and awareness.

One of his most striking parables is when the invitation goes out to enter the banquet of real life (Matthew 22: 2-6) in which Jesus says, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servants to notify those who were invited. But they all refused to come.

‘So he sent other servants to tell them, “The feast has been prepared. The bulls and fattened cattle have been killed, and everything is ready. Come to the banquet!” But the guests he had invited ignored them and went their own way, one to his farm, another to his business. Others seized his messengers and insulted them and killed them.’

If this were today, the first couple would be preoccupied by a newly bought house and so can’t see further than that. The second would have just bought a new car and would be keen to take it out for a drive. The gospel Jesus lived and urged us to make our own is a radical critique of the market economy as an ideology. Any idea that if we all look after our own, the common good will see to itself is a very plausible illusion. And, like all ideologies, carries within itself the seeds of its own downfall.

One possible reading of Jesus ‘feeding the 5,000’ (as recorded in John 6:5-13) is that he knew there was enough food in the vast gathering if only the families who had food could be persuaded to relinquish their hold on private property and learn to share. His initial act of blessing and sharing those few loaves was a trigger sacrament for all to do likewise. It would be wonderful indeed if our churches could teach and live like that.

It is, in fact, in our social teaching down through the years that anything anyone has in excess of reasonable need belongs (in justice not largesse) to those in need. That truth is our best-kept secret.

For many Christians the feeding of the 5,000 should be taken as the model for our Eucharist or Communion services and so we should keep an open table to anyone of goodwill who comes for Communion. In the Catholic faith, however, Communion at the Eucharist is more profound than that, and if we read John’s sixth chapter it seems to have been a real issue in the early church.

Let me share some personal experiences as a Catholic priest. Each Sunday evening I celebrate the Eucharist with a hundred or so Catholics. I am deeply moved at the time of Communion by their ‘Amens’ to the words ‘the Body of Christ, the Blood of Christ’.

On the day before he was crucified, at what is known as ‘The Last Supper’, Jesus was with his friends ‘and he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”’

I know that the ‘Amen’ of each communicant is deeply personal but is not private, because each of us receives [Holy Communion] as a member of the Church of which we are members in our wider lives. There is a radical transformation of bread and wine into becoming the Body and Blood of Christ, not because I believe it, not because I understand it, or anyone understands it, but because it is the faith–knowledge of the Church.

It has come home to me more and more through involvement with Oxfam, CAFOD (the official Catholic aid agency for England and Wales) and the Justice And Peace Network over the years, that the special moment of our ‘Amen’ in Communion sends us out to break bread in our economic and political lives during the week.

Would that all of us Catholics who say ‘Amen’ on a Sunday also said ‘Amen’ to our Church’s true tradition.


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