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Bible Reflections View Comments

Not What We Eat, But How and Why
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, August 19, 2012
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Eating and drinking are a significant part of our lives. At the most basic level, they’re necessary for our very survival as living creatures. But beyond that, they are intertwined with most of our social customs and much or our entertainment. Who would have thought there would be an entire television network devoted to food? The centrality of food and social interaction has been true for much of human civilization. It should come as no surprise, then, that our most essential connection to God has been transformed into food and drink.

Our first reading today talks about wisdom as a woman preparing a fine banquet for those who will sit at her table. And in the Gospel, Jesus continues his explanation of how he himself is the bread of life. In both cases, the bodily nourishment is incidental. What God truly seeks to nourish is our souls. But sometimes we can’t see past the surface appearance and other times we try to make things more complicated than they need to be.

Something about food customs elicits more squeamishness in us than nearly anything else. So we’re not surprised by the reaction to Jesus telling the people that they needed to eat his flesh and blood. But his unwillingness to explain should tip us off to the fact that it’s less a question of how than why. It becomes a matter of trust and ultimately faith. Even the great theologian Thomas Aquinas knew better than to ask how this might be. Some things simply need to be accepted, and then they become quite simple indeed. We know absolutely that this is far more significant to our lives than even the everyday food that sustains our bodies.

There is a wisdom in the practice of receiving First Communion at a young age. Children don’t question their need for food. From the day they’re born, they enter into a rhythm of being fed. It can be a delicate dance at times between hunger and the guiding hand of a loving parent. And more than one toddler has been as horrified by green beans as Jesus’ listeners were by his reference to flesh and blood. Beginning to receive communion while this nurturing, nourishing rhythm is still part of our lives makes it as much a part of who we are and how we live as eating and drinking our earthy food.

Only when we become adults do we take this for granted or try too hard to understand it with our complicating minds. There’s a difference between being wise and being knowledgeable. We do well to leave the difficult things to God and not make life harder than it needs to be. If we can complicate something as simple as eating and drinking, it’s no wonder we get tangled up in so many other things in our lives.

What matters most is not what we eat, but rather how we eat. While a gourmet meal can stand as a metaphor for the lavish love of God in giving us the Eucharist, the forms of bread and wine are simple, even spartan, and yet have an explosive power to nourish our souls beyond anything we could imagine. If we stay close to the Lord who feeds us and nourishes us each day, giving us the breath of life itself and the food and drink we need, we can’t go too far astray.  


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Alphonsus Liguori: 
		<p>Moral theology, Vatican II said, should be more thoroughly nourished by Scripture, and show the nobility of the Christian vocation of the faithful and their obligation to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world. Alphonsus, declared patron of moral theologians by Pius XII in 1950, would rejoice in that statement.</p>
		<p>In his day, Alphonsus fought for the liberation of moral theology from the rigidity of Jansenism. His moral theology, which went through 60 editions in the century following him, concentrated on the practical and concrete problems of pastors and confessors. If a certain legalism and minimalism crept into moral theology, it should not be attributed to this model of moderation and gentleness.</p>
		<p>At the University of Naples he received, at the age of 16, a doctorate in both canon and civil law by acclamation, but he soon gave up the practice of law for apostolic activity. He was ordained a priest and concentrated his pastoral efforts on popular (parish) missions, hearing confessions, forming Christian groups. </p>
		<p>He founded the Redemptorist congregation in 1732. It was an association of priests and brothers living a common life, dedicated to the imitation of Christ, and working mainly in popular missions for peasants in rural areas. Almost as an omen of what was to come later, he found himself deserted, after a while, by all his original companions except one lay brother. But the congregation managed to survive and was formally approved 17 years later, though its troubles were not over. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus’ great pastoral reforms were in the pulpit and confessional—replacing the pompous oratory of the time with simplicity, and the rigorism of Jansenism with kindness. His great fame as a writer has somewhat eclipsed the fact that for 26 years he traveled up and down the Kingdom of Naples, preaching popular missions. </p>
		<p>He was made bishop (after trying to reject the honor) at 66 and at once instituted a thorough reform of his diocese. </p>
		<p>His greatest sorrow came toward the end of his life. The Redemptorists, precariously continuing after the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, had difficulty in getting their Rule approved by the Kingdom of Naples. Alphonsus acceded to the condition that they possess no property in common, but a royal official, with the connivance of a high Redemptorist official, changed the Rule substantially. Alphonsus, old, crippled and with very bad sight, signed the document, unaware that he had been betrayed. The Redemptorists in the Papal States then put themselves under the pope, who withdrew those in Naples from the jurisdiction of Alphonsus. It was only after his death that the branches were united. </p>
		<p>At 71 he was afflicted with rheumatic pains which left incurable bending of his neck; until it was straightened a little, the pressure of his chin caused a raw wound on his chest. He suffered a final 18 months of “dark night” scruples, fears, temptations against every article of faith and every virtue, interspersed with intervals of light and relief, when ecstasies were frequent. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus is best known for his moral theology, but he also wrote well in the field of spiritual and dogmatic theology. His <i>Glories of Mary</i> is one of the great works on that subject, and his book <i>Visits to the Blessed Sacrament</i> went through 40 editions in his lifetime, greatly influencing the practice of this devotion in the Church.</p> American Catholic Blog Those who want to participate more fully in salvation history are comforted by the fact that Jesus wants to walk with us in our suffering and wants to break bread to give us strength on our way.

 
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