The Blessing of the Family Meal
by Pete Vere
"Between our careers, running the kids to piano lessons and soccer practice, board meetings for the local library association, and just being exhausted by the end of the day, we never had time to sit down as a family and eat," the woman told me.
She had approached me because her husband, from whom she was divorced, had petitioned the local diocesan tribunal to declare their marriage invalid. By external accounts, it had seemed like the perfect marriage: two professionals well-established in their careers, two kids, two cars, a house, and a family pet. Trying to find out more about the breakdown of the couple’s relationship, I had asked, "How often did you eat together as a family?"
The woman’s answer did not surprise me. Hers was an answer I had heard hundreds of times before. It seems like today’s family is too busy to sit down together and eat. The family meal is fading from our culture, a throwback to times before progress got in the way.
While sitting in my family doctor’s office a few months ago, I noticed an article on eating real food. Not food products, not processed food, not fast food or frozen dinners, but green beans, potatoes, apples, and buffalo—food grown on the farm just outside town and purchased from the local Mennonite farmer.
The point of the article was that we as a society have forgotten what real food looks and tastes like. However, I believe this to be a symptom of a deeper problem: Namely, we have forgotten that a real meal involves fellowship with other people. This is not surprising in our culture of fast food and TV dinners, where convenience has replaced community as the apotheosis of the culinary. Real food means real meals, and real meals mean real fellowship, especially when it comes to family life. Nothing brings together friends and family like a delicious home-cooked meal!
Jesus Embraces the Meal
This was certainly the case with Our Lord as recorded in the Gospels. Have you ever noticed how many major events in the life of Christ are connected to the meal? To begin with, Jesus’s first public miracle took place during the wedding feast of Cana. At the urging of our Blessed Mother, Christ turned the water into wine so that the meal could continue. What was the meal celebrating? A young couple coming together to found a new life together as a family. Here a strong link is forged between miracle, meal, and marriage. Our Lord’s wedding gift to this new couple was to extend their first meal together as a family.
Another example is the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. This miracle took place during the Passover, which is one of the most important meals of the Jewish calendar. The miracle set the stage for Our Lord’s revelation of the mystery of transubstantiation by declaring His flesh real food and His blood real drink.
Jesus spent the following Passover with His Apostles, warning them of his imminent death and Resurrection for the salvation of man. He did so during the Last Supper—a familystyle Passover meal between Jesus and His Twelve Apostles. Thus Our Lord models the Mass—the source and summit of our spiritual lives as Catholics—upon the family meal.
Not even the Resurrection escapes the theology of the meal. It was one thing for Our Lord to rise from the dead; it was quite another for His disciples to believe. According to St. Luke’s Gospel, the disciples failed to recognize Christ until the breaking of the bread (24:30–31). Others disbelieved and were frightened by His pierced hands and feet—perhaps mistaking Our Lord for a ghost—until He sat down and shared a meal of fish with them (Lk. 24:36–43). Thus Jesus offers the family meal as proof of His bodily Resurrection.
The meal signals important events and teachings in the Gospels. One could almost view the meal as a sacramental in that it opens us to God’s grace. Meals are instrumental for building and maintaining a strong Christian family life. Most of us are familiar with the cliché "the family that prays together, stays together." Similarly, the family that eats together will find it easier to pray together.
Eating as a Family
I know this to be the case in my own family. The first prayer my two oldest children learned was the traditional grace my wife and I would say before meals. From there they learned the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, and all of the other prayers of the Rosary. Yet it was the act of praying together before meals that conditioned our children to pray together as a family after meals. The family meal is thus a catalyst for family prayer.
The family meal has also brought our young family together in other ways. It begins at the grocery store and the farmers market where my wife and I, with input from our children, plan our next big meal. Together we pick out the meat, the vegetables, and—most importantly from our children’s perspective— the dessert.
This is a wonderful family activity. It forces us to converse as a group, taking the time necessary to learn each other’s likes and dislikes. It also teaches compromise, sharing, and conflict resolution. For instance, one child might prefer ice cream while the other prefers cake. Who picked out the dessert last week? Whose birthday is it this week? Might they compromise and pick out an ice cream cake? Thus, many of the lessons our children learn from shopping together apply to other areas of family life.
Another important facet of the family meal is conversation. Poor communication between husband and wife is one of the most consistent problems one encounters when engaged in tribunal ministry. "We stopped talking to each other" is the answer I hear most frequently whenever I ask a divorced couple how they communicated during their common life. It is even more common than "We fought all the time." I often hear something similar from teenagers who get mixed up with sex, drugs, and gangs. "My parents don’t really care about me; they’re too busy pursuing their careers to discuss my problems."
The family meal is the best antidote to poor communication within a family. It offers a family the perfect opportunity to pull together as one, combine talents, and catch up on each other’s daily lives. It allows families the opportunity to discuss particular concerns facing the individual or the family as a unit. The family meal is a time to recognize that God has not only blessed us with food, but with friends and family with whom we can share it.
Let us not allow the family meal to become an anachronism. As Christians, let us learn to appreciate this time God has given us together. Let us use the family meal to deepen our relationship with God and to strengthen our relationships with each other. For Christ has blessed the meal just as He has blessed the family.
E-mail this article to a friend