Posted by: mmreflections | May 10, 2011

Childhood Memories! May 2011

“Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah, ‘We have guests.  Quick, three seahs (about half a bushel) of fine flour!  Knead it and make rolls.’  He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice steer, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it.  Then he got some curds and milk, as well as the steer that had been prepared, and set these before the guests; and he waited on them under the tree while they ate.”  (Confer Genesis 18:1-8)

Recently confronted with a question about childhood memories, what kept coming to my mind always seemed to be related to meals with family and friends.  Foremost among those memories were the evening meals we shared as a family, with all of us sitting around the big round oak table in our kitchen.  Our mom always made sure we had a nice hot meal together at the close of the day.  With my dad having died when I was only two years old, our mom had her hands full trying to keep our family of nine children together.  We were considered a poor family!  (I find myself questioning that assumption now that I am in my golden years.)  You see we had to eat things like homemade bread, fresh vegetables from the garden in the summer months, home canned vegetables during the winter months, home baked pastries and pastas, with very little store bought foods.  Once in a long while we had a special treat (?) store bought bread when we ran out of home baked bread before baking day.  At those meals I remember the chatter around the table as my  older siblings talked about the events of their day.

Among those memories were the Sundays when guests arrived, often unexpectedly.  Our mom made sure there would be some food for them for it would be rude not to serve guests something special if they had taken time to come and visit.  Not to serve guests some food would be a breach of hospitality and a sure sign they were not welcome.  These times are among the happiest memories of childhood.  If joy, peace, love, generosity and hospitality are gifts reflecting the Spirit of God, it seems to me that the Almighty One was present with us in those special moments.

As I continue to consider those happy childhood experiences around the table and food, stories from the Bible coming to mind also center around the table and hospitality.  Abraham and Sarah found themselves entertaining angels when they invited unexpected visitors to rest awhile with them and share some of their food.  Before they departed one of the visitors said to Abraham, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.” (Genesis 18:10)  We know this promise came true.

Jesus would often describe the Kingdom of God as a banquet to which many of the prosperous and important people were invited but declined to attend.  As a result the poor and disenfranchised, the lowly and rejected, the sinners and misfits were invited and they accepted.  These were the ones who experienced the joy, the peace, the love and the hospitality of the Holy One.  It was often at dinner tables to which Jesus had been invited that miracles took place, special blessings were received, conversions took place, people were healed and many learned about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who was loving, benevolent and forgiving.

Jesus gathered his chosen disciples together to share a meal with him on the night before he went to his death, the night of his last supper, his last Passover meal. He taught them an important lesson as he washed their feet and reminded them to do what he was doing in the days that would follow after he was gone.  While  they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to them.  He took the chalice of wine, gave thanks and gave it to them.  He reminded them to do this in remembrance of his presence with them.

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’  Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.'”  (Matthew 26:26-30)

After Jesus’ death two disciples were on their way to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus and they were talking about all that had occurred in the past few days.  A man drew near to them and asked what they were talking about.  As they approached the village where they lived, they invited this fellow traveler to stay with them for it was nearing nightfall.  So he went to stay with them.  It happened that, while he was with them at the dinner table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them.  With that the disciples’ eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus.  (Confer Luke 24:13-35)

Why are there so many other incidents recorded in the Scriptures which describe blessings associated with meals?  Why has it become customary to celebrate important events in our lives with special dinners?  Quickly coming to mind are blessings and joys experienced at dinners following the baptism of children, the happiness at a wedding banquet to celebrate the joy of newly-weds, and even the blessings unfolding at dinners following the death and burial of loved ones.  I often recall the special celebration and dinner following my ordination to the priesthood and my first solemn Divine Liturgy which was the embarkation point for the 48 years of priestly ministry which were to follow.  When asked to describe childhood memories I guess the best description would be that when happy we gathered together around the table and shared food;  when sad, we gathered together around the table and shared food; whenever anything special occurred, we gathered around the table and shared food; when guests arrived, we gathered around the table and shared food.  These were times of blessing.  They are still times of blessing.  Periodically a couple of long time friends from my former parish meet for a long lunch when we bring each other up to date on what is happening in our lives.  When we part company after a few hours of eating and sharing, I come home feeling blessed and energized for what lies ahead. Extended dinners and conversations with friends even now prove to be special blessings for us.  The blessings of these meals are reflected in how we feel when we are back home and how affectively we are able to fulfill our responsibilities afterwards. 

Many are so busy with responsibilities of daily life today that a quick stop at a fast food restaurant becomes their only experience of having a meal.  Some only eat before a TV set or a computer.  Some have their meal while driving, a hazard to themselves and others.   Perhaps it is time for us to become old-fashioned and to gather more often around the table of blessing where we share food, laughter and a little bit of our lives.  We need to make our meals a sacrament once again, a sign of God’s presence and abundance.  The simple gesture of lighting a candle at the dinner table can be a reminder of the sacredness of this moment.  We need not wait for a special occasion; every day is special and every meal is a blessing if we remember to make it one.

Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.”  None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord.  Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.  This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to them.  When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, Do you love me more than these?’  Peter said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.  Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  (John 21:12-15)

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Responses

  1. Dear Fr. Mike,
    What a wonderful reflection. My childhood was about the same. My mother at the age of 43 was left a widow with 10 children. I treasure the thoughts of family dinners and company on Sundays. Anyone who hasn’t had Sunday dinners with about 15 people around the table is missing something. The important thing was that my mother never let us know we were poor. Beautiful memories of a devoted mother
    God Bless & Thanks for these memories
    Kitty

  2. Dear Father Mike,
    Your stories are always so heartfelt!
    Again, I can relate to this particular reflection. My mother was much the same as yours. She was always concerned about having family dinners and everyday was special. She, too, always had her home baked bread at every meal; and she, too, always made sure that Sunday visitors were welcome and enjoyed a wonderful dinner with us.
    Your writings certainly bring back special times for all of us, I’m sure. What a nice feeling. How blessed we are!

    God bless!
    Thanks again for the inspiration!

    Andrea

  3. Dear Father Mike,
    Thank you for sharing those special times in your life.
    The Bible verses that you have woven into this message have made me better aware of one of the ways Jesus wants us to meet Him: through the simple act of sharing a meal. Recognizing the presence of our Lord at each meal will turn what may be an ordinary part of our daily lives into a banquet.
    May God continue to bless you for all that you do.
    Michael


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