By FR. ROLANDO V. DELA ROSA, OP
Before the advent of television and the internet, cooking was confined to the kitchen. Today, cooking is a top-grossing, informative, and entertaining spectacle. TV programs featuring celebrity chefs and self-proclaimed food gurus attract a huge following. So doblogs and other culinary sites on the web.
Sadly though, these have transformed us from food eaters to avid food watchers. Glib-talking chefs lecture about exotic, savory, and outlandish meals, making us forget the difference between actual food and its alluring cinematic image. More often, what we see is not what we get.
Having said that, these culinary programs have a plus point. They serve to balance the utilitarian and functional attitude developed in us by junk food and soft drink commercials. These advertisements, swarming like flies on television, seduce us, especially children, to look at food solely from the perspective of efficiency, economy, and speed. These have diverted our appetite for real food to pre-packaged, ready-to-eat, or microwavable food.
In contrast, meticulously prepared cooking programs remind us of the rituals that accompany food preparation. If we scrutinize everything that goes with cooking, we realize that every action or gesture is not only functional but is expressive of meaning or significance. We can only discern such significance if cooking is ritualized, thus preventing it from becoming a daily chore or burden.
It’s the same with eating. The meaningful rituals that accompany a meal are lost when we eat junk food while slouched on the sofa, or ladling food from paper plates and disposable containers, using plastic fork and spoon. Eating this way may save us money and time, but it reduces eating into mere feeding. Fast food saves time and meets our hunger for “fuel,” but they shortchange the deeper significance of eating.
For instance, do we realize that many of the things we cook or eat have to die? What we call food is actually another living being that died when we butchered, sliced, boiled, steamed, broiled, baked, or barbecued it. Hastily wolfing down food dishonors both the human effort to prepare it and obliterates the memory of those creatures that died on our behalf.
Today’s feast of Corpus Christi (The Body and Blood of Christ) addresses precisely this insensitivity and ingratitude that reduces us to animals whose main reason for eating is survival.
Jesus loves food. His first miracle was at a wedding party in Cana. He attended luncheons and dinners prepared by His friends, as well as by sinners and tax collectors. And when He was about to definitively leave His disciples, He chose to give them a remembrance, a living sign of His presence, the Holy Eucharist. And what is the Eucharist? It is the body and blood of Jesus.
As long as we are alive, our hunger for food will not dissipate. So, what better way for Jesus to make Himself and His memory linger in our heart than to offer Himself as food?
Besides this, Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist to make us look with fresh awareness at how the simple act of eating provides lessons on how life arises from death – the flower from a dead seed, the phoenix from ashes, eternity from time.Like all food, He died to give us life. As He said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6: 34-35).
Imagine a God, who, in His desire to be loved by us, worked His way to our hearts through our stomachs. When Christ told the Jews that He was giving Himself to them as food, they were shocked. “What do you think of us? Cannibals?” they must have murmured to themselves. But as always, Jesus did the unthinkable. In Him, God became not only visible, credible, audible, and tangible; God became edible.