This past week I had the joy of visiting the home of a gracious friend. We shared conversation and a meal, and the best part was that our time together was punctuated with a lot of laughter. I had never been to my friend's house before, yet I felt very much at home. This was because of the warm welcome I received, but most of it had to do with the meal we shared. The meal was definitely well planned, but there was a sense of playfulness that emerged as we shared in our time together. It was evident that we both were enjoying each other's company whether the conversation was serious or humorous.
This got me to thinking about Jesus and His friends. Have you ever noticed in the Gospels just how much eating and drinking He did with His friends? From the wedding at Cana to the telling of the parable of the Lost Son, right up to His last night on earth, which we remember as the Last Supper, so much of His ministry involved food and drink with His friends...and even His enemies. I think this is because food and drink are what sustain us physically, and spending time with people we love sustains us emotionally. When we are with loved ones, we do not gobble our food down, as we might be tempted to do when we are at work or if we are alone. Instead, we go more slowly and deliberately because we are savoring the conversation and the presence of those around us. We want it to last.
Having just gotten back from a pilgrimage in Europe, something that I noticed is that meals take longer there than they do here in the United States for the most part. Even with how much I thought I could slow down and savor a meal, it was interesting to see that in restaurants in Europe, one does not think twice at the prospect of having a two to three hour lunch. They take time out to dine, not simply to eat, and therefore the routine of the day is divided a bit differently than we do here. It is not that they "waste time" and get little done. On the contrary, they work as many hours as we do, but they simply take the time to really stop, enjoy the meal, and then renewed, return to work. Now I am sure there are situations and places in Europe where they are just as harried as we are, but for the most part, they stop and are very deliberate about meals, even at the most simple of meals. There is definitely more enjoyment when we put our cares aside and simply enjoy the people we are with.
In the midst of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Ignatius has some rules for eating for those making the Exercises. (The Spiritual Exercises are meant to be an extended retreat experience.) At one point during the retreat, he encourages the retreatant to slow down, chew slowly, and really relish the food. (Sorry for the pun, but that is what he says, more or less.) He says to savor or relish the experience. I had a spiritual director once who encouraged me to feel the texture of the food, to smell it, to let its taste open up almost like one does with a glass of wine, truly letting the spices and flavor be noticed. She even had me look at the food, the presentation, so to speak, in order to better appreciate it. When was the last time you did that? Believe me, even though I was dining alone on that retreat, the meal took a longer time because instead of simply eating and not realizing what I had eaten, I was able to appreciate everything about the meal. St. Ignatius was trying to teach something deeper than good gastronomical etiquette: he was teaching us to notice. If we can notice tastes, smells, textures, etc., in a meal, imagine how much more we can learn to notice God around us.
In addition to learning how to better notice God, we also can stop to realize the gift of everything He has given us. If we carry this out habitually in our meals, it will include savoring those we are with, recognizing them as a gift also. In this one act of slowing down and enjoying a meal, we learn so much that can translate to the rest of our daily lives. We can learn to savor God's presence in other encounters with friends or strangers, looking for His presence among and between us. We can learn to savor His presence in nature, in creation. We can learn to savor God's presence in our prayer just like we do with our friends at a lunch or dinner. We can learn to savor His presence in the meal He offers us, His own Body and Blood given freely for us. All this savoring fosters gratitude, and grateful people are joyful people!
Savoring is a form of simplifying, in a sense. We can focus on that which is at hand, giving it full attention, as if it is the only thing that matters at the moment. This goes against our multitasking society, but multitasking is stressful! If we focus on what and especially who is at hand, we give our full attention and then come away with a much deeper, richer experience. Did you ever talk with someone you just knew was not listening to you, but was far off in thought about something else? Such an encounter is shallow and the distracted "listener" misses so much of the person who is speaking, not just what they are saying. (This is not to mention what the speaker possibly is feeling, maybe a bit insulted or hurt.) We miss so much when we are distracted or inattentive. Savoring makes everything seem more alive, richer and more meaningful.
On the pilgrimage previously mentioned, we traveled to Lisieux to the home where St. Thérèse grew up. There was a beautiful flower garden in the yard outside the house. In her autobiography Thérèse wrote about being a little flower in the garden of the Lord. I have no doubt she realized that thought while looking at the beauty of the flowers in that garden as a young girl. In her writing she also mentioned loving the garden in the convent where she lived until her death. She was so able to savor the beauty of a simple garden that she later said she wanted to spend her Heaven doing good for those on earth, showering them with roses. Obviously for St. Thérèse she equated flowers with doing beautiful things for others. Something as simple as a flower became so filled with meaning. She made this connection no doubt because she clearly savored the experience of gazing on flowers in a garden.
I started this discussion by writing about a meal. Think about the meals you have savored, or which have been meaningful to you, and then think of why they meant so much. The odds are that as good as the food may have been, what really made it special are the people who cooked it and the people you shared it with. Savoring the event, the time spent with others, is an art. We have to learn to develop it beyond those occasional times. That is really what savoring is about. It is about learning to take everything in and to celebrate it as a gift. It will then translate to everything around us, from meals, to the things we love to do, to nature, and especially to the people we are with. A good place to start savoring is at the Eucharist, which is the most important of meals, and which sustains us spiritually and in every other way. Instead of going through the motions as is so easy to do with something as routine as Communion every Sunday, really spend time with Jesus. Taste the Body and Blood, feel it enter your body and your soul. Savor the gift of an intimate encounter with the Lord who loves you so much it is beyond comprehension. Savoring makes every gift so much more wonderful, especially the gift of our God!
May we savor every encounter we have this day. May we savor God’s presence around us in nature. May we savor the food we eat and the people with whom we share it. May we learn to savor God's presence in all our gatherings, and may we learn to have a sense of lightheartedness and playfulness that comes with feeling at home. And may we have a heightened sense of gift, which leads us to deeper gratitude for all the Lord has given. Let us meet at the table of the Lord, savoring one another and savoring the gift of our Lord! Peace!
You may have noticed that I have not written these past two weeks. I have just returned from a pilgrimage to Fatima, Avila, Zaragoza, Lourdes, Lisieux, and Paris. It was a wonderful experience; I will be writing about specific saints over the next few entries, but for now, I wanted to give some insights learned along the way. Oh... and thank you for noticing.
Pilgrimage is an interesting experience, and it is definitely not the same as a tour or a vacation. One has no idea how things will be on a pilgrimage, though you do know the destinations along the way. One learns to go with the flow in ways that even the most rigorous of schedulers and lovers of control have to flow with. The way of the pilgrim is one of simplicity, since pilgrims only have the things they have taken for the journey. And the goal of the pilgrim is to seek and find God not just at the destination, but all along the way. If one only seeks God at the destination, one misses Him not only along the way, but often misses Him altogether.
Upon returning, aside from the effects of jet lag, it was difficult at first to put into words what was touching in each of the sites we visited. There was a definite high point for me on the first day of the pilgrimage, in Fatima. While standing just feet away from the site of Mary's appearance to three shepherd children in 1917, I was able to proclaim the Scripture reading at Mass. It struck me that I was indeed standing on holy ground. I was filled with wonder and awe that this was a place where Mary revealed herself and cared enough to intercede for us, bringing a message for people to pray in order to save us from the effects of sin.
In 1916 three shepherd children, Lucia Santos and her two cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto, were shepherding their sheep when an angel appeared to them three times over the course of the year. The angel taught them a prayer, gave them Communion, and told them that the Virgin would soon visit them. The following year, on May 13, 1917, Mary appeared to them in that same spot, the Cova da Iria as it was known, and delivered a series of messages to them, telling them to return on the 13th of every month. Her visits culminated on October 13, 1917 with a visual miracle validating her appearances to the unbelieving authorities and those who came to the Cova that day. The children were subjected to taunts and abuse, even from their own families who did not believe their story of the beautiful lady from Heaven. Lucia's mother was most insistent that this was a fabrication, even though she knew her daughter was not one to tell lies. She withheld her affection from Lucia and treated her coldly for many months, which caused much suffering for Lucia.
The messages were of penance and the need to pray the Rosary for the reparation of sin. The children had no way of knowing what was going on in the world politically, but the Lady was warning them of a worse war than the one that was finishing in Europe, and that if people did not pray, there would be terrible consequences from this war. Some of what she said was to be made public and some was for the children alone. Two of the children, Jacinta and Francisco, were told they would soon be in Heaven; they accepted the burden of suffering in reparation of sin, that is, as redemptive suffering, for the sins of the world. Both of the children died a few years later, succumbing to the influenza epidemic in 1919. Lucia went on to live until 2005. She lived the life of a cloistered nun, but wrote about her experiences when asked to do so. Her ministry of prayer was no doubt very important to fulfilling the mission given her by the Lord through His mother.
It is important that we still heed the messages from the Blessed Virgin, delivered to us by those three children. Our world is no less complex than it was during their lifetime. Our world is still sorely in need of prayer and penance. Praying the Rosary, as Mary indicated we do, is a beautiful way to pray. Through this prayer we enter into the mysteries of the life of Jesus and Mary, all these mysteries from the Scriptures, in order to offer prayer for our world which is rather fragile and in turmoil. There is much of good and beauty in our world to celebrate, but there is much need for prayer for conversion and peace.
So what do we take away from all this? For me, it really clicked into place this morning as I was reflecting upon the pilgrimage. I think a pilgrim does not stop being a pilgrim in some sense. It is not something one turns on and off. Pilgrims are seekers, but they are also finders. That is, we are a pilgrim people, seeking the Lord all around us, and if we open our eyes, we find Him all around us. I realized this morning that what happened in Fatima, or at least my personal experience there, is really of no use if it was simply a spiritual high come and gone. I realized that what happened in 1917 did not happen for Fatima alone. And therefore my experience there did not happen for me alone. The presence of the holy is noticeable in places like Fatima and Lourdes, but the challenge is to find that the presence of the holy is not simply confined to a place. Fatima is here, wherever here is for you and for me. Our Lady's presence is with us wherever we are, as she is indeed our Mother, entrusted to us by her Son when He was dying on the Cross. (See John's Gospel, chapter 19:27 when He said to the disciple John, "Behold, your mother." Jesus gave her to us, as mother to the Church, the body of believers.)
God is present all over the world, not just in one spot. He is not confined to a building, or a tabernacle, or a sacred place. He is not even confined to a sacrament insofar as a sacrament is not a static moment, come and gone. His grace becomes part of us and goes with us where we go. He is present within us through those vehicles, and becomes one with us. There is a saying found in Celtic spirituality that goes like this:
To go to Rome
Is much of trouble, little of profit;
The King whom thou seekest there,
Unless thou bring Him with thee, thou wilt
The pilgrim seeks Christ in the journey, not simply at the destination. In that way, the journey never really ends. That is, it does not end until we arrive at our heavenly home with God forever. And pilgrims do not only seek and find. If that were so, it would be a "me and Jesus" spirituality, which is not at all what Christianity calls us to. Our faith is one in which we are called outward toward others to share what we seek and find. We are called to bring Christ to others, especially the lonely, the sick, the poor, the marginalized, the suffering, and all those brothers and sisters we meet along the way. If we are truly Christian, we are pilgrims. And if we are pilgrims we see Christ all around us, including within ourselves. We try to see all as gift, and in thanksgiving we share the gift with others. That is the message of Fatima and Lourdes, and that is the message of the Scriptures. It is the message of Christ because it is a message of love. If we see Love all around us and within us, even in our brokenness, we can then embrace the brokenness of others. And when we do that, we can be instruments of healing and of hope, which is what Fatima and Lourdes are all about.
Let us embrace the call to be pilgrims, opening our eyes to the healing presence of God all around us. Let us trust that He is indeed present, even when we cannot feel that presence or see Him all around us. Let us come to know that all places are sacred places and the way to find them is to look within, and then to share it with those around us. May God bless you richly with the grace to be a pilgrim! Let us meet in the Heart of the Lord, journeying together as pilgrim people.
Heart Speaks to Heart