18th Sunday in Ordinary Time: We Are What We Eat

Image Credit: Robert Cheaib, flickr.com

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One of the more consistent rules of visiting a mystical, supernatural realm is, be careful what you eat. In Greek mythology, Persephone ate some food from the Underworld and thus had to spend a third of the year as queen of the dead. During those months, the story goes, the whole earth is in mourning: plants die, animals go into hiding, even the days are shorter and colder, and all because she ate a few pomegranate seeds.

In old folklore, food from the Faerie Land always has some mischief about it. Eating the food of the Fay might trap one forever in their world; it might lead one to forget their attachments to their old life. In Hope Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist, one of the seminal works of modern fantasy, the eponymous town bans the import of fruit from Fairyland, because those who taste it tend to become bored and dissatisfied with the humdrum ordinary middle-class lives they lead there. This recurring trope seems to suggest that the food we eat affects us, changes us, connects us to its source.

And I think there is a logic to that. Food is, after all, a product of the environment from which it comes. The soil, the air, the sunlight, the water, all these elements nourish the plant as it grows. They become part of it. And, when we eat it, it becomes part of us. “You are what you eat” is an old truism for eating well to nourish the body. As far as nourishing the soul, Saint Augustine offered similar words: “be, then, what you receive, and receive what you are.”

Augustine is speaking there about the Eucharist, which Jesus speaks of in the Gospel reading. “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” This bread, he tells us, is Christ Himself.

If fruit from Fairyland leaves a person unsatisfied with this life, how much more so God’s life-giving bread from Heaven? A Christian, one who has partaken of this Heavenly food, should always feel at least a little bit out of place in this world. As Saint Paul says in the reading from Ephesians, “that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self.” We belong more to the next world than to this one.

Which is not to say that we should give up on this world, sit back, and await the Second Coming. We who are sanctified by the Heavenly feast must in turn work to sanctify the world. If Christ became like us so that we could become like Him, then we who are in the World but not of the World must do what we can to offer a small piece of Heaven to those around us.