by Father Mark Goldasich
“Father, have you eaten yet?”
I must have heard this question 50 times or more this past Sunday during my parish’s annual turkey dinner and bazaar. For the past several years, I’ve taken up residence at the door to the parish center in order to greet people as they arrive and point them in the right direction for the food line. Doing this for several minutes doesn’t concern people; doing it for several hours in a row prompts the “Have you eaten?” question.
My response was, “No, not yet, but don’t worry. I’m standing here right in front of the dessert table and I’ve gained at least 10 pounds from the ‘second-hand’ calories that are drifting my way!” (And, honestly, going for a few hours without stuffing my face would not hurt me in the least!)
There are actually two reasons why I don’t sit down and eat at the parish bazaar. The first is a selfish one, in a sense. When I eat, I like to savor the food in front of me. I know from past experience that the food served on this day is fabulous; it truly is “comfort” food: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and corn, cole slaw, cranberry sauce, rolls, and pies to die for.
As most priests will tell you, though, when you sit down at a gathering like this, you’re lucky to get a couple of forkfuls of food in your mouth before being interrupted by people who would like to say hello or chat. So, I choose to get a carryout — OK, make that two carryouts — that I can enjoy at home after all of the activities of bazaar day are over.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m delighted that people come up and chat. And that’s why I stand by the door: It makes it much easier to visit with almost everyone who comes in. Because I’m not “distracted” by any rapidly cooling food on a plate in front of me, I can instead focus on the guests: friends from my home parish of St. John the Baptist Kansas City, Kan.; former parishioners from other parishes where I’ve served; good people from the Tonganoxie community; people from neighboring Catholic churches; and even my own parishioners that I often don’t get to interact with informally.
In other words, the fellowship is just as important as the food. Perhaps this little story makes the point clearer:
It was Thanksgiving, but there were no delicious smells of turkey roasting, no pies on the sideboard, no festive table setting. The mother had just lost her job and a daughter’s tiny salary went to pay the rent. A son was still in school and, with no father in the home, things looked bleak. The mother had wrapped day-old bread in a paper sack and set it to warm in the oven. When the doorbell rang, the mother panicked. She was proud and didn’t want anyone to know how bad things were.
She opened the door and there stood Mr. Gold, her neighbor. With his arms full of grocery bags and a shy smile, he asked, “Can I come begging? Here it is Thanksgiving Day and I have no place to go and no one to share it with.”
Although embarrassed, the mother invited him in and started to explain. But Mr. Gold interrupted her, “Look, I have all this food. It’s only chicken, but who’s to know?” Then he began unpacking the groceries — enough for a Thanksgiving feast, from soup to nuts, plus a mincemeat and a pumpkin pie.
Mr. Gold didn’t eat much, but nobody seemed to notice. When he was leaving, he thanked the family for taking such good care of a lonely old man that holiday. (Adapted from Florence Myles’ “Heart of Gold,” found in “Sower’s Seeds That Nurture Family Values: Sixth Planting” by Brian Cavanaugh, TOR.)
We had a big crowd at our parish dinner. I’m sure that the unseasonably cold and gray weather had something to do with that. Since it looked and felt like Thanksgiving, people must have been drawn by the thought of a turkey dinner.
But I’m sure that it was more than that. There’s something special about sharing a meal with others. It’s not just the food that we crave; it’s the connection and conversation with others. The food serves as a springboard to sharing life. This is one of the reasons we celebrate the Eucharist together each week. It’s also, I suspect, why these parish dinners continue to be so popular.
I’ll close with a little food for thought: This weekend, take a road trip to a parish offering a dinner or plan one to share with family or friends. Your body and soul will thank you.