Roast turkey, prime rib, mashed potatoes with gravy, gingerbread cookies, chestnuts, champagne…Advent is upon us, and hopefully many of us will be blessed to take part in feasting with the ones we love. ‘Tis the season for our favorite comfort food. Cooking has become one of my favorite hobbies within the past few years, and I have seen parallels between my experience re-engaging with the Catholic church and my development into an amateur cook.
During my childhood, my lukewarm interest in attending mass was comparable to my feelings on my mother’s home cooking: I was deeply nourished by her delicious meals but had little interest beyondfinishing the plate. I was not curious about how she thoughtfully prepared the meals, nor did it occur to me that a mastery of techniques and the art of not measuring ingredients were involved. My level of engagement with mass was quite similar–I was happy to receive the Eucharist but didn’t pay much attention to the liturgy. I did not understand what was happening for the hour, but I knew that brunch would follow afterwards. Needless to say, there wasn’t much deep contemplation in my early years. I went to church because my father drove us there. I ate because my mother put a bowl in front of me.
My first attempt to cook was not until after my college graduation, and it was at this same time that I started to dabble in attending mass without parental assistance. I learned how to boil water to make spaghetti; at mass I applied the same approach to basics by starting the practice of following along in the missal. When I gained a bit of confidence in the kitchen, I made creamy chicken enchiladas; I applied the same self-trust at mass by proactively sitting/kneeling/standing without waiting for the pews in front of me to do it (I was not always correct). And when I was too proud, I transformed a classic recipe for Coq au Vin into a disgusting purple mush; with the same overconfidence, I thought I had better things to do than to go to mass.
As I moved into my mid-twenties, I distanced myself from the kitchen and church. I squandered money on mediocre take-out and overhyped restaurants. I reserved mass for Christmas, Easter, and whenever the parents were in town. Fortunately, by the grace of God and food blogs, I have rediscovered a passion for cooking and now look forward to participating in mass every Sunday. The decision to apply and attend Catholics On Call was as exciting and nerve-racking as my first attempt at baking bread. At this point the parallels diverge, because CoC was incredible and my bread was sad.
Advent is a time of preparation and expectant waiting. This season invites us to give and receive spiritual gifts before Christmas arrives–including prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. Fasting?! After all these revelations about food? Tradition and the Bible describe how great feasts were often preceded by a time of fasting. Thoughtful and deliberate waiting can give rise to a more joyous and exquisite feast.
So before you dig into that honey-glazed ham or perfect pie this season, consider cultivating your appetite.
The food will taste so much better. The French, celebrated for their renowned cuisine, offer a fitting proverb to consider as we prepare to feast:
Un bon repas doit commencer par la faim.
A good meal ought to begin with hunger.