Food for thought

The Incarnation was made present to the world through Mary. On Christmas, Mary placed Our Lord in an animal feed trough, where he was seen by the local shepherds. One could not go to the Infant Christ at Bethlehem without Mary’s consent. As a young man, waiting for a sign to begin his public life, Mary introduced Our Lord to the world at a wedding, when she told those listening to do what He said, whereupon He made gallons of very good wine. The gospels gives us Christ multiplying bread for the crowd, followed by Christ insisting that we eat His Body which would he would offer as the Bread of Life.

Grace builds on nature. Our Lord being placed in a manger as if he is some kind of animal food corresponds with that part of our nature which we share with animals—needing food as sustenance. Then, in his public life, wine and bread were multiplied to provide food for us as social beings—wine satisfying the need for the family to celebrate marriage and bread for community dinner. These anticipated that moment when Christ offered himself on the Cross, attended by Our Lady, an event manifested for us by the Mass with its food for our souls, the Eucharist.

The gospels were written for an agrarian culture which was man’s normal state until modern times. The gospels move upward, from food for man’s physical body, to food for man as a social being, culminating in the reality of the Mass as food for regenerated man in the Body of Christ.

Now for the first time in Christendom’s history, most of us live in an industrial, urban society where the language and allusions of the gospels form no part of our everyday experience. We no longer have stones lying around or build structures by hand in a way that requires corner stones; most people no longer make bread at home, or have a direct knowledge of old and new wineskins; goats, sheep, and pruning vines are things of the past. There is merit in our having at least some first-hand experience of the imagery of the parables presented to us by Christ.

Consider bread. Modern bread is an indestructible industrial product that comes from a factory in plastic bags. For our Christian ancestors, bread was a product of the home and was made in a clay or brick bread oven. In Catholic Quebec, clay ovens were important parts of St. Jean Baptiste parades. The Canadiennes spoke in a homely rhetoric based on bread and tenderly referred to their children as loaves. Today in many third-world societies clay ovens are compared to the beautiful distended womb of expecting mothers, which is what bread ovens look like.

A domestic bread oven is built along the lines of the Ark of the Covenant which was built to hold manna. This Ark anticipated the real Ark of the Covenant, Our Lady, whose womb was the first Tabernacle. Historically, one could see these lessons about the Mass and Tabernacle reflected in the natural and daily process of baking in a clay bread oven within the space of the domestic church, the home.

The lessons of the gospel, the Eucharistic Christ as the Bread of Life, make perfect sense even to the youngest child. In modern families, zapping boxes of industrial food for scattered individuals to eat at odd hours does not work as an illustration of the Mass, of Our Lady as Ark of the Covenant, or of the Incarnation at Christmas.

Every attack on marriage is a sacrilege, an attempt to destroy the Mass through the domestic church as its proxy. It is easy to see the obvious ways marriage is threatened, birth control being the most serious. Yet there are subtler forces at work to destroy the domestic church: food in boxes that is not real food, scattered families that never sit down together for supper, an endless variety of media that pretends to inform but really just entertain, newspapers that have no news, TV which at its best is worse than no TV. The entertainments that surround us, whether high brow or low brow, intellectual or crass, are not culture. They are just milieu.

The culture of life comes from the home, and the home is based on the Mass. When we understand this we can begin to rebuild the culture. To have a home we must make it a home and do homely things there: feast over Christmas dinner, make our own bread, sing around the piano together however badly it is done. When we do these things we ap- proach that natural state from which the gospel parables get their force. Merry Christmas.