What’s for dinner?

Somehow, pre-kid, it never occurred to me that so much of being a parent would involve getting food into hungry mouths. But I learned quick. With my firstborn, I was so anxious about our initial struggles with breastfeeding that I kept having images that he would sort of dry up and blow away because I was not able to feed him properly. When we took him to the doctor for his two-week visit and he’d actually gained weight, I wept with relief.

With toddlers it seems to take the whole day to feed them and clean up afterwards. Then there’s the obsessing: When my mom babysat, for example, she always gave me a detailed report on everything the kids ate (she still does, now that I think about it). Enough vegetables? What about protein intake?

Even now, it still can unnerve me that my family gathers round late in the day with expectant looks. “What’s for dinner?” they ask, day after day. Secretly I think, “Who, me?” The day-in, day-outness of family meals calls for a discipline and practical creativity that I’m afraid I lack. (Note that the Irish export great poetry, music, and talk, not great food!) No wonder Golden Crust Pizzeria has constructed a new wing financed entirely by our carryout bills.

In the end, said Jesus, we will be judged on how well we did the works of mercy, the first of which is feeding the hungry. I guess we can always hang onto this the next time we hear “What’s for dinner?” Remember, too, that Jesus himself was no slouch at feeding people: He fed the 5,000 with the loaves and fishes, and John tells us how, after his Resurrection, Jesus cooked breakfast for his disciples on the shore while they were out fishing. “Come and eat your meal,” he told them (John 21:12). Now who does that sound like?

Isn’t it appropriate that Jesus, who had a parent’s tender concern for whether people had enough to eat, is also the ultimate food for our spiritual hunger? Such hunger, of course, is rampant in our country, as we search for the meaning that apparently we can’t locate in working, shopping, or amusing ourselves. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee,” said St. Augustine, a fellow who knew his way around the pleasures of the flesh, but who in the end found that not even that could keep his spiritual hunger at bay. It’s as if we have a hole in us that only God can fill.

That goes for kids, too. My daughter, age 11, will ask her friends, “So, what is the meaning of life?” Kids struggle with illness and death among those they love, with divorce and family unhappiness. They have deeper questions than we might realize–because they’re hungry, just like their parents.

Let’s aim to stay spiritually hungry this Lent, to take a break from the endless amusements that distract us from that hunger. Who knows where it might lead us? The good thing is, Jesus is never rattled by hungry people. He’s still cooking up that breakfast on the shore, and he invites you and the kids to stop by for a bite to eat, any time.

by Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2010 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.

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