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Monday Musing – Eating as an act of compassion

I wish that I could tell you that I wrote this, but I did not. A friend did; he wished to remain anonymous when it was first posted it on my St. Edward’s blog during Lent in 2008, and I honor that again today. Since is is the Feast of Saint Teresa of Avila, it seemed to be a good post for today; far wiser than anything that I could offer for our thoughts and prayers this Monday. 

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How can the simple, everyday task of eating become an act of compassion?
One of my favorite saints is Teresa of Avila. She was a typical teenager – she loved boys, clothes, flirting and rebelling. When she was 16, her father sent her to a convent because he thought she was out of control. At first she hated it but she grew to like it due to her growing love of God and the fact that the convent was less strict than her father.

When the time came for her to make a decision between marriage or the convent, Teresa had a difficult time choosing one over the other. She had watched a difficult marriage destroy her mother. On the other hand, being a nun didn’t seem like much fun. Religious life won out, according to Teresa, because it seemed the better place for one “so prone to sin.”

What I appreciate about Teresa is her sense of humor and how her religious sensibilities helped her find peace and meaning as she focused on and became reliant on God’s tender and merciful love. She had the ability to seize the moment and live it to the full. Never one to allow sin, gloom and despair to take over her spirit, Teresa knew how to fast and pray.

“May God protect me from gloomy saints,” Teresa said, and that’s how she ran her convent. To her, spiritual life and its disciplines were an attitude of love, not harsh rules and precepts to bind you. Although she proclaimed poverty, she believed in work, not in begging. She believed in obedience to God more than penance. If you do something wrong, don’t punish yourself — change. When someone felt depressed, her advice was that she go some place where she could see the sky and take a walk. When someone was shocked that she was going to eat meat that was given to the convent during a period in which the members of the convent were to be fasting and abstaining, she answered, “There’s a time for partridge and a time for penance.”

To her brother’s wish to meditate on hell, she answered, “Don’t.”

Lent is a time for fasting but not a gloomy fasting that lowers one’s spirit. It is meant to be a way of lifting one’s soul and growing in love and communion with God and neighbor. Like Teresa, we must see it for what it is; part of a discipline, an attitude of love not a harsh rule to be endured! Consider this Lent how fasting might help you to be more loving and community oriented.

One way is to focus on the connectedness of compassion. My prayer this Lent is this: As we eat our simple meals, may we consider what many of our sisters and brothers around the world are eating, often through no choice of their own.

Consider the sacredness of carrots and potatoes, of bread and cheese, of broth and cool, fresh water. Consider how these simple foods bind so many of us together as we try to keep body and soul together. It is our decision to eat or not eat simple meals. It is our decision what those meals will contain. Both are choices that we make. For many, our simple meal might be more like a royal banquet!

The simplicity of their meals may not entail a choice. For them, their simple meal might be all that they have to get by on each day. Perhaps that simple connectedness will help us understand in a more tangible way that we are but a few of the 6 billion people on this planet we call home. Each of us experiences hunger and most of us can satisfy that hunger in some way, but not all. May our joyful Lenten fast help us to reflect upon how and what we eat effects the world around us.

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