A Path Through Advent with St Benedict (4)


Isaiah 25:6-10
Matthew 15:29-37

Social anthropologists tell us that what distinguishes us from other species is that we cook and share food. From the plucking of the fruit in the opening chapters of Genesis, to the tree of life ‘bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month’ in the Book of Revelation, food plays a significant role in the story of our salvation. The metaphor of the Heavenly Banquet yields its meaning fairly easily.

Isaiah’s vision of the banquet is expansive and evocative: you can almost taste and smell the lavish fare. This banquet envisages the whole of humanity sitting down together. Here in 2022 there is a poignancy to this metaphor as the need for foodbanks grows weekly. Sitting down together to a meal has become a struggle for many families. We are far from the Biblical vision.

For the monks of St Benedict’s day frugality and simplicity were the hallmarks of the daily common meals. Perhaps a little ironically, the home grown and home cooked foods that filled the monastic table would nowadays be considered rather high end. St Benedict knows his community. He knows that being too stringent with quantities and types of food will cause more upset than is needed. Too little can be as bad as too much. He seeks the middle way in everything.

‘For the daily meals, whether at noon or in midafternoon, it is enough we believe, to provide all tables with two kinds of cooked food because of individual weaknesses. In this way, the person who may not eat of one kind of food may partake of the other.’

St Benedict is well aware of human weakness and wants food to be provided in as straight forward a way as possible. It is the Cellarer’s job to make sure there is enough food for every member of the community. St Benedict even goes as far as to recommend that the daily portion of bread (one pound) be divided by the Cellarer, so as to be sure that there is enough for each meal.

While Isaiah’s vision of a lavish banquet and St Benedict’s vision of modest fare may seem far apart, they share some things in common. At both tables everyone is welcome. At both tables everyone can expect their needs to be met. Both tables are metaphors for the Kingdom of God.

Are there ways this Advent that you can share food and invite others to a foretaste of the Kingdom?