"Big Four" Highlights


The Table Mission

Family meals are opportunities for spreading the faith

By Jason Godin

For many adults aged 18 to 59, the anguish of Ash Wednesday isn’t in the reminder that we’re all returning to dust after death. It relates more to the table for the day – having only one full meal as well as abstaining from meat. Especially in the developed world, the culture tells us that indulgence is a sign of success, and going with less is for losers. We’re told that seeking self-restraint and seeing sacrifice as a worthy discipline are both tasks too much to ask, especially when it involves food.

The season of Lent is the perfect period, one might say, to turn the tables on such culinary laments. It is an invitation to look beyond what you can’t eat to where you eat and, just as importantly, with whom you eat. It offers days to travel to the frontiers of the most fertile mission territory of your faith: the family dinner table.

Referring to the place where you ordinarily eat as missionary ground may appear a bit of a stretch. It is understandable and appropriate, after all, to appreciate saints like Damien, Francis Xavier and Patrick as truer missionaries. But consider: when you and your family members bow their heads before eating, you all ask for the grace of God’s blessing. Together you acknowledge the food and drink before you are really bountiful gifts given by him through his Son. In their efforts to spread the Good News, do you think Damien did any different in Hawaii, Francis Xavier in India and Japan, or Patrick in Ireland?

Recall also the character of countless faith encounters during meals. Many families have had a friend or one of its members, curious about what Catholics believe and why, ask a question as a platter was passed. The answer undoubtedly arrived after an awkward silence. It probably challenged the parties gathered to see the moment as more than a potential spark for conflict. Like missionaries, it was a time that required courage and sacrifice, to move outside the comforts of selfishness in order to begin breaking down the barriers of misunderstanding and ignorance found within us all.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the laity are part of the mission of the Church to go and “make disciples of all nations … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). The Lord’s mandate requires patient proclamation (cf. CCC, 854). It is a path that takes form among millions of peoples, in a variety of places and in many different ways. Above all it seeks unity through a “respectful dialogue with those who do not yet accept the Gospel,” a conversation designed “to consolidate, complete, and raise up the truth and goodness that God has distributed among men and nations, and to purify them from error and evil” (CCC, 856, italics in original).

You don’t need to go too far to travel in mission territory. You simply need to sit and talk at the family dinner table. It is the place for you to persuade the people you love about the way, truth and life (cf. John 14:6) that nourishes us all.

Jason Godin is associate editor of Fathers for Good.