I open the package of chicken with some trepidation. I am not much of a cook, but in a moment of sympathy, I signed up to prepare a meal for my neighbor, a mother of four who has just been diagnosed with a heart ailment.
My husband usually does the cooking, but he is busy today, so I am on a solo flight with this particular bird. Muttering a few prayers, I manage to get the chicken marinated and in the pan. Then I arrange a few side dishes and a dessert. As the spicy aroma of chicken starts filling the house, I realize that what I am doing is a daily event for mothers. Each day, mothers plan the main dish, the sides and the dessert and somehow get everything on the table by a certain appointed hour.
As a childless woman with some time on my hands, I have often prayed for my neighbor and her family. But recently, when the doctors ordered her to bed in the last weeks of pregnancy, I was reluctant to sign up to cook a meal. Somehow, praying and assuring her of my love had seemed enough.
That changed one Sunday at Mass. I heard the words of St. James, who mentioned how feeble faith without works can be: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16).
That message prompted me to add my name to the sign-up sheet for meals, despite my insecurity about my cooking abilities. An hour later, the chicken is tender, bathed in fragrant juices. It appears quite edible, much to my surprise. I wrap it carefully in layers of foil, put the side dishes in containers, add a loaf of crusty French bread and place the meal in the back seat of my car.
When I arrive at my neighbor’s, I ring the doorbell and out come two of the children, still in their school uniforms, along with Olive the basset hound, who greets me with her usual canine delight. My neighbor gives me a warm hug and thanks me profusely. Moments later, as I drive away, I picture the family sitting down to eat the food that came from my hands. I also think about Christ leaving his children the Eucharist — a tangible, edible, outward sign of his love and grace.
He did not have to leave his body and blood, I realize, since he had, after all, left his teachings in Scripture. But Jesus had come to show us the human face of divinity, and to reveal the real-life components of love. Which included feeding the crowds real loaves and real fish, healing the blind and the deaf and, before his death, giving us food for our immortal souls.
What I’ve done for my neighbor is such a small thing. But, in tiny moments, sometimes we glimpse the larger miracle of Christ’s love for us.
At night, as I remember the family in my prayers, I also find myself thinking ahead to the next meal that I might prepare for someone in need. I realize that, by some mysterious logic, as I feed my brothers and sisters, Christ is feeding me.
Lorraine V. Murray is the author of Why Me? Why Now? Finding Hope When You Have Breast Cancer (Ave Maria Press).