Many people’s hope for eternity bears little if any resemblance to what Christians profess in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
Even among clergy, the working theology for what comes after life as we know it is a vague sense of “going to heaven” or “going to hell.” If I stopped a Catholic after Mass on a Sunday, I am not confident he would assent to the basics about the resurrection any more than an unaffiliated person—namely, humans are bodies and souls, and the entire redeemed person will awake on the Last Day to the fullness of the kingdom of God in the “new heaven and the new earth” (CCC 1042-1050).
In his resurrected body, Jesus could conceal his appearance, walk through doors, and exhale the Holy Spirit; but he was also touched and spoken with, he celebrated the Eucharist (Luke 24:30), and ate both a fish dinner (Luke 24:43) and a fish breakfast (John 21:11–14) with his disciples before he ascended to the Father. And he promises his Resurrection-life to us: “I will raise them up on the last day” (John 6:40). This risen life with Christ means eating, drinking, talking, walking, touching, laughing, and working. And a glorious foretaste of the resurrection happens in the sacraments of the Church and in our use of all of God’s gifts of creation in our everyday lives in families and communities.
Fasting and other acts of sacrifice are not, therefore, a condemnation of the world, but an affirmation of it. Creation is good, which is why some Catholics at all times, and all Catholics at some times, are called to rein in how much we partake of it. But much more often, a feast is in order. And Catholics’ enjoyment of culinary delights is a gift that may help the whole world understand and live its resurrection hope.
The enchanting 1987 Danish film Babette’s Feast is one example of the fullness of life with Christ on display. Babette, once a great Parisian chef, has taken refuge as housekeeper for two dour but kind Protestant spinsters. Babette wins the lottery and blows her fortune preparing the same luxurious fare she once offered paying customers at the Café Anglais. The sisters, Martine and Philippa, are determined to be polite, but not to enjoy themselves. But they and everyone else are won over by Babette’s heavenly banquet. Philippa declares at the end, “In Paradise you will be the great artist that God meant you to be. Ah, how you will delight the angels!”
The new Break Fast podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts, is hosted by Fr. Brian Graebe of the Archdiocese of New York, and it strikes a similar note about the goodness of God’s creation and the reality of the resurrection through the simple pleasures of the table. Break Fast is composed of eight impeccably produced bites of accurate and accessible theology. Running at around twenty minutes each, Fr. Graebe’s scripts interweave personal stories, culinary history, and rich biblical and historical interpretation into what can best be described as homilies wrapped up in the “driveway moment” inspirations that evoke the most addictive secular podcasts like Radiolab and This American Life. But with Break Fast, we have the added benefit of the deepest spiritual nourishment.
Break Fast gives us more than a taste of what life with God is meant to be like, now and forever.
In my favorite episode, “Grapes and Grains,” Fr. Graebe explores the significance of the ordinary Mediterranean staples of wine, oil, and bread. He adds water, and then talks about the glorious earthiness of sacraments: “God uses his own creation to be the channels of his grace.” We depend on basic matter in order to live; therefore, our use of the ordinary stuff of life is packed with cosmic significance. We miss this significance with processed fast food, and by not savoring meals with good company. There is a “constant threat . . . to downplay the material,” Fr. Graebe argues—to treat the body and all of the physical world as a fleeting reality at best or a wicked trap at worst. Life at your table, like walking into a Church, should mean that “all your senses are engaged,” as they will be when the new Jerusalem descends and we enjoy together “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines” (Isa. 25:6).
In the very first episode, “Champagne,” we are invited into what the Christian life is all about: becoming fully alive through the struggle of transformation. Jesus changes water into wine, and then wine into blood. He also changes us into him. In the episode “Manhattans,” Fr. Graebe uses a lovely family reflection about his grandfather as a springboard for teaching another mostly misunderstood topic, Sacred Tradition.
“Grasshoppers” is a richly textured appeal to the universality of the Church. In this one, among other things, I learned the origin and true meaning of the expression “blood is thicker than water.” Listen and find out for yourself too. “Chartreuse” carries forward the theme of the indispensability of the diverse members of the Body of Christ. “Figs and Prosciutto” invites healthy reflection on death, and “Sugar-apples” is an encouragement to maintain child-like wonder in the face of our future hope.
The season wraps with a magnificent eighth episode, “Breakfast,” which contains a profound reflection on culture that resonates deeply with our work at Word on Fire.
Fr. Graebe sums up his project with the promise of future seasons: “I didn’t want to add to the noise.” He just wants to tell the world how the Catholic Church has influenced culture, many times in ways people don’t even know. Fr. Graebe reminds us that culture is about what we love, and what we worship. It’s never adding to the noise to tell a world of people with disordered loves about what is truly lovable. It may not be as complicated as they think. And it’s certainly far more wonderful.
Fr. Graebe praises the Catholic genius that has given us not just the things we need, but things that delight us in our inmost being, and serve as a magnet for the Good News of God in Christ. What more proof can God give us that he loves us and destines us to live with him than that he inspired a seventeenth-century monk to mess around with carbonation, giving us the celebratory drink we enjoy today.
“Culture calls us to stop doing, and enjoy living,” Fr. Graebe concludes. As Jesus teaches, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
As Lent approaches and we choose good things from God’s creation to enjoy a little bit less of for a time, we do well to focus on the Resurrection-life on the other side of sacrifice—our Lord’s first, and then our own. These delightful podcast episodes will surely help us keep our Lenten disciplines, and allow us to enjoy breaking the fast all the more.
I, for one, hope Fr. Graebe serves us up a new batch of spiritual sustenance before long.