by Fr. Phillippe Angelo Garcia
Kumain ka na ba? This phrase is not just an invitation. For us Filipinos, this is a term of endearment and respect.
People who love each other always ask this question to each other. When someone is eating and someone sees him eating, our Filipino culture tells us to invite that person to eat as a sign of respect. Such tells us that we, Filipinos, cannot separate love from food and food from love. They are intrinsic to each other.
Our Catechism for Filipino Catholics testifies to this. The church teaches that we, Filipinos, are meal-oriented. We love food and our love is expressed through our sharing of food.
As we celebrate the Corpus Christi Sunday, let us now reflect on selected views on food as Filipino Catholics.
First, food is holy for us.
It is normal for us, Filipino Catholics, to pray before and after eating. Most Filipino Catholics memorized the “Bless Us O Lord” and “We give you thanks O Lord” prayers. Others have leveled up their prayer before meals by reading bible verses first before praying. There are some people who ask God to bless the food that might also bear a healing power from God. Some Charismatic communities pray over their food through this way.
Because we see food as holy, many families have rules when they are eating together. In some families, parents are strict in maintaining that no one is allowed to use their cellphone while eating together. For other families, it is a must to eat together - eating individually at regular meal times is strictly prohibited. Some families would even maintain that arguments be set aside first when sharing food.
In the context of lovers, there are times that food is considered as a peace offering to someone with whom there was a misunderstanding, wishing for peace to begin with this offering of food.
We claim food as holy because this is a fruit of our labor. They are from our blood and sweat. Some parents would even embrace difficulties by going abroad or working for an extra mile just to get food on the table for their families.
Food is holy and it is meant to be shared. Bringing food to the table is an act of love. It is also an act of holiness. Our catechism also affirms this view because the Church teaches that we Filipinos are bayani (hero)-oriented. As the prayer goes, they are fruit of the earth and from the work of human hands. We acknowledge that this food is a blessing from God who loves us.
Second, we celebrate with food.
As Filipinos, we also have salu-salo celebrations, which means eating together and sharing food with each other. It is also a way of thanksgiving to God, the source of all blessings.
When a life goal is reached, particularly when some Sacraments are received like baptism, confirmation, Holy Eucharist, marriage, and ordination, it calls for a salu-salo. Fiesta celebrations, Noche Buena and Media Noche are examples of our celebrations with food.
Salu-salo is not limited towards the rich, it is also a celebration for the poor and the middle class. Even if the food is meager, as Filipinos, we have the hating kapatid attitude. (Hati means to half; kapatid means brother.) The food, a blessing to us, will be broken to be shared.
In many celebrations, the goal is not to fill the stomach with food. The goal is to share the food to many. In this time of pandemic, whenever I visit families and bless their homes, it breaks my parishioner's heart because I can't stay and eat with them. As their priest, it also breaks my heart but by policy, I can't really stay as a precaution in view of this Covid-19 pandemic. However, as good-meaning Filipino Catholics, they will just give some for me as a baon or take away. Because their goal is to celebrate and to celebrate means to share food with each other.
This sharing means touching one’s heart. As the saying goes, if you want to touch hearts, begin by filling their stomach. "Ang pinakamabilis na daan patungong puso ay ang pagbubusog ng tiyan."
Third, Jesus approaches us through food.
As we celebrate Corpus Christi Sunday, we are called to reflect that Jesus approaches us through food. The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the highest form of prayer, calls us to receive him through the word of God; our spiritual food, and through the Sacred Host and Sacred Wine; the real presence of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus ate with his friends, with sinners, and with his apostles. He comes closer to us through food. At first, he was just there breaking bread with people from different walks of life. But we also know that his life embraced suffering and death which entails resurrection. He has shown the epitome of true love, the offering of his whole life.
As the prayer goes, Take this, all of you, and eat of it for this is my body which will be given up for you. Take this, all of you, and drink from it for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant which will be shed for you and for all, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.
His love was not only expressed by his mouth, it was also witnessed as he offered his life for all of us.
In the Holy Mass, we receive Jesus as the bread of life, the medicine of immortality, our healing remedy. Whenever we receive him, we are called to be like him; to be blessed, broken, and shared. We are called to love truly as Jesus loves us. This love is not just expressed in words but also through our actions in life.
The love of Filipino Catholics towards food is highly expressed in their love towards the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. This sacrament is our Sunday obligation and celebration.
The food that we receive in this sacrament is the most holy of all because it is Jesus himself.
If celebrations mean celebrating with food, Filipino Catholics celebrate life goals and significant events with the Holy Mass. That is why we have intentions offered in the Holy Mass. They are in view of celebrations, events and people whom we need to pray for in the highest way possible, through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, may we be reminded that Jesus approaches us through food that we love the most.
Jesus approaches us simply because Jesus loves us.
Our identity as Filipino Catholics are not just based on encountering God through prayers. As we encounter him, we are also called to do our part to offer our bodies as a pleasing sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. To offer our lives like Jesus is to be a hero; our way of being holy for it is a form of spiritual worship to God. (cf. Romans 12:1)