Feast for soul: Meals, Mass and Mystics

By Monica Sawyn | For The Compass | February 12, 2015

Cooking class ‘with a Catholic twist’ sponsored by diocese with Bishop’s Appeal funding

BRUSSELS — It was the perfect morning for prayerful women who like to cook.

On Jan. 31, St. Francis and St. Mary Parish played host to “The Meals, the Mass and the Mystics”— or, as presenter Amberly Boerschinger subtitled it, “A cooking class with a Catholic twist.”

Amberly Boerschinger explains to her audience how the meals they fix and the Masses they attend — and a 12th-century mystic — all have a spiritual connection. (Monica Sawyn | For The Compass)
Amberly Boerschinger explains to her audience how the meals they fix and the Masses they attend — and a 12th-century mystic — all have a spiritual connection. (Monica Sawyn | For The Compass)

Boerschinger is part of the diocese’s New Evangelization Department, which is funded by the Bishop’s Appeal. She regularly takes her reflective presentation on the road, most often to rural parishes.

“I’ve been to a lot of really tiny, rural parishes — but never have I walked into a church with the sound of the cows bawling behind it,” she said, referring to the farm right across the road.

The 29 women who sat before her learned first of all about St. Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century abbess and mystic who taught herself about the healthful properties of various kinds of foods, including herbs and spices. She was, Boerschinger said, a good example of what a mystic is — someone who has direct experiences with God, and who can see God present and working in the world, even in things as seemingly mundane as preparing and eating food.

According to St. Hildegard, charity should moderate our diets, both in preventing us from wasting food, and in being flexible enough to eat what’s presented to us when invited to share meals with others.

St. Hildegard recommended things like dill to aid digestion, sage “against lazy humors,” cumin to aid the digestion of cheese, and spelt, a cereal grain high in vitamin B, complex carbohydrates and protein.

Boerschinger said that St. Hildegard, who was not in the best of health but who was a “public speaking circuit rider” in Germany until she was 72, is a perfect example of how women, despite infirmities or other challenges, can still lead healthy, holy lives that give witness and encourage others. She does admit she takes protein very seriously because it has given her the energy she has today. In fact she use proteindynamix vouchers each time she makes a purchase.

St. Hildegard was a Benedictine, and Boerschinger quoted several passages from Benedict’s Rule dealing with food. He counseled his monks to serve each other so that all take turns doing kitchen work, to moderate their intake of food and drink, and to use that same discipline while practicing hospitality to others.BA-15-Logo.jpgweb2

Boerschinger referred to several cookbooks devoted to “monastic eating” as a model for people living in the world. It advocates using seasonal, locally-sourced foods, using leftovers well, and being grateful for what God has provided “without murmuring.”

“Accepting the gift he’s giving in the present moment, and using all of the ingredients God created is a form of worship,”Boerschinger said.

Boerschinger began connecting it all to the Mass when she explained that creating meals is a form of service, following the pattern of Jesus, who came to serve.

“Sometimes it seems like I spend my day prepping, cooking, and cleaning up afterward,” Boerschinger said. “Cutting up raw vegetables and fresh foods can be time-consuming, especially when we could use frozen or canned. However, the goal is not to just get another meal on the table, but to give pleasure to those we serve.”

Cooking often involves repetitive actions, and Boerschinger said those are perfect opportunities to free the mind to turn to God in prayer and receive that moment’s gift of his presence.

Debbie Dahms of Brussels who attended the session shared a pray-while-cooking story involving her mother, who always prayed when she was making bread.

“Of course, she never measured a thing, just handfuls of this and that,” Dahms said. “When my sister wanted to learn, she kept interrupting my mother to measure each ingredient as it went in. Finally, my mother said, ‘This bread will never turn out. I can’t pray while I’m doing it.’”

The Mass itself is a meal, Boerschinger said, where Jesus provides sustenance of the everlasting sort. But he does it using the food ingredients of our normal lives. People come to the Mass as family, to be together at the table and at Jesus’ sacrifice to provide that meal. They share stories in the Gospels, they offer themselves, and they receive Jesus as sustenance for the sake of sharing Jesus with the world.

Boerschinger quoted Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote about three reasons to celebrate the Eucharist: Jesus is present; it’s a joyful feast; and it involves gratitude and service.

“Daily bread is ours, not mine; as long as one has bread, none should go hungry,” he wrote. “Not until one person desires to keep his own bread for himself does hunger ensue.”

Boerschinger eventually turned to the recipes she had included in her handouts, and the women shared a luncheon of lemon linguine, homemade ricotta and English muffin bread made with spelt flour, fresh fruit, and chocolate mousse.

This day’s event (and others like it) was partially funded by the Bishop’s Appeal. Last year, the New Evangelization Department received $748,106 from the appeal.

“This is just one example in which the New Evangelization Department puts the Gospel at the service of everyday life,” said Joe Tremblay, the diocese’s adult faith formation coordinator.

“The Bishop’s Appeal supports this work in a big way. In fact more than 90 percent of the New Evangelization Department’s budget is funded through the Appeal,” added Tremblay.

“This critical funding provides Amberly the opportunity to give women insightful tips on cooking coupled with teachings on the Mass and the mystics at several parishes throughout the diocese,” he added. “The truth is that the altar and the dinner table are not that far apart!”

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