The Spirituality of Food

Homily for February 8, 2017

Wednesday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time. Bible Study: Genesis 2:4-17 and Mark 7:14-23

Food is such an all important factor as far as human life is concerned, nations have gone to war over food, kings have been dethroned as a result of food, friendships and even brotherhoods have fallen apart as a result of food, even birth-rights have been exchanged over bowls of food, kingdoms have been established and other have fallen as a result of food. Where there is food, there is life!

Because food is so important, right from the very beginning, laws have been created around it. In fact, the first law ever made for man was a law about food. “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it, you are surely doomed to die.” Whether we like it or not, it is not everything called food that we can eat. Some foods do more damage than good. However, as we see in our Gospel passage, there are two types of food; that which enters us from outside, and that which comes from inside us. Jesus tells us that it is no longer what we eat externally that matters but what we feed on internally.

In the old dispensation, Adam and Eve lost their original state of grace because of the food they ate. In the new dispensation, Jesus wants us to know that we can also lose our state of grace by the content of our hearts. There are certain thoughts we should never accommodate in our minds because they are poisonous to our spiritual growth. The sin of fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness etc., all begin with the mind. No one sins unconsciously, we first think of it, then we plan it and eventually execute it. As such if we give no room to such poisonous thoughts, we can actually live clean healthy and sinless lives.

Today, we remember Saint Josephine Margaret Bakhita. She was born around 1869 in the village of Olgossa in the Darfur region of Sudan. She was a member of the Daju people and her uncle was a tribal chief. Due to her family lineage, she grew up happy and relatively prosperous, saying that as a child, she did not know suffering. Historians believe that sometime in February 1877, Josephine was kidnapped by Arab slave traders.

For the next 12 years she would be bought, sold and given away over a dozen times. She spent so much time in captivity that she forgot her original name. As a slave, her experiences varied from fair treatment to cruel. Her first owner, a wealthy Arab, gave her to his daughters as a maid. The assignment was easy until she offended her owner’s son, possibly for the crime of breaking a vase. As punishment, she was beaten so severely she was incapacitated for a month. After that, she was sold. One of her owners was a Turkish general who gave her to his wife and mother-in-law who both beat her daily. Josephine wrote that as soon as one wound would heal, they would inflict another.

She told about how the general’s wife ordered her to be scarred. As her mistress watched, ready with a whip, another woman drew patterns on her skin with flour, then cut into her flesh with a blade. She rubbed the wounds with salt to make the scars permanent. She would suffer a total of 114 scars from this abuse. In 1883, the Turkish general sold her to the Italian Vice Consul, Callisto Legani. He was a much kinder master and he did not beat her. When it was time for him to return to Italy, she begged to be taken with him, and he agreed.

She was given away to another family as a gift and she served them as a nanny. Her new family also had dealings in Sudan had when her mistress decided to travel to Sudan without Josephine, she placed her in the custody of the Canossian Sisters in Venice. While she was in the custody of the sisters, she came to learn about God. According to Josephine, she had always known about God, who created all things, but she did not know who He was. The sisters answered her questions. She was deeply moved by her time with the sisters and discerned a call to follow Christ.

Josephine became a novice with the Canossian Daughters of Charity religious order on December 7, 1893, and took her final vows on December 8, 1896. For the next 42 years of her life, she worked as a cook and a doorkeeper at the convent. She was known for her gentle voice and smile. When speaking of her enslavement, she often professed she would thank her kidnappers. For had she not been kidnapped, she might never have come to know Jesus Christ and entered His Church.

In 1958, the process of canonization began for Josephine under Pope John XXIII. On December 1st, 1978, Pope John Paul II declared her venerable. Sadly, the news of her beatification in 1992 was censored in Sudan. But just nine months later, Pope John Paul II visited Sudan and honored her publicly. He canonized her on October 1, 2000.

The sad truth is that slavery has not ended today. From the high level activities of human traffickers who sell human beings to be used as sex tools, factory workers or even as suicide bombers to the type of slavery we practice in our homes in the name of “house-help” whereby a child is taken from the village in the promise of being trained in school only to end up as a work-machine in the city. It is so sad. Let the story of St. Bakhita touch our hearts to repent!

Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, make me spiritually healthy always. Amen.

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you.

Fr. Abu.

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