Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tuesday in the 19th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
When Appetites Go Awry

Readings: Ezekiel 2:8—3:4; Psalms 119:14, 24, 72, 103, 111, 131; Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14
Picture: CC winston & michelle

In the Mexican movie, Bad Habits (Malos Habitos) (still showing at the Picturehouse) several people are depicted as facing similar problems. A little girl cannot stop binging on junk food, despite being put through various weight-loss programs by her mother. The latter’s concern over the child’s weight has, however, a dysfunctional aspect. Obsessed with being thin, she too has a problem with food. She denies her body of food only so as to consume the approval that society offers to the lean. She suffers from anorexia. Her husband, on the other hand, finds her too skinny, and indulges in an adulterous relationship with a buxom student. Their problems in the secular realm are mirrored in the religious life of a nun, a relative of theirs. In order to taste the benefit of having God stop the torrential rains that are causing much misery in the nation, she endangers her own life through extreme fasting.

Whether or not we agree with everything in the movie – for example, the parallel it seems to draw between religious fasting and anorexia (see, e.g., Holy Feast and Holy Fast) – it’s difficult to remain unmoved by its depiction of what happens when appetites – whether gastronomical or social, sexual or religious – go awry. We live in a society that is characterized by consumption. Our lives are increasingly centered on the need to eat and drink like there was no tomorrow, to shop till we drop. And yet, we cannot escape the fact that our appetites are becoming more and more problematic. They damage not just the environment and others, but especially our very selves. Our need to consume is becoming a yawning chasm threatening to consume us. And our efforts at controlling them often go only so far. It’s like trying to put a lid on a pot of boiling water while the fire is still blazing. It’s only a matter of time before the steam escapes, often with explosive results.

Perhaps our readings today offer us another alternative. Instead of an anxious and ultimately unsuccessful suppression or repression of unruly cravings, the prophet in the first reading is in touch with a more fundamental need – an appetite for God’s word. Obediently he allows God to feed him with the One thing for which we all hunger. So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat… I ate it and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. It is this same sweetness that the psalmist proclaims: How sweet to my taste is your promise! And, in the gospel, is it not likely that what Jesus finds so appealing about children is the fact that, however rebellious they may be from time to time, they always depend upon their parents to feed them? Isn’t this the kind of parent that God wishes to be, one who tirelessly seeks out his hungry wayward children, only so as to feed them with the most fulfilling of food?

If this is indeed a more constructive option, then perhaps what we consummate consumers need to do is not so much to put a lid on our appetites, as much as to trace them to their root. For it is only then that we find the deep hunger that moved the prophet so courageously to open his mouth and to allow himself to be fed. And in being fed, he himself becomes a channel of nourishment for others. Perhaps it is only in this way that dysfunctional consumers can be transformed into committed prophets. Perhaps it’s only in this way that a hungry world can be fed.

How might God be found in our appetites today?


  1. The first and only time the words "I ate it and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth" became real for me was about two or three months ago. The sacristan told me to take the offeratory gifts alone to the priest at an evening weekday mass. I told him I might get it wrong because being unobservant normally, I simply didn't remember how and when offerings were done. He said, "It's easy. Do it just after the intercessory prayers." So, I accepted the "job".

    Just before the intercessory prayers, fearful of getting up late, I got up from my pew early, took up the chalice, etc. from the offeratory table and walked slowly towards to the altar! Fortunately, the priest who was celebrating mass gestured to me to wait. So, I sat on the seat in the front row and waited till he gave me the next signal. And my mind went frantic, "What a boo boo!"

    But God knew I sincerely wanted to do it properly. When I received communion, somehow the Eucharist tasted sweet as honey in my mouth! I was truly delighted and was on cloud nine for quite a while.

    Sorry, not quite the kind of "appetites" being asked here. But quite an experience nevertheless.

  2. To the list of cravings, may I add the obsession to be the best in the universe. In my line of work, it has evolved into an obsession, a monster of demonic proportions.

    Whether it is an obsession with food, shopping and *gasp* holy fasting, these are but external manifestations of a deep seated malady: our inner-most craving for acceptance (for who we are), for worthiness (despite our shortcomings), for validation (as a human being). As St Augustine once said "The human heart will not rest until it rests in God". And we, poor mortals, are battling symptoms of a deep-seated morass without much success.

    Today, we read that the prophet Ezekiel wanted to be fed by God's word. How many of us actually yearn to do that? I don't. Sometimes the word of God completely escapes me...

  3. Food glorious food - a typical Singaporean pastime giving rise to the infamous Makan Sutra. We seek out the best and the cheapest. Guilty as charged, for one.
    As a baby, we are fed, as an adolescent, we gobble, and as an adult we forget the reasons why we eat. Not merely to nourish but gorge to indulge our senses.
    There is an axiom that all food that tastes nice are not good for your health, therefore we need to take bitter Chinese herbs when we tip the balance. It is a sombre reminder that I need to watch my diet.
    If we do not we may end up with pneuma-psycho-somatic disorders as one of our priests used to caution in our class.
    We eat to live or live to eat?


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