Thursday, September 04, 2008

Wednesday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time
Memorial of St. Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church
Settling the Upset Stomach

Readings: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9; Psalms 33:12-13, 14-15, 20-21; Luke 4:38-44
Picture: CC Denise Soong

From time to time, even those of us with the strongest of constitutions experience a stomach upset. Whether it is caused by disagreeable cuisine, food poisoning, or something more serious, the condition affects our body’s ability to extract nourishment from all but the most easily digestible of foodstuffs. And, as long as it lasts, we often have no choice but to carefully watch what we eat. At least for a time, we may be reduced to a liquid diet, for example, or something simple (and bland) like rice porridge. And even though we could probably continue to survive on such a simple diet even after we’ve recovered, isn’t it true that many of us will look forward with great expectation to the time when we can, once again, enjoy more tasty fare – fish head curry, or beef rendang, or chili crab, for example?

Which is why it sometimes puzzles me that we don’t often experience the same cravings when it comes to spiritual nourishment. Isn’t it true that, as regards our spiritual diet, many of us seem only to be able to find sustenance in the most simple and obvious of sources? Finding God is a struggle for us, even in the most well-constructed and quietest of worship spaces, and during the most inspiring of liturgies, let alone the often chaotic situations of our daily lives? Could this be why many are increasingly finding themselves drawn towards more solemn liturgies – celebrations that tend to underscore the absolute transcendence of God?

This, in itself, is of course not a bad thing. I myself enjoy such celebrations. But isn’t it disturbing that there are those who tend to think – and to insist – that this is the only valid way of finding God, thus creating a bone of contention out of what should be a source of unity? Further, isn’t it also legitimate to examine the extent to which our participation in such celebrations helps us to continue finding God in the everyday? Isn’t it important that we learn to draw spiritual nourishment also from the more complex and diverse foods that God may choose to serve us outside of obviously sacred space and time? In the words of the first reading, shouldn’t we learn to appreciate more solid food? Shouldn’t this be the mark of a mature Christian?

But how do we do this? How do we get over the upset stomachs that prevent us from enjoying and drawing sustenance from more robust foods, and keep us at odds with one another? Perhaps what we need is what Peter’s mother-in-law received in today’s gospel. Perhaps we need the Lord himself to take us by the hand and to heal us of our infirmity, so that, like Jesus, we can find and serve God in the many and diverse situations and people that God may send our way.

How might God wish to settle our upset stomachs today?


  1. Fr Chris, this post is loaded with many questions. Many of the questions are close-ended though and therefore seem rhetorical. The logic seems to go like this:
    1. Finding God is a struggle for us even in the most sacred spaces and liturgies, let alone in daily lives.
    2. It's disturbing that there are those who tend to think and insist that more solemn liturgies and such are the ONLY (!) valid way of finding God, thus creating a bone of contention out of what should be a source of unity.
    3. Those who do so are figuratively reducing themselves to a simple and bland diet when they can actually draw nourishment from the more complex and diverse food that God may choose to serve us outside obviously sacred space and time.
    4. The mark of a mature Christian is one who can find and serve God in the many and diverse situations and people that God may send our way.

    Therefore, to answer the final question, "How might God wish to settle our upset stomaches today?", the answer would presumably be point 4.

    I agree with points 1, 3 & 4. However, I think Point 2 is not that common (unless you mean certain forms of worship versus other forms of worship). I think the problem has perhaps a lot more to do with our pride, our limited understanding (of God and of one another) and our limited expression (the words we use are often insufficient to express fully what we believe and experience, especially in the limited time given with one another). We, whether conservative or liberal (Catholic or Protestant, Christian or Muslim, etc), often think that we are experiencing God more fully than that other person who somehow uses different words to express his belief and experiences.

    While I would protest (perhaps rather vehemently sometimes) when interpretations different from the official one are made of the Catholic faith, I wouldn't bother to argue with people from other faiths unless it's understood to be an open friendly discussion. My basic premise is afterall, "We only believe and we don't know for a fact."

  2. St Paul in his letter to the Romans (14:13-19, 22):

    "Then let us no longer judge one another, but rather resolve never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother... If your brother is being hurt by what you eat (or _______), your conduct is no longer in accord with love. Do not because of your food (or _______) destroy him for whom Christ died. So do not let your good be reviled. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink (or _______) , but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the holy Spirit; whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by others. Let us then pursue what leads to peace and to building up one another.

    "Keep the faith (that) you have to yourself in the presence of God..."

  3. I recall an old adage - the surest way to a man's heart is through the stomache. If poison is administered through the food, then we are kaput.
    However, aren't we all insidiously poisoned today through the sheer commercialization of what we eat. pesticides, GM food and variant of all kinds that creep into our craving for new cuisine.
    We are what we eat and we cannot be selective as to what is being served, especially if you eat out a lot. Tasty food spells disaster.
    So spiritually my nourishment is being defined by the pattern of my existence. God is the dance, emanating divine energy, in perpetuity. We merely need to tap into it, just by participating as a dancer.
    It's less complicated than I thought.

  4. Nowadays, I like to watch certain Korean TV drama (such as the Famous 'Seven' Princesses and Pure 19). As the multiple subplots (or sub-stories) develop, the main characters also evolve - often with realism, comic relief, elements of surprise and moments that move/inspire one's spirit. So unlike many other cardboard stories where the people are often sharply and unrealistically divided into the good guys/gals versus the bad guys/gals!

    These Korean characters somehow remind me of the Jewish father in the musical The Fiddler on the Roof, who changed his expectations of traditions and his daughters out of love for them as the story progresses. Likewise, these Korean folks each began with certain prejudices and expectations of love, life, people and society. However, they gradually grew up and changed their understanding and expectations as they interact, conflict with and learnt from one another.

    I think these stories are, in microcosm, examples of how the Lord could take us by the hand and heal us of our blindness, deafness, insensitivity and other infirmities so that we can find and serve God in the diverse situations and people that come our way. Before these inspired moments can happen, we probably need to be more humble and open to God's graces.


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