To enter into the JOY that God … make family meal times a compulsory, criticism-free, daily sacred space
As we continue to make our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been “harshly” reminded of the importance and NEED for healthy PHYSICAL relationships.
Depression, suicide, self-harm, drugs and/or alcohol consumption have all increased, especially for the younger people. The lockdowns – isolated stays at home – have been especially difficult for people without faith in God, or who’ve walked away from the Church/ family life.
In order to have a happy life, the pandemic, by reminding us of the importance of PHYSICAL relationships, should also wake us up to the danger of the DIGITAL life. A friend sent me this short story which should challenge us to wake up before it is too late:
Writer, Unknown: I spent an hour in the bank with my dad, as he had to transfer some money. I couldn’t resist myself and asked, “Dad, why don’t we activate your internet banking?” “Why would I do that?” he asked. “Well, then you won’t have to spend an hour here for things like transfer. You can even do your shopping online. Everything will be so easy!” I was so excited about initiating him into the world of Net banking. He asked, “If I do that, I won’t have to step out of the house?” “Yes, yes!” I said. I told him how even grocery can be delivered at door now and how amazon delivers everything! His answer left me tongue-tied.
He said “Since I entered this bank today, I’ve met four of my friends, I’ve chatted a while with the staff who know me very well by now. You know I’m alone… this is the company that I need. I like to get ready and come to the bank. I have enough time; it’s the physical touch that I crave. Two years back when I got sick, the store owner from whom I buy fruits, came to see me and sat by my bedside and cried. When your Mum fell down a few days back while on her morning walk, our local grocer saw her and immediately got his car to rush her home as he knows where I live. Would I have that “human” touch if everything became online? Why would I want everything delivered to me and force me to interact with just my computer? I like to know the person that I’m dealing with, not just the ‘seller’. It creates bonds of Relationships. Does Amazon deliver all this as well?”
Our First Reading & Gospel are IMAGES which reveal what God is trying to help us achieve. God is JOY. But JOY that lasts long, only comes through our personal, physical relationships.
However, a growing trend among young children and youth, is the harmful dependence on VIRTUAL friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc. And trying to enjoy themselves vicariously through the funny videos we see on WhatsApp, Tik Tok, etc.
It becomes difficult for many of them to leave the phone/ computer behind and spend time with people. This is very dangerous for younger children, because the time of childhood and adolescence is when we “learn” how to interact with others in a healthy way.
Because it is not easy to learn social skills, many of our children “hide” behind their phone/ computer and lose the opportunity to learn how to build HEALTHY relationships.
It’s more difficult to learn how to build healthy relationships when we are adults: the results contribute to increased levels of domestic violence, broken families & poor mental health, because normal family support structures are not in place, and we are more set in our ways.
The IMAGES in the First Reading and Gospel are both about food: and we know that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. We experience something beyond the physical when we enjoy a good meal.
Physically we feel secure, which frees us to do “things” to enhance our need for achievement. Feeling secure in the company of people who know us, also enhances our need for belonging.
Over a meal, we enhance our need for laughter and “joy”. By receiving the meal, we enhance our need to receive love. As the cook/ provider of the meal, we enhance our need to give love.
So, we can now discern that one of the purposes of God’s actions is help us enter into the JOY that is God. We can only enter into this true JOY of God when we take time to sit together for a meal on a regular basis. At times we receive and at times it is important that we give.
Therefore, family life should be scheduled around our dinner table: meeting three times a day. Even if the food quantity is not always good, or sufficient, the social investment of time and laughter will always lead us towards a greater experience of joy.
If we see families in our neighbourhood struggling, let’s invite them to a meal, and help increase their joy. Our example of non-judging generosity can be transforming for them. Let’s strengthen our communities/ nation, by spending time every day eating together.
Finally, we don’t have family “fights” at Mass: criticism must be banned from meal times.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI