By Fr. Jim Smith, C.PP.S.

In the wave of firsts as a newly-ordained, baby priest, mistakes and errors are quite common. Not doing this right, forgetting to do that thing. Usually, I become aware of these errors at inopportune moments, usually toward the end of a Mass. Last year during a funeral, somewhere between the homily and the incense at the end, that feeling hit me like a semi-truck. It wasn’t the incense I was smelling as much as it was the tantalizing shredded beef for the funeral luncheon sandwiches to follow. It should have been a comforting engagement of my senses, but it was a Friday in Lent.

This is the liturgical season of our church year when a greater emphasis turns to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, but for the life of me, all I can think about is how I’m not supposed to eat meat on Fridays, and I have to give something up for Lent. I could eat vegetarian dinners all-year round, but when it comes to Fridays in Lent, I’ve never wanted a double cheeseburger more in my life. I’m not sure if it’s the temptation to meat for me, as much as it is such a stalwart of a rule that I just want to break it, like a sign next to the button that says, “Do not touch.”

The Gospel for embarking into Lent this year gives us, at first glance, these temptations Jesus faces in his forty days in the desert. The temptation of turning stones to bread. The temptation of power and glory. The temptation to boast or show off in the power or status Jesus has. I’m not as convinced this year that Jesus’s encounter in the desert is as much on temptations as it is on the deep hunger inside each of us. A hunger for food in a world where so many lack access. A hunger for power, but more deeply, a hunger for relevance or significance out of our lives. A hunger for someone to be there for us or to take care of us.

In the wave of Lenten practices, I attempted to read one extra book on top of other stuff. I only got three-fifths of the way through it. Today, I have 50 pages to go. Toward the beginning of that book, Sara Miles, the founder of The Food Pantry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, wrote about her journey to ministry and her roots in the food industry.

And at the end of a rush, when I sat down with the kitchen staff and waiters, I learned how central food is to creating human community, what eating together around a table can do. As a wise bishop would tell me, years and years later, in words I couldn’t possibly have grasped back then, “There’s a hunger beyond food that’s expressed in food, and that’s why feeding is always a kind of miracle.” [1]

May this Lent provide that miracle for each of us. May our deepest hunger bring us closer to the embrace of our God this season. May God’s deep hunger for us and our entire world also be realized through our hands and actions this season preparing us for the joy of resurrection and new life in Easter.

 

 

Fr. Jim Smith, C.PP.S., is the parochial vicar of the St. Henry cluster of parishes in and around St. Henry, Ohio

 

 

[1] Sara Miles, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversation: Random House, 2008.