Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sharing Meals Regularly

The Catholic Church requires her family gather together to share a meal at least once a week, although she calls them to gather for a family meal at least once a day. This is one of the most important traditions she establishes for her children. That family meal, in the Catholic Church, is known as the Mass and it is the one tradition around which all the other traditions revolve.

During the Mass, the children of the Church gather together to sit with their Father and learn from Him. The meal begins with listening to the love letters the Father has written to His children, and having the head of the family explain what those letters mean to the children today. Afterward, the wine and the bread are presented so that they can be transformed into the True Presence of Christ through an action of the Holy Spirit. The sharing of this meal together does more than nourish the body. It nourishes the very soul and strengthens the children for the battles ahead of them.

Love in every bite

The family meal is about much more than simply nourishing the body, although that is part of it. The act of feeding another is an act of love. It requires time, effort, and skill to prepare a meal. It requires sacrifice. That act of self-sacrifice is all about communicating to the person who eats the meal how important their needs are to the person who has prepared it. Love is present in every bite.

Important life skills are taught to children who watch their parents work to prepare a family meal. The skills needed to prepare and serve food, how to set a proper table, and the manners expected when eating around other people are all lessons infused into the family meal. These lessons help a child learn how to take care of themselves and how to conduct themselves when they are out in public.

Serving One Another


During a Catholic Mass, there is a role for everyone to play. All are expected, and needed, to serve in order for the Mass to go well. Those who can sing or play an instrument volunteer to lead the singing. Those who are good at reading take turns reading passages from Scripture. There are those who help to find seats for people as they arrive. There are also those who bring up the bread and the wine to the table, and then those who help to serve the meal. Everyone participates, and everyone gains. Even those in the pews have parts to play, times to sing and times to respond to the things that the leader plays. All of this is done under the supervision of the head of the Church family – the Priest.

In this way, the Church teaches her children to serve one another through the services they perform for one another during the family meal. As parents, we too should be teaching our children to serve the family and one another by performing service during the family meal. Some should be responsible for helping to prepare the meal, some should be responsible for setting the table, some for doing the dishes afterward, some for bringing the prepared dishes to the table, some for pouring the drinks, and each for participating in the discussions. Service, after all, is part of love.

Time to Talk

Most families these days are very busy, and few have a great deal of time to talk face-to-face with one another. Family dinners provide that very important time to get together and talk about the things that are going on in each other’s lives. Research suggests that families who share meals together at least five times a week have reduced risk of teenage suicides, pregnancies, substance abuse, and have better academic performance in school.

It is during the conversations had over family dinners that children also learn what really matters to their parents and what their parents’ views are on topics such as politics, government, religion, and education. They are able to bring up the social challenges they face in school and get advice from parents and older siblings. If you think family meals don’t matter to teens these days, think again. 79% of teenagers show that family meals are very important to them and 65% of them say they wish their families had family meals together more often. 

A side benefit of the family dinner is that it also helps the children to develop language skills. As infants, they listen to the sounds of conversation going around them and observe the patterns of how to ask and respond to questions, how to respond to something you don’t agree with, and to be silent when another person is speaking. As they develop their communication skills and begin to participate, they are exposed to words they are unfamiliar with and learn the meaning of those words through the context of conversation. This expands their vocabulary and helps them in school and interactions with other children. They learn to disagree without becoming rude or demeaning to another person, all important life skills for the real world.

Prioritizing Family

The overall message the Catholic Church sends to her children by requiring them to come to the family table at least once a week is that family should always be a priority. She understands that they may not be able to come if they are sick or in the hospital, but she does not excuse those who choose business or sports or hunting over the family. These she requires to confess and make amends for the pains they have caused their siblings, for the ingratitude they have shown to their father and mother.

Your children know how busy you are, and setting aside the time each day to share a meal together says to them that nothing is more important than family. When you prioritize the family meal over work, school, sports, or television you show them what really matters to you is them. This is an important part of teaching them to prioritize their own life in such a way to place family first, something they will take with them when they leave home. Remember that how you treat them today is how they learn to treat you tomorrow.

Introducing Family Meals

If your family has not been in the habit of having family meals, it may take time for your children to get used to the new tradition.  They may not like it at first. Conversations may be slow to form, and children may see this as just another rule being imposed upon them.  In this case, remain firm and exercise patience.  They will eventually adopt this and even learn to like it, but it will take time for them to adjust.  Don’t give up if things don’t go well at first. 

If your child seems reluctant to share anything with you, it may help to ask them their opinion about something very neutral.  If they still seem reluctant to share, it might be necessary to reassure them that you want to hear their opinion, even if that opinion doesn’t agree with your own.  As our children grow older they can sometimes become reluctant to share their thoughts and feelings out of a fear of angering us or disappointing us.  You may need to reassure them that you really do want to hear from them before they will be ready to share those with you.  Just keep trying. The effort will be worth the results. 

Conclusion

There are real benefits to sharing meals regularly, and those benefits can start today.  I hope you enjoyed this chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting. If you are just joining us, you can find the introduction and the other chapters by following the link above.  I hope you will join us tomorrow for chapter 15: Service to Others.

Did you like today's chapter? Love it, hate it, want to add to it? Just leave a comment below and let me know!

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