Wednesday 15 February 2012

Chastity a la Curry

By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.

During a dinner conversation last night, I was telling some of my Jesuit brothers about an issue of Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits that I am reading; an issue titled Living Chastity: psychosexual well-being in Jesuit life, and written by Fr. Gerdenio Sonny Manuel, SJ. In the aftermath of the sex abuse crisis in the Church, Fr. Manuel writes that more than ever it is important for us to talk about the positive aspects – psychological, social and spiritual – of living chaste and celibate. He proposes five practices of religious life that promote psychosexual health: 1) living close to God and our deepest desires; 2) developing broad and deep interpersonal relationships and communities of support; 3) asking for love, nurturing others, and negotiating separation; 4) coping with stress and recognizing destructive patterns of behaviour; and 5) celebrating the holy in the company of Jesus.

In my conversation with my brothers, one of them reminisced about a workshop on the vow of chastity, and commented on how the lecturer had argued for the importance of enjoying la belle bouffe (a Québecois expression for food) as a practice that supports the chaste life. I told him that I never thought of living ‘chastity a la curry.’ Although the exchange was humorous and amusing, it was also very profound and thought-provoking. While I agree that eating is a pleasure, it is not as compensation that food is important for the celibate or for anyone else. Food is very important in our human experience. Beyond nourishing our bodies, food is a quintessential element of our cultures, our celebrations, and the rhythm of our lives. It is in our sharing with others that food acquires new meaning. We always seem to remember the great meals we share with friends, family and loved ones.

While I was examining my day after dinner, I pondered about the importance of food in my life, and the living out of chastity. I came to see a link between my appetite and my human desires. I also saw the significance of food in my life as a Jesuit, and how close it is to the practices proposed by Fr. Manuel. As a community of faith, the main meal we celebrate each day takes place around the altar, as we offer our gifts and receive the gift that Jesus Christ makes of Himself. Food also allows me to develop and celebrate interpersonal relationships. It helps me to celebrate what is holy, good, true and loved, in the company of Jesus, and of those who are dear to him. Through food, I am also connected to the land, to creation, and to my brothers and sisters who till the land – many of whom suffer due to poor recruitment, lack of regulation and unjust contracts.

Food connects me with God, with others, with creation and with myself. It energizes me to become more available in building the Kingdom of God. In the end, that is what my vows are all about; surrendering to God and becoming available to meet Him and His people. The next time I eat curry, I will pray in thanksgiving for the gift of my sexuality and for the way it allows me to live out my Jesuit, Christian and human vocation.

What about you? How is food part of your own vocation?

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