Seafood, Sex, the Synod and the Pearl of Great Price
Connecting food and faith is what I do. And if I were to characterize my faith the past few weeks as a food it would easily be that particular shellfish: the crab! Admittedly, hectic travel, news of spreading Ebola, terrorist threats, political mudslinging commercials, rude people in restaurants and airports can make anyone “crabby.”
|Sometimes, it is easy to feel crabby, right?|
For me, the greatest frustration came when I read church chatter about the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod on the Family. What was supposed to be an honest dialogue about difficult pastoral issues turned into a media circus that distorted Church teachings and made Church leadership look like out-of-touch-mean-spirited-shepherds. According to pop-culture news, sabotage, dissension and mistrust characterized the conversation. Unfortunately, the labels “conservative” and “liberal” seemingly replaced “faithful” and “compassionate.”
In the midst of these struggles, I thankfully had an event in sunny Florida, giving me a day to walk along the beach and pray. Being close to the ocean reminded me of God’s ocean of mercy. We all need it! There, I sensed God telling me to help people think of the Church, not as a crab, but as another type of shellfish: the oyster.
Pope Francis called this extraordinary synod to discuss how to pastorally serve the Church’s families, which includes separated, divorced, remarried and homosexual persons. When boiled down, the Church’s leadership was talking about sex and sexual practices that don’t fulfill God’s plan. Sex, as a topic, makes us a little defensive and nervous, like parents explaining “the birds and the bees” to inquisitive children. But it’s about time the Church got practical in its discussion because the spirit of the world talks about sex in ungodly ways! It’s been reported that some synod participants said the Church’s teachings are clear and that “pastoral discussions” are just watering down the Faith, creating even more divide between “progressive” and “traditional” Catholics. So who’s right?
Enter my previous analogy of the Church as an oyster and how an oyster’s pearl is made. This shellfish, like the Church, always appears tightly closed to protect itself. But in order to survive, the Church’s protective walls are open, like the eye of the needle – big enough for a camel to enter, but difficult for the rich and righteous to enter (Matthew 19:24). A pearl is made when, for whatever reason, foreign substances penetrate even the most tightly-closed hardshell, implanting itself within, like an ‘intruder.’ To protect itself, the shellfish doesn’t discharge the intruder but instead secretes a protective substance, called nacre. Over time, the nacre builds up and it becomes a pearl. What started out as something negative and unwanted within the shellfish, eventually becomes something miraculous and beautiful to behold.
|Caught up in the waves.|
As I walked the shore, I sensed God telling me that nacre is Grace. The “intruder” is the sinner who, like a child crying and fussing to be heard, is the future pearl of great price. We all know that some of our greatest saints were the greatest sinners. St. Paul was even a former “enemy” of the Church! How difficult was it for St. Peter and other apostles to accept him in their fold? A sinner’s presence in the protective shell of the Church provides an opportunity for the merciful Lord to do His miraculous cure by covering that sinner with Grace. In dealing with people, who through sins experience a separation from the Church, it’s tempting to just hunker down, tighten up the shell, or immediately throw out the sinner. Instead, the synod sought to better understand the reality of individual complex situations. It simply tried to surround that future pearl of great price with miraculous Grace. While excommunication remains a viable option for the Church to protect itself, Jesus seemed to reserved that action to only a few instances, such as money changers and the self-righteous at the end of time.
The pearl of great price is not some ideology of puritanical faith, but a result of a miraculous and grace-filled process. We have to trust that God is in charge of that process. God will not allow even confusing or conflicting news about the synod to destroy the Church. The Fisher of Man is praying for Peter’s Successor, Pope Francis. (Luke 22)
|Pope Francis blesses a child.|
The challenging synod discussions simply recognized how divorced, remarried people, and any well-intentioned and sincere members of the homosexual community are already within the Church’s protective shell. What do we do with them? Are we trying to “get rid” of them or rather shower them with Grace and patiently wait for the Grace to build up despite our broken nature?
Walking along the beach, praying for more Grace to make sense of all of life’s difficulties reminded me to be faithful, patient and “less crabby” in the process. We’re called to never give up but be faithful and trust that God can use these difficult situations to strengthen our faith, even if we can’t easily see God’s plan. After all, despite the tumultuous history, the Church continues to produce great saints, pearls of great value, making this world a better place.
As I walked along the beach, I prayed for my heart to be a pearl-producing oyster. Honestly, I still felt a little crabby knowing I had to get on another airplane, deal with security lines and read the news headlines. But God’s Grace can transform even a tough-shelled crab into something delicious, satisfying and worth celebrating. It just requires a recipe to boil the “hell” out of the crab, season it with the salt of the earth and earth’s bitter herbs like a blend of chicory, coriander and chives.
There’s good news! The Church IS a pearl-producing oyster. We’re not all crabby! But, there’s even hope for crabby folks! Melted butter for dipping and a cold beer.
|Click for the recipe for Seafood Stew with crab and a coconut curry cream sauce|
Let us pray:
Father, turn us into the pearl of great price by surrounding us with Grace. We know our sins should be an automatic “eject” button for us, but you allow us to remain inside the Church’s family. Transform us into pearls of great price. Help us to be patient and more trusting of the process, especially as the synod deliberates the difficult topics of the day. May faithful people desire to act union with the Pope. May honest disagreement be spoken in charity. Lord, silence our arrogance. Holy Spirit, continue to convert the heart of each synod participant to become like the Good Shepherd – not just in intellectual orthodoxy but also in the practical compassion that welcomed the prodigal son to the feast. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
- Who’s your favorite saint, who just happened to be a former sinner? Mine is St. Paul.
- Have you ever found pearls in your shellfish? What did you do with it?
- What’s your favorite shellfish?
- Do you have any good oyster recipes to share with our Grace Before Meals family?
Help us to spread the message by sending this email to your family, friends, parishioners and even your pastor, and post your comments below.
10/25/14 – 10/28/14
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