The Family Meal
Seven o’clock: Kevin, 11 years old, comes home. The apartment is empty, Dad and Mom are still working. He opens the freezer, chooses an ice-cream cone that he inhales, then sits down in front of his Play Station while munching peanuts. It is only proper that he lifts his gaze from his game that he is absorbed in when his mother finally comes home; she is tired from her day, heats up some tea, and crunches an apple before looking at a magazine.
This same evening, in a neighboring apartment, Vianney has already been home for nearly two hours. Mother was there to welcome him, to listen to his stories from school, and help him with his homework. When Father returns, he sits down with the other members of the family to steaming pumpkin soup that follows an appetizing casserole of vegetables with bacon.
Here in a few words are two instances of daily family life...almost two separate civilizations. And without hesitation, we have chosen the veritable family life, the one where parents and children are found together around the table for meals.
Why is it important not to leave the children alone to eat at their leisure? A first reason is the health of the child. There is a good bet that, left to himself, he will choose pizza and cookies in preference to salad and green beans...and too bad for the balance that does not allow self-service in the refrigerator.
At a higher level, the family meal is also an excellent instructor of the will.
One practices life skills there; it is a school of self-control. One learns to eat what is served without arguing, instead of leaving free reign to his caprices to choose what flatters his tastes. Certainly, it is not forbidden to have preferences in food, while learning to still eat that which is less pleasing. What a lovely opportunity to “make a sacrifice!” Thus, the “animal” part of oneself gives way little by little to reason and the life of grace. It is for this reason that snacking between meals is not encouraged (snack time for the little children is considered as a meal). Only the mother has the right to open the refrigerator, in order to make a meal for everyone. If not, it invites the reign of capricious instincts, unworthy of a child of God.
Finally, there is a third reason that the meal is a strong time of family unity. Everyone is there sharing the discoveries, adventures, or the difficulties of the day. It is up to the father and the mother to watch over the conversation in order that it remains charitable, instructive, or recreational, but never evil or pessimistic. Because a family is not a sum of juxtaposed individuals, it is a living organism, where everyone gives of themselves for the happiness of everyone. Yes, it is quite the opposite of individualism, promoted by the example given in the beginning of this article. At table, characters show themselves and rub against each other, so many occasions “to educate,” that is to say to raise the souls of our children, by judicious remarks, encouragements and gentle teasing, which is the salt of friendship!
In the Gospel, the Kingdom of Heaven is compared to a banquet. May our humble meals on earth be not too pale of a reflection!