March 7, 2023 // Perspective

In Lent, Let’s Learn What It Means to be Companions

Ask any teenager anxious about where they’ll sit in the cafeteria for lunch. Ask any widow or widower learning to cook for one. Ask a grandparent planning a holiday feast, a parent volunteering to host the team banquet, or anyone taking a head count for how many friends are staying for dinner.

The people we eat with matter.

An often-overlooked term, the word “companion” has surprising roots which translate roughly into “the one with whom we eat bread” (“panis” meaning bread in Latin). More than a matching volume in a set, a soulmate, or a seatmate on the plane, companions are “bread fellows.” They are the people with whom we share food and drink each day.

Jesus modeled companionship for us in unorthodox ways. He ate with enemies and sinners, unexpected guests and unwanted outcasts. Plenty of His meals were shared with family and friends, but He also fed thousands who followed Him, those hungry for His word and for the bread that would sustain them as they listened. He talked about thorny subjects, controversial questions, and theological truths over bread and wine. He ate at high feasts, lavish banquets, roadside meals, and a last supper that left us a lasting gift.

Jesus taught us everything about becoming companions. How fitting that He chose food and drink to be the ultimate sacrament of His presence. Communion is what we crave, and companionship is how we share it.

Whenever we sit down to a meal — with family or friends, co-workers or strangers — there is God in our midst, again and always. We can glimpse God in the breaking of the bread, the basic fact of having food to eat, and the grace of conversation: the abundance of what we share.

Full disclosure: Despite these lovely theological truths, I must confess that dinner is my least favorite time of day. Everyone is tired, blood sugar runs low, and so much remains to be done before bed. One of my Lenten practices has thus become simply sitting at the table instead of leaping up to start the dishes and get the evening’s housework underway. It matters that I am present to my children, sharing conversation and food, learning what it means to be companions in this stage of life.

Perhaps we all have room to grow in our companionship. Could we become more mindful or grateful of those with whom we break bread each night? Could we add another chair to the table and invite someone who might be lonely? Could we change our habits of consumption to eat more simply so that others may simply eat?

When spouses exchange wedding vows, they are promising to become companions in every sense of the word. Usually married couples end up eating more meals with their spouse than anyone else. But even this sacred encounter can quickly become mundane. We may take for granted the ones with whom we share our daily bread.

But with Jesus, food even became forgiveness. Sitting with Peter on the lakeshore after a breakfast He’d cooked for the friend who denied Him, the risen Christ gave His closest companion the chance to repent and return. This Lent offers us the same: an opportunity to set aside grudges and share a meal, or the invitation to return to the sacraments after a long time away from God’s companionship.

On the winding journey of Lent, we are like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. The way of companionship means discovering again and again the presence of God revealed to us in the breaking of the bread, both in the sacrament of the Eucharist and the everyday holy of our ordinary meals.

Christ is our ultimate companion, and His compassion can animate our own. May the Bread of Life teach us, through each meal we bless in His name, how to become bread for others.

Laura Kelly Fanucci is an author, speaker, and Founder of Mothering Spirit, an online gathering place on parenting and spirituality.

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