Yesterday I went out for my walk. As I usually do when I have some, I offered treats to the feral cats that hang around outside the kitchen. The folks who work in the kitchen seem to feed them, more or less, leaving them this or that: chicken scraps, rabbit heads, old gnocchi. Perhaps they do it out of kindness or perhaps because cats hanging around the kitchen are better than rats. All the usuals were there yesterday--the big, grizzled, black and white tom I've come to call 'Big Meanie,' the one-eyed calico, the tabby that's funny-looking in some way I can't articulate. They seemed hungrier than usual. Then I realized; they must suffer somewhat on fast and abstinence days when there's not much to be cooked in the kitchen.
Having now lived through two fast and abstinence days here in Italy, I can now share with confidence what one eats on them. For the main meal in the middle of the day, you get a bowl of vegetable soup. That's it. For supper, there's spaghetti (with just a little oil and garlic) and scrambled eggs.
I share this partly because of certain recent disappointments I've had with the press. How can you interview someone about having an intimate Holy Thursday lunch with the Pope and not ask him what he got to eat? And if you did ask, how can you leave it out of the article? There's a little Manichean in all of us, friends, of whom we need to beware. The heresy can be subtle and is very seductive. Just watch Star Wars.
Part of our Holy Thursday lunch here was a lentil and potato mush that was pretty good. Or at least I thought so. As I often share with the brethren when we eat lentils, I once made lentil soup for a girl and after she ate it she brought up the idea of marriage. To be fair, she had consumed two glasses of wine and I think she was lonely, but still. After trying to tell this story one of the friars said, very seriously,
"That's not true love."
He's right, of course. But how much easier it is to live in a world of conditional and transactional love, of doing to others as they do unto me, of helping out those who have been helpful to me, of doing good in the hopes that it will dispose others to help me in the future. And how much easier it is to live in such an imagination before God, as if God were the landlord who lets us live a 'state of grace' as long as we pay the rent of our good behavior, instead of surrendering to the God who makes himself our servant and saves us precisely as the unworthy sinners we are, such that we might become liberated servants of one another.