Working meat off the bones of a rotisserie chicken became something of a sacramental experience for me the other day.
The succulent shreds were worth the effort. I’m not sure what decadent blend of seasoning and spices our local grocery chain puts into the marinade, but I do know their roasted birds are delicious. You don’t want a single scrap to go to waste.
In the fifteen minutes or so I was wrestling with the carcass, I found myself taking a trip back in time. The whole exercise reminded me of my Grandma Gertie: She could pick a chicken bone clean like nobody’s business. She’d do just that, in fact, every time she served us fried chicken—taking the bones off our plates after we’d “finished”, and showing us that there was still a lot more meat to be had…if only we’d been willing to exert a little more effort.
Many years later, it occurred to me that Grandma had probably developed her bone-pickin’ skills to stave off hunger. She’d raised her family during the Depression, when there wasn’t always enough food to go around. I can well imagine her allowing the kids to eat first…and then finding her own sustenance in the scraps they’d left on the bone.
My times with Grandma—in the 1960s and 70s—were characterized more by bounty than want, so that may explain why her carcass-stripping practices struck me as a little odd: I’ve never known hunger. In my youth, I was incapable of understanding Grandma’s action as a Eucharistic exercise.
But Eucharistic it was—the connection she found between food and family. Her instincts were exactly the opposite of the apostles’ in the gospel story we hear on the feast of Corpus Christi.
As the day was drawing to a close, the Twelve approached him and said, “Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.”
Faced with the prospect of hunger, their initial response was “Fend for yourselves.” Jesus had a different approach in mind, of course—encouraging the apostles to trust that even their meager store could be enough to satisfy.
Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.
Blessed, broken and picked clean: I suspect my Grandma took many of her cues from Jesus in learning how to serve up a memorable feast. And no wonder: She herself was fed by the Eucharist almost every day. So in times of plenty…or times of want…she certainly knew the truth of the Blessed Sacrament at work in her life.
And what a gift it is, Eucharist—as St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us in the words of the Sequence that we’ve recited together as church for nearly 1,000 years:
You refresh us, you defend us,
Your eternal goodness send us
In the land of life to see.
You who all things can and know,
Who on earth such food bestow,
Grant us with your saints, though lowest,
Where the heav’nly feast you show,
Fellow heirs and guests to be. Amen. Alleluia.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.