When the feast of St. Martin of Tours comes around each year—that’s November 11th, a day he shares on the Roman calendar with St. Mennas, a great soldier, desert solitary, and martyr in Egypt—I always think about food. The reason has nothing to do with Armistice Day. Rather, it’s because of the almost eight years my family and I spent in Austria, where St. Martin’s Day is their equivalent of our American Thanksgiving. It’s the day when roast goose is served with red cabbage, dumplings, potatoes, salads, beer, and other culinary delights. Ever since that time, my wife and I have kept up the custom, except that we have substituted duck for goose, as it’s smaller and a lot easier to prepare, but still special.
Catholics in the “Chesterbelloc tradition” tend to place a good deal of emphasis on food, drink, and merriment, and that is as it should be, as long as we complement it with an appropriate emphasis at other times on fasting, abstinence, and sorrow for sin. It is part of the genius of Catholicism never to make a permanent abode in any one “place” in the human experience or psyche, be it world-denying or world-embracing, but always to be on the move, like a nomad, from place to place, so that, with God’s grace, we might not merely believe that we are pilgrims, but feel that we are. And even this nomadism is balanced out by the characteristically monastic emphasis on stabilitas loci, “stability of place,” meaning the value of putting down our roots, investing ourselves in a home, instead of being distracted vagrants. We find in the Catholic Tradition saints who exemplify every aspect of the Faith, from ascetic anchorites to battling kings, begging itinerants to lordly abbots, farmers, shepherds, servants, scholars, merchants, mechanics.
But we come back again and again, in Scripture, in the liturgy, in our devotions, and in our age-old customs as Catholics, to food and drink, because, together with air, it is our most basic need as animals. We need it every day. “Give us this day our daily bread”: when Our Lord gave us the perfect prayer, He spoke simultaneously of our animal hunger for the bread that perishes and our spiritual hunger for the Bread of God that cometh down from heaven and giveth eternal life. Of this latter meal, Scripture says: “Thou preparest a table before me” (Ps 22:5). When seated, we can cry out with the Psalmist: “My soul shall savor the rich banquet of praise” (cf. Ps 62:6).