TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Oscar Romero and a top chef

Do not withhold your goodness from me
O Lord, may your love be deep in my soul

These words from ‘Yes, I Shall Arise’by Lucien Deiss, struck a chord with me at Mass on Sunday and I think it forms the basis of the content of this week’s message. I hope they say something to you also.

More than 200 people gathered on Sunday afternoon at the Annual Ecumenical Way of the Cross.This year we chose the St Oscar Romero Way of the Cross, written by Fumiaki Tosu, which provided us with reflections for each Station from his homilies and public addresses. Oscar Romero made a courageous choice to risk everything to follow Jesus. Romero’s words were bothersome to the ruling elite, ultimately leading to his assassination by the military on 24 March 1980. Like Jesus in Sunday’s Gospel, (John 8:1-11), Romero made real God’s mission to the people of El Salvador, a mission of social justice and liberation, and not one of individual piety.

We too, are called to approach the cross – to declare with our words and our lives that we stand with those who today are being crushed by the forces of greed and violence. By defending the poor, walking with those who are considered to be the underclass, we may end up in conflict with those who seek to control the world through politics, economics and power. In the words of Oscar Romero:

Those who love Jesus so much that they leave their positions to walk with the poor, suffer with them, feel their pain, and experience attacks alongside of them, will earn their lives. (Homily, April 1, 1979)

Romero, like Jesus shows that the mercy and compassion of God exceed the authority of the law. We hear these amazing words in Paul’s reading to the Philippians (3:8-14):

I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For him I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him.

What a strong use of the word, rubbish. Life with Christ makes all things new, it takes us away from sin, from rubbish, into being forgiven. We are transformed, re-created, made new. This is the message of Jesus Christ, of St Paul, of Oscar Romero, of so many good men and women who have gone before us.

So just in case you believe that this life is only for those who have been declared saints, I wish to share with you a good news story from the March 30 Good Weekend(a magazine insert into the Sydney Morning Herald). It was a story, His Kitchen Rulesby Brook Turner, about Massimo Bottura, one of the world’s top chefs. It seems that Bottura has a deep appreciation for history, art and culture. He serves food to diners who flock to his three- Michelin-star restaurant in Modena, Italy, but also to those less fortunate. It appears that his goodness as a human being is a recipe for social gestures.

In 2015, Massimo cooked at the 2015 World Expo in Milan, which had the theme – ‘Feeding the planet’. He decided to take the theme seriously, announcing that he would establish a soup kitchen for the city’s homeless. It was to be at Milan’s central station, until Pope Francis suggested a poor neighbourhood on the city’s outskirts. Bottura’s first refettorio– from the Latin word “reficere”, to restore - was born.

He and his wife, Lara Gilmore, formed the cultural foundation Food for Soulin 2016. Today, Food for Soul, spans four haute cuisine community kitchens in Milan, London, Paris and Rio de Janeiro. Food for Soul’smotto is that “a meal is a gesture of inclusion”.

Food for Soul, is a response, Bottura says, to the fact that a third of the world’s food production goes to waste; that at a time when many have too much to eat, 800 million are undernourished. Of course, food rescue and activism are hardly new; OzHarvest launched in Australia 15 years ago. Milan helped crystalise a moment that was well underway.

He bears a tattoo across his arm that reads ‘No More Excuses’. Bottura says:

I don’t want to be popular, I want to be famous. If you’re popular, they gonna forget about you when the new talent comes up. If you’re famous, [it’s] for what you have done.

Evidently, he is coming to Australia again to trial a new stage show. He believes Australians have open minds. He says, “They’re hungry for things. They are ready for this.”

The article on him in the Good Weekendcontinues:

Hungriest of all are the young, the generations Bottura is now hell-bent on infecting – or maybe inoculating – with his sense of culture and purpose. The catalyst was a speech he gave at Harvard University in December:

“There were so many people there; they had to open two other auditoriums. I realised there were so many minds hungry to understand,” he says. “Culture is slow. It is reading, always learning, getting deep into your interests, and everything is too quick now. You can’t improvise to be a great chef, but a great chef can really improvise. You have to think very slowly, then act very quickly. The young generation, they are losing the confidence with themselves, with history. Instead of going out and seeing the beauty in museums or architecture…they are losing themselves in front of the TV or a computer.”

He then goes on to say:

I’m hungry to learn, to keep learning, keep evolving. To keep the flame alive, I want to keep reading the right things, listening to the right music, looking at the perfect painting. It’s a very important exercise because you do it through culture. That’s why all these young people, my chefs, are there, because I stimulate them with culture.

I am sure this is part of what we do each year when we gather with the young and the old in the bush and walk the Way of the Crossat Kilaben Bay. We are re-enacting and re-telling the story of Jesus so that it gets passed on in a meaningful way within a faith community, a community that bears witness. Moreover, this year we overlaid it with the story and words of St Oscar Romero. And, in my message I have taken extracts from a normal weekend magazine, the story of Massimo Bottura, to show you that well-renowned people, such as him, are also trying to embed a purposeful life for those who encounter him.

I leave you with pondering the words of Romero from a Homily he delivered on July 8 1979:

If someday they take away the radio station from us,
if they close down the newspaper,
if they don’t let us speak,
if they kill all the priests and the bishops, too,
and you are left a people without priests,
each one of you must become God’s microphone,
each one of you must become a messenger, a prophet.

Next weekend, I will be away again on the Gold Coast as we baptise Rowan, our youngest grandchild. We are immersing him in a family and in a tradition through ritual. The photos, the candle and white garment will serve as a reminder to him of his initiation into the Catholic Church. I hope he adopts this way of life for himself on his journey to adulthood.

Consequently, next week, Sam (Samantha) Hill will be writing this message about ministering with young people.

I hope to see you at the joyous Chrism Mass on Tuesday 16 April.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.