Mothers with little children often sit in the very back pews during Mass (think quick exit), and so, a few Sundays ago, when I too, was in the back of the church, I found myself sharing space with a family of three who were sitting behind me.  The youngest was about a year old and spent most of Mass in her mother’s arms; her sibling, who was about 2 1/2, was using the kneeler, as toddlers will, as a way to see past all those adult bodies. Both were simply adorable and well-behaved, so Mass was punctuated by excited whispers more than anything.

But the most charming of all came during the Sign of Peace.  As I turned around to extend a greeting to the children’s mother, the toddler looked at me for a split second and then offered me the most important thing she had at that moment — her orange lollipop.  Little did she know that I was dealing with a relative’s serious illness right about then, and her gesture was God’s way of assuring me that in the end all would be well.

How many times during my life have people offered me exactly what I needed exactly when I needed it?  Once it was a friend who handed me a cup of tea, not realizing how much that simple act soothed my spirits when everything else seemed to be going off the rails. In another instance, on the way to a family wedding in another state, we got caught in a blinding rain storm on unfamiliar roads that just happened to be under construction and fraught with detours.  When we were finally able to pull off the highway (frankly, to escape for a moment), it turned out we were in the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant. That young, friendly waiter will probably never knew how much his kindness meant that evening, and I can honestly say I’ve never eaten better Hunan before or since.

There’s an instinct in us that impels us to offer food and drink as comfort when people need it.  Often that takes the form of a casserole when there has been a death in the family or the free lunch offered at church for those who not only need physical sustenance but the companionship of others who will greet them with a smile. Recipes are passed down in families for a reason, because the food contained therein is more than just food. It’s family, it’s belonging, it’s the assurance that in the end all will be well.

Which may be why, when Jesus wanted to leave something tangible as a comfort for His disciples on Holy Thursday night, He did not choose to leave a book or a document or even a catechism. What He left was Himself in the form of bread and wine. In the eating and drinking, we find comfort, we find family, we find meaning. When we do these things, we can’t help but remember Him.

—Originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.