I can not watch the movie Moonstruck without thinking about the end of an age. An age where old Italian men stood around their folding tables lining their narrow street, their boom boxes serenading the neighborhood with the lilting tones of Mario or Frank, while their womenfolk, leaning precariously out of upstairs windows, shouted to one another in Italian.
The vanishing neighborhood. Where everybody knew everybody else’s business and kept mutual tabs on the children so they did not get in trouble on their watch.
Sign of the times, some people say.
It has been 25 years since Cheryl and I paid our first visit to that little neighborhood in Boston’s North End. Gentrification has since eroded the closeness that we had initially felt with the people. The brownstone flats have been gutted and turned into pricy lofts. The men and card tables replaced by status Beemers and Benz’s parked along the now empty streets. And occasional Ipod-connected joggers are followed suspiciously by mute, vacant windows.
And yet, while much has changed, a ray of light and hope remains. Much like a flower that grows up between the cracks in a sidewalk, the little Italian bakery stubbornly remains on the same corner of the block and continues to provide the essential Italian comfort food of childhood: the cannoli.
A decadent tube of fried dough, filled with rich and creamy ricotta cheese, fruit or possibly chocolate, and sprinkled lightly with powdered sugar – a magical combination, sure to bring a smile to the sourest of faces.
Comfort food. The kind of thing Mamma used to make… It exists in every culture. PB&J. Pasta noodles. Or simply a warm, buttered tortilla.
A food that braces us for the cold, cruel world.
As Catholics, the Eucharist is our comfort food. Our soul food.
No where but in the Eucharist do we encounter God/Jesus in such a profound way and no where but in the church can we feed the gnawing hunger that longs for love, dignity and respect.
When we are distressed we can come before the Eucharist in adoration or communion and have our spirits and our bellies fed.
That is why Mother Church invites us to the table every day. To equip us for the task God sets before us and to remind us that despite inevitable changes in life’s circumstances, there is really no place like home.
Home: Where everyone becomes a member of our family at baptism; given responsibilities and specific chores to perform in order to build up the family unit; and encouraged to share our giftedness in order to welcome the stranger at our door.
As Roman Catholics we are called to stand out like beacons in the darkness. Like enticing bakeries in neighborhoods of blandness. To practice being neighbor to one another.
If you know someone in need of a good spiritual meal, invite them to join our family and our table. We can always set another plate. And add another cup of water to the soup.