Unless people prepare the stuffing out of a box it is unlikely that anyone’s turkey stuffing is the same as anyone else’s. There might be some common ingredients, but depending on where a person’s family comes from, the additions will reflect family roots, personal creativity and what was at hand. In fact the purpose of a family’s stuffing recipe is to connect this week’s thanksgiving feast with those of past generations.
If we’re eating what grandma or great-grandma made back in the day, we’re reunited with our maternal ancestors in a way that mere stories and photos cannot provide. Once in a while some adventurous cook decides to change things up a bit. Rarely is this met with unanimous approval. Unless our ancestors were bad cooks, the altering of family recipes is a kind of betrayal of the past. Experimentation in the kitchen is fine for other meals, but not thanksgiving. And how many newly married couples faced a few moments of tension when the in-laws were treated to a different stuffing that failed to connect them to their roots? “Nana would not have made it THIS way!”
What’s missing when the recipe is changed is not simply a certain taste, but a type of assurance of love. We know our mothers (and/or dads) made the Thanksgiving meal not our of sense of duty but as an expression of love. So often people say that the added ingredient that makes the food taste so good is the love that went into it. So passing on the traditional recipes passes on the love that was shared throughout past decades.
Did you ever wonder what happens on Sundays at a Catholic church? The word we use is “Eucharist” which actually means “thanksgiving” in Greek. So we’re having a thanksgiving meal each time we celebrate Mass. The recipe is always the same: bread and wine. We don’t change it for the same reason people pass on family recipes through generations — it’s the passing on of love throughout the ages.
When Jesus started this meal at the Last Supper he said, “Take this bread and eat it — this is my body.” And “take this cup of wine and drink from it because it is my blood.” To the casual observer there was no difference in the appearance of that bread or wine that night — or even today. But a big transformation took place. We say that grandma put her self into the meal she made and that the meal is filled with her love. Since we believe that Jesus is God, it’s not to hard to believe that he too put himself into that bread and wine with love for his apostles and future generations. The difference is that grandma didn’t really become the food but Jesus did.
We all know the saying, “We are what we eat” and after we eat a Thanksgiving meal we realize that the turkey wasn’t the only thing that got stuffed! We’re so filled with the feast that it seems to take us over. For Catholics who receive communion, there is a similar experience. We are so taken over by the presence of God’s love that it starts to conform us to how God loves and forgives and feeds and heals. And we need to do this a frequently as every week because the challenges and stresses of life can wear us down during the week and sometimes we find ourselves not being as patient as God, or as generous, or as kind, or as wise. Time to get another taste!
As you eat your Thanksgiving meal this year, my wish is that you are filled with love that is passed on through your family’s generations and that your children and children’s children will experience your love in such a way that they’ll remember it through the decades ahead. That is something to be truly thankful for.