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Twenty-Eighth Sunday of the Year

A Feast of Fat Things

When did 'fat' first become a bad word? We are advised to eat sensibly, to watch our cholesterol, to lose our fat by exercise---or if you can afford or risk it, by liposuction. In terms of our physical health the maxim 'moderation in all things' probably holds true, but it maybe part of our Victorian heritage that we more often than not apply it to the life of the soul too.

The expression 'virtue is the mean' is not an espousal of insipid mediocrity; quite the opposite! Virtue is about excellence and flourishing---human flourishing. The words 'virility' and 'virtue' stem from the same root, vir, a man. They are both about manliness, about flourishing as a human being.

And yet both words have been distorted in modern times. A man proves his virility by divesting a woman of her virtue, and a woman proves her virtue by effectively resisting the seductive charms of a man's virility.

But real virtue and an authentic virility cannot be about fear or exploitation or the denial of who and what we are---and what we are called to be. Virtue is about flourishing. Prudence is not being prudish. And chastity is not about fleeing or suppressing our sexuality, but about being truly loving.

Because virtue is the mean, vice lies on either side. One can sin against chastity not simply by the way everyone assumes, but also by treating sex as dirty or shameful, and not as a gift from God. One can sin against courage not merely by cowardice but also by foolhardiness.

In the Scriptures 'fat' is an image of the life of human flourishing God desires for us, the life of union with him. Fat provides warmth and it stores water. Symbolically it is the opposite to dryness and cold, to the rattling of icy and bony death. Fat is life! And fat is to be relished. No one (no one I know) gets excited about celery, but flavour and relish are in fat: in crackling and in the marrow. It makes for a lovely image of what God desires for us.

If modern misconstructions of virtue are like a skinny, disdainful, disapproving old woman, uncomfortable to hug both physically and emotionally, then God is like a jolly, plump, large-bosomed nurse, the one to whom children run instinctively to embrace.

If the image startles, perhaps that is a vestigial Victorian prudishness. The image is of course biblical.

Rejoice with her in joy … that you may suck and be satisfied with her consoling breasts; that you may drink deeply with delight from the abundance of her glory… You shall suck, you shall be carried upon her hip, and dandled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you

God wants to us to flourish and rejoice in his love for us. He will provide for us, as Isaiah says,

a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.

Life is promised and its contraries removed.

He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth

This is why St Paul says 'I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.' And what is this secret?

I can do all things in him who strengthens me. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

I can do all things in him who strengthens me. The wedding feast is ready, but we cannot share in it if we do not want to. Only the grace of God in us can make us hunger for his feast, can change our rags into wedding garments. The life of virtue, true virtue, is possible only by the grace of God. The virtues do not hang externally on us, like a medal pinned to our chest. They flow out of us connaturally.

We can live virtuously because we have become virtuous, because God is making us virtuous---living in us and giving us even now a taste of the feast of fat things.

 

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