Column by Jonathan Nagy
The great Civil War Admiral David Farragut was once credited with saying, “No man can tell how he will act in a responsible position until he finds himself in it.” Throughout history, this has rung true. Individuals have braved many harrowing scenarios and situations in life, several of whom were fully prepared for the conditions in which they found themselves. Some have acted as expected while others have not. People today continue to find themselves in places where they are unsure how they will act. One of those such places is… the kitchen.
If I was to rewrite the lyrics for “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, most of the things I would include would be food. I enjoy all different kinds of foods and going out to eat at different restaurants is one of my favorite activities. My philosophy when I go to restaurants is ordering something that I do not or cannot make for myself at home. I do enjoy cooking and I do not get to spend as much time in my kitchen as I would like, but the level of creativity one can have with food is limitless! The great chef Julia Child once said, “To be a good cook, you have to have a love of the good, a love of hard work, and a love of creating. The more you know, the more you can create. There’s no end to imagination in the kitchen.” Still, for many, cooking seems to be a daunting and stressful task.
Restaurant food costs more than homemade food because we pay for the convenience of having someone else cook for us. Ready-made comes at a price, unless dinner is at grandma’s house. One of my favorite childhood memories was walking into my grandmother’s kitchen and seeing the spread she put out on the table, even for a simple weekday lunch. If she had opened her own restaurant, which I have fictitiously named “Dot’s Diner”, I guarantee she would have had rave reviews of her food.
Many enjoy walking into a ready-made situation, whether it is for food, work, or any activity. It would be great if my classroom could put itself together at the beginning of every school year, but that will not happen without me doing it. I would like nothing more than to come home and have my grass already cut, but I am the one that has to fire up the lawnmower. Food will be left unprepared in the refrigerator unless I do something with it. I have found that sometimes it takes a great motivating factor to get things such as these accomplished.
The Gospel for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time was my inspiration for my thoughts about preparing food. In that Gospel from Luke, Jesus said, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” I reflected a very long time on that phrase, and no matter how many times I hear that sentence, it still strikes me as extremely significant. Jesus was sent into the world to redeem it and bring the human race closer to God, and He wished it was already there. I’m not comparing Jesus to someone who wants dinner on the table when they walk in the door, but He definitely expected something more out of humans.
Jesus often spoke of the debauchery of man in his teachings. I cringe at what He is thinking when He sees the world today. He expects more out of us, and we should expect more out of each other AND ourselves. More often than not, most things do not get accomplished without our own willpower to do so, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t help from others along the way. For example, if we look back at cooking, we need to have all of the ingredients if we are to make a meal. I often joke that it is very important this time of the year to lock your car doors because friends and family will fill the vehicle with zucchini! However, that zucchini can be one of the ingredients necessary for completing a dish. Another quote by Julia Child reads “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” Zucchini seems to grow in abundance at the time of the harvest. The good works of man are also plentiful, but often are not easily harvested.
God has gifted everyone with unique talents that can help others. We give our children a vast array of opportunities to try out activities to see where their talents lie. In addition to the courses in school, students today are involved in athletics, community activities, private lessons, and more. One mother recently remarked to me that she knows that her children are busy with various activities, but she doesn’t want to tell them they can’t do something because she wants them to find their own interests and talents that can best serve them and others. That is the same thing that God wants of all of us.
One of my biggest fears is failure, but not in the sense that I am failing myself, but that I have failed in the eyes and expectations of others. Although in the heat of the moment I fail to remember, I have come to understand that many of those expectations are self-imposed. I work so hard in every aspect of my life to make my work watertight. I carefully examine each possible outcome and prepare for any scenario that may arise. However, I am not omnipotent and cannot know every future possibility. That power is reserved only for God. In Star Wars, the great Yoda was quoted as saying, “The greatest teacher failure is.” We must learn and grow from our failures and continue to work to do better.
God understands that we are not perfect. I mean, He made us that way! I believe he gives us this life on earth to prove ourselves and constantly improve in order to eventually meet him in Heaven. I remember reading a story about a young boy who was asked why he thought that dogs don’t live as long as people. The boy responded, “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life. Like, loving everybody all the time, and being nice. Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.” How true that is! We can take a lifetime and still not understand the true love that God intends.
From His vantage point, does Jesus see the world ablaze? Are we ourselves on fire for the faith? How do we show Christian values in our daily lives? These are all pertinent questions that we must ask ourselves daily. We may feel that we are far off from living the life of Christ, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. The first step we take is a step in the right direction. The path is not easy, nor is it intended to be. If being holy was easy, then everyone would do it! Unfortunately, many do not seek desire to have that relationship with God, but it is up to us to be living examples of the faith.
I would like to take one more quote from Julia Child to illustrate what we must do. She said, “This is my invariable advice to people: learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all, have fun.” We can easily adapt this advice to our faith. We can learn to be Christian examples, by trying new activities, illustrating our talents, finding and enhancing our strengths, identifying and eliminating our weaknesses, do all in the name of Jesus Christ, and enjoy the life that God has given us. Just typing that gives me hope and sets my faith ablaze!
We have to remember that God has provided us with the bounty of food that we prepare and eat. A simple prayer of thanks during cooking, before eating, and after the meal will remind us of the goodness of God. Additionally, always say a blessing for the cook, even if it is yourself! These simple things, such as praying together in a restaurant before the meal, is one of those outward signs of faith that Jesus wishes for everyone to do.
We all need to get in the “kitchen of life” and use the ingredients that God gave us to help create something wonderful. As much as we like to please ourselves and others with great meals that we create, it would be even more wonderful to know that the actions that we do for others pleases our Lord. Our attempts may lead to failures, but that should not deter us from seeking the good. Use the failure as fuel for a desire to triumph! Let us work together to not only set the world ablaze with the faith, but strive to make it a roaring, everlasting fire for our God!
Jonathan Nagy, M.Ed., is the Dean of Students and Social Studies teacher at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Ebensburg. He is also the Music Director at the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel in Loretto.