Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Do your friends a favor. Invite them to brunch. There’s no mistaking about it. Brunch has become a stable fixture in our cultural landscape, especially on Sundays. The passion for eggs and home fries, maybe a Bloody Mary or a Mimosa, and just about anything lunchy that can be thrown in, has inspired bartenders and restaurateurs to collaborate in meeting a variety of needs their potential customers have and that they are well prepared to tend to.

A recent trip to Astoria (New York City), while tending to business confirmed for me the growing popularity of brunch with a wide demographic. Unlike the Friday or Saturday night bar scene, which tends to attract a dating-aged crowd, brunch seems to appeal to folks all over the social spectrum. I was struck by how many couples with kids were being seated at a local café where I was having an omelet with an associate. Astoria is multi-ethnic and the clientele reflected that diversity, both in patronage and menu choices.

Some brunchers, no doubt, find it more convenient to enjoy this meal because the “night before” has left them ill-prepared to do much more than wake up groggily and ease into a day-long recuperation for a busy work week ahead. Perhaps that need is what sparked the start of this late-breakfast/lunch combo. But that’s not the majority anymore, it seems to me. A quick Google search of brunch opportunities in our area will reveal any number of establishments offering it on weekends from fast-food chains to steak houses and country clubs. 

Everybody has to eat and the appeal of waking up after a late night to a relatively simple meal at reasonable cost, not overly dress-formal, has not been lost to enterprising merchants. Good for them! I am not sure that brunch will replace weekend sports practice, with which pastors often find themselves in competition for congregants, but it seems to be attracting more than the late-night crowd. 

Brunch is a convenience to address both physical and social hungers economically and efficiently. You don’t even have to go out. You can do it at home in your jammies. Then I got to thinking — something we who appreciate the value of Sundays for meeting our spiritual and community-belonging hungers — here is an opportunity to capitalize on a cultural phenomenon that could even be Christianized.  

Coffee hours and pancake breakfasts are not new in church circles. Rural parishes, in particular, enjoy them frequently as an informal way of meeting corporeal and social hungers as well as nurturing community and spiritual needs. For those in more urban or suburban areas, another option to be explored might be to invite friends to brunch – with an eye toward doing them the favor of attending to the same human essentials. What I am thinking of is meeting at church first and then going out to brunch after.

It is well documented that we humans have a tendency to confuse hungers. Sometimes the desire to eat something is actually a false signal of the body’s need for hydration. Drinking water and certain other liquids, in itself, can often help to stave off hunger pains and is even recommended by some dietary therapists in weight-management programs. On another level, the hunger for friendship is often expressed in the use of social media, but not without the risk of falling into addictive behaviors, some of which mock what only authentic relationships can offer. The prevalence of pornography on the internet and its nefarious use by human traffickers, exploits both the subjects displayed on the screen and the hapless consumers. If nothing else, the pandemic exposed the limitations of virtual media as a means of meeting needs for in-person contact. 

What we think we need is not always what we really need. Our spiritual hungers are often masked or short-circuited by the seductions of sensual pleasures and immediate gratification, which not only fail to fulfill the needs of our hearts and souls, but end up creating even more unrest and anxiety. St. Augustine discovered this through his personal experience, seeking love and companionship in all the wrong places, and expressed it in a prayerful verse: “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” 

Our Lord, of course, knows this well. Jesus wants to feed all our hungers and, in his earthly ministry, typically addressed them: healing, feeding, teaching, restoring. We as his disciples can and must do the same. People need to be fed and we want those we love to receive all the nourishment that they need — the satisfaction of all their hungers as human beings, not only physical, but spiritual and emotional as well.

Inviting friends to brunch might be one way of doing this. Meet for Mass first, then go out to eat. I have often thought that if each one of us was able to re-introduce just one person to the spiritual wealth of our eucharistic community, to active participation in the Sunday liturgy, how much richer our lives would be, fed by the Word of God and the Real Presence of Christ himself. Somewhere I have heard it said that if all a person did in their life was to lead one soul to the Lord, to find their way to heaven, that life would have been worth living. 

This is the kind of activity that we might call “re-evangelization.” Many people who identify as Christian feel culturally at home with that name, but do not yet appreciate the great benefits of the sacramental life of the Church. At Baptism, we Christians are “plugged in” to the network — the cable is connected, so to speak — but the streaming may not be flowing through for lack of a regular subscription. We need to be fed, to turn the current on.

All living beings need to be fed. We do not feed the dead, but the living need food and drink, nourishment to survive and thrive. Without the life the Lord gives us, our souls can wizen and perish. We may not realize it is happening, distracted by perishable substances that cannot fill that soul-hunger. I am not suggesting that Mass alone is all we need, but Jesus told us that we need to feed on him in order to have eternal life and this is the sure and guaranteed way to receive him and for which there is no substitute. 

From our communion in him and with him flows authentic human communion, spiritual friendships, through which all our human hungers and needs will be met. When Christ is the center of our life, we find the connections, personally and socially, through which peace and harmony flow into a vigorous ecclesial and community life. Invite a friend to brunch, to Mass first, and see what God can do.

@AlbBishopEd