29th Sunday in OT (A)
October 13, 2020
Our Lady of good memory
October 13, 2020

Caribbean Sunday lunch… with new meaning

By Fr Donald Chambers

“Families are messy. . . Sometimes the best we can do is to remind each other that we’re related for better or for worse…and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.”

(Rick Riodan, The Sea of Monsters)

Riodan’s insight provokes the question—how can we manage the messy affairs within the family of the domestic Church?

As with my previous articles, I rely on Luke’s narrative of the Emmaus disciples as a teaching tool and will use this to speak about the value and potential of a traditional Caribbean Sunday lunch of rice and peas, callaloo, macaroni pie and salad (Trinidad), or rice and peas, chicken and salad (Jamaica) as a fertile environment and ritual for building trusting family relationships.

During His earthly mission, Jesus proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom of God (Lk 4:14–15) while forming a community of disciples to teach and point the way to God (Lk 9:51).

This community was similar to a domestic Church or family as they travelled together (Mk 2:23), shared meals (Passover), argued among themselves (Matt 18:1–5), visited each other’s families (Mk 1:29–34), affirmed and challenged each other (Matt 16: 13–20), and prayed in common (Lk 22: 39–46).

The high point of this community life was the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus that was unmistakeably marked by the messiness of betrayal, abandonment, timidity, disappointment, but also hope.

Recalling their encounter with the Risen Christ, the disciples cherished and valued Christ’s faithfulness to the community and its ongoing formation.

In the narrative of the Emmaus disciples (Lk 24:13–35), the conversation with the two disciples ended with a formation ritual—a meal.

As with a traditional Sunday lunch, a meal is an intimate moment that is characterised by each person “sitting on the same side of the table” (Brené Brown).

For the disciples, this moment with the Risen Christ was a sign of forgiveness, reconciliation, equality, embracing their weaknesses, but also affirming their strengths and possibilities for growth.

As a teaching ritual, this narrative reaffirms the potential of the traditional Caribbean Sunday lunch for the formation of the domestic Church. Despite the reality that the “family is the place where the most ridiculous and least respectable things in the world go on” (Ugo Betti), a Sunday lunch “reminds us that we are related for better or worse” and nourishes that relationship.

This lunch can be a suitable ice-breaker for families to engage in a trust-building exercise while cooking, eating, and chatting together.

The current social restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic offer Caribbean families the opportunity to resurrect the traditional Sunday lunch with new meaning.

In between the preparation and eating, or after the meal, the conversations among families could be guided by the following pointers:

  • Thank each other for their unique contribution of the family, or say, “Here’s how you are making a difference to this family” or “This issue is getting in the way of our growth as a family and I think we can tackle it together”
  • “What ideas do you have about moving forward?”
  • “What role do you think I am playing in this problem?”
  • “What can I do differently to support you?”

Initially, this conversational exercise may be viewed suspiciously. Some may be reluctant to agree or participate. If this occurs, exercise patience, tolerance, and gentle persistence.

If there is willingness to participate, then listen non-judgementally. This is not an occasion for ‘hammering persons over the head.’ In the words of Brown, “No one is open to feedback or owning responsibility for something where they’re being hammered.”

Care must be taken to establish a non-threatening, relaxing and non-judgemental space that facilitates the gradual removal of our emotional armour. The goal of this family ritual is not to fix problems, but to build trust among family members.

Celebrating this traditional Sunday lunch in a new way may generate feelings of discomfort, fear, trepidation, apprehension, and anxiety. We may experience fright, flight, or fight.

As with new experiences, I invite you to embrace these feelings and jump into the proverbial ‘deep waters’ with a lifeguard. One possible lifeguard is a trustworthy person with whom you can share your feelings and plans. This person must be capable of listening, understanding, supporting, and encouraging.

This family ritual is challenging because it is an act of vulnerability. There is uncertainty as to the individual responses—what shape will the response take and what will be the outcome?

Second, it is a risk-taking exercise which stimulates the question—will the emotional investment yield the anticipated fruits? Third, it requires the exposure of our emotions that we have not been socialised to share freely, even within our families.

The formation of the domestic Church is essential for the transformation of any society and the world. It is necessary not to ignore or neglect the messiness in our families but engage it in the way the Risen Christ engaged the Emmaus disciples.

In the end, the wise words attributed to St Mother Teresa of Calcutta is instructive, “The way you help heal the world is you start with your own family.”


Fr Donald Chambers of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica is the General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference.