By Phillip Rolfes
Here’s a familiar scenario…
You come home from work, tired and hungry.
It’s been a long day, and you have no energy to cook anything. So you scour the cupboards, looking for something quick and easy you can pop into the microwave to heat up for dinner.
But there’s nothing there.
You open the fridge in the hopes of finding something edible. Suddenly you’re faced with an existential crisis that has plagued first-world men and women since the invention of the refrigerator:
To eat the leftovers, or not to eat the leftovers? That is the question.
Your mother’s voice starts echoing in the back of your head, “There are children in *insert name of random third-world country here* who would love to eat that food. So eat it, and be grateful you have anything to eat at all!”
Your stomach starts doing somersaults.
That chicken, rice, and broccoli you made two nights ago wasn’t very good the night you made it. The chicken was bland. The rice was a little under cooked. And the broccoli was mushy.
But you felt guilty just throwing it away. So you put it in a storage container and stuck it in the back of the fridge. You hoped either someone in your family would notice it and eat it out of desperation, or it would sit in the fridge until you could throw it out guilt-free. But now you’re the one desperate for something quick and easy to eat… and that’s your only option.
Should you throw it out and cook something else? Or, should you suck it up, heat up the leftovers, and eat them before they go bad?
Well, here’s an answer I found recently that came from a surprising place…
What One Monk Had To Say About Leftovers
Abba Megethius was a Desert Father whose wisdom appears in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Not much is known of his life outside of what we can glean from the Sayings. He lived sometime between the 4th and 5th centuries in Sinai, on the river bank in the Egyptian desert.
Megethius learned his way of life from the great Desert Fathers Abba Sisoes and Abba Poemen. As with so many other great desert ascetics, young monks and hermits would frequently visit Abba Megethius to ask him for advice—”a word to live by.”
On one occasion a group of monks came to Abba Megethius and asked him, “Abba, if we have some food leftover from the previous day’s meal, should the brethren eat it, or should we throw it out?”
Abba Megethius thought for a moment, then responded: “If the food has gone bad, it wouldn’t be right to make the brethren eat it because it might make them sick. Go ahead and throw it away.” Then he continued,” But if the food is still good it would be a sinful waste to throw it away in order to prepare something else.”
A Leftover Spirituality…
We all have our moments with leftovers, right? Who hasn’t looked forward to munching on leftover pizza from the night before! And who among us hasn’t dreaded—and deliberately tried to avoid—eating that leftover beans and rice from two nights ago?
Moments like this can be a great opportunity to practice a little ascetic discipline. Or, as my late mother would tell me, it’s a chance to “Offer it up.”
We need to exercise our spiritual muscles, especially when it comes to food. To practice a little detachment from the food of this world, so that we can train ourselves to long for the eternal banquet we hope to enjoy in the world to come. That’s why the Church has so many periods of fasting!
Eating last night’s leftovers is just one more opportunity for training ourselves to long for the heavenly banquet—both the Eucharistic meal in which we participate in this life, and the great wedding feast that the Eucharist points us toward!
Phillip Rolfes is That Eastern Catholic Guy. A “canonical convert” from Roman Catholicism to Maronite Catholicism, Phillip loves researching and sharing the rich traditions of the Christian East. He lives in Cincinnati, OH. with his wife and four children, and is parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua Maronite Catholic Church.