The phrase “food for the journey” is traditionally associated, in Catholicism, with reception of the Eucharist by the dying and their final journey from this life to eternal life through death.
This concept can be traced back to the days of Roman temple worship to the belief that the final meal of a dying person provided them with strength to cross over the River Styx, an ancient mythological river that is believed to separate the living from the dead. With Jesus having left us the Eucharistic meal in his memory, the early Christians adapted a similar custom in regard to Holy Communion. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist was seen as the ideal food to strengthen a dying person.
By the year 325 it was a recommendation that Communion be given to the dying as Viaticum, a Latin word that means “food for the journey.” It is something that we do to this very day.
Fr. Richard Leonard, S.J. wrote about the phrase in a July 2009 America Magazine article titled, Food for the Journey. In the article Leonard discusses the phrase in a way that expands its meaning, making it relevant to our daily life. The following is an excerpt:
In recent years this ancient phrase in relation to the Eucharist has reappeared and become popular. Rather than exclusively refer to the last Holy Communion we might take in this life, “food for the journey” (as used in the 21st Century) has come to mean the spiritual nourishment that the Eucharist gives us to live out our faith each day.
Whether we are nearing death or pursuing our normal daily activities we will always need this spiritual food to sustain us as material food is needed to sustain our bodies.
Vatican II tells us that the Holy Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen gentium, no. 11; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1324). However, many of us can recall from our Catholic religious formation that the Eucharistic meal within the Sacrament of Holy Communion is not the only place in which God is present and available to us. We are taught that God’s presence is also revealed in the written word (Sacred Scripture) and in the other Sacraments. In addition to these traditional teachings it is important to realize that God is present to us, is revealed to us, in the created world, in the ordinariness of our daily activity. It is true to say that our daily lives are, in reality, not ordinary at all. This is true because of the mystical presence of God that each individual moment contains. In referring to the way in which God is present in our daily life, famous Catholic writer Fr. Henri J.M. Nouwen often used the phrase, “The grace of the present moment.”
Simply stated, a contemplative is one who acknowledges God in all of creation and strives to develop the awareness of God’s presence in daily living, in the created world, in addition to the written word and in the Sacraments. As Christians each one of us are called to approach life with a contemplative mindset. Spiritual growth is about becoming increasingly aware of the many ways in which God is always, everywhere, and in all things, present to nurture us with food for our daily journey from within the very circumstances of our life.