'Babette's Feast'

It's been on my list of movies to watch for years. And while I'm not exactly sure why, somehow, despite the rave reviews from Catholics across the spectrum, it's taken me more than two decades to sit down and watch "Babette's Feast." And I am likely to do it again soon.

I'm not much of a foreign film enthusiast, especially when a movie requires me to read subtitles. But the characters in this 1987 Danish production captured me from the start. Two somber sisters set aside their youthful aspirations for happiness to serve their deceased father's pastoral ministry and the austere Christian sect he had founded in the isolation of rural Jutland. Their dwindling community of faith is largely sincere, but their piety is joyless. The tone of worship is penitential.

Three visitors from the outside world are welcomed. But only Babette, a Catholic refugee from Paris escaping political upheaval, remains to serve the now-aging sisters as a housekeeper in exchange for a place to stay. As time goes on, it becomes clear that even the most devout villagers are not immune from petty disagreements or scorekeeping. In other words, they aren't much different from us. As the French say, "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

Little happens, and nothing changes. Nothing, that is, until 14 years later when Babette receives a letter from France notifying her that she has won the lottery. With 10,000 francs, the sisters assume that Babette will return home to France. But instead, she asks permission to provide a real French dinner for the community's celebration of the pastor's 100th birthday. The sisters approve with reticence and become suspicious as the lavish ingredients arrive a few weeks later.

What unfolds is a story of self-giving love poured out amid life's sorrows. Villagers are treated to a rich feast beyond their imagination. At the table, hearts fill with joy, old hurts are healed and forgiven, and faith is rekindled. All who are present experience the grace that flows from Babette's extravagant gift of self, a gift that costs the entirety of her lottery winnings. The sisters are shocked at her lavishness, but even more so when Babette reveals that she had once been the head chef at Café Anglais, the finest restaurant in Paris.

There's a lot we Catholics can learn from "Babette's Feast." In 2024, the church in the U.S. moves into the mission year of the National Eucharistic Revival. If anything about our communities of faith is clear, it's this: if we want our church to heal, to rediscover joy, to gather everyone, and to offer better feasts, we will need more Babettes. We will need to become people who are willing to keep nothing for ourselves, disciples who spend all our gifts and resources to prepare a feast for our neighbors -- simply because we love them and simply because we can see that they hunger for more.

Our parish altars must be places where we gather to feast on God's mercy. There must be room for all and enough for everyone. And what we feed people should not be leftovers but the very best we can muster, prepared with the finest ingredients we can afford. We must know not only the names of our guests but who they are as people. We must learn how to be part of their lives and how to invite and encourage them to be part of ours.

In short, we must be like Christ, withholding nothing of ourselves or for ourselves but making a total gift of all we are for those around us. That is what is necessary for the Eucharistic Revival to take root in us and spread. And nothing short of that will be enough. The nights may be cold, but the days are getting longer. Long enough for us to consider the tables we set for the people with whom we share our faith. Long enough to make of our lives a sumptuous feast for others.

- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.