Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Broken Bread That Ever Nourishes

Multiplication of the loaves and fish, Ambrosius Francken
When Jesus multiplied the famous loaves and fishes to feed the crowds who were in a lonely place, it wasn’t part of a campaign against world hunger.

Today, because our western world—for the most part—is so engrossed in itself, something like two-thirds of humankind are under nourished.  Sadly, the well-fed part of the world, the part technologically best equipped to provide food for all, is also the so-so Christian part.

But there are deeper and different kinds of hungers out there which can’t be met or glossed over by technology.   If casual attention is given to the physically starving, how much less is directed to lives hungering for meaning, for caring, for knowing the charity of God. When Jesus refused to send the people away without giving them something to eat, this somehow was to offer them the bread of love and to parallel the Eucharist—the sign of self-offered love.

Referring to the multiplication account, the Gospel of St. Luke tells that on this day...
“It was late in the afternoon when the twelve came to [Jesus] and said, ‘Send the people away, and they can go to the villages and farms nearby to find lodging and food, for we are in a lonely place. But He said to them, ‘You give them something to eat!’ And they said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people.’…Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people” (Lk. 9:12-13, 16).
Andrew had discovered a lad with five barley loaves and two little fishes. (Probably a boy out for the day whose mother had packed him a picnic lunch...but was attracted by the huge crowd. )   Barley bread was the bread of the poor.  The fishes wouldn’t have been bigger than sardines. (Pickled fish from Galilee was known throughout the Roman empire.)

This great miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes foreshadowed the Eucharist , which would become the never ending nourishment of Jesus’ followers, generation after generation, the dwelling of the Lord among his own until the end of time.

It’s interesting that Jesus orders the disciples to feed the crowd.  The over-sized crowd, whom Jesus had welcomed, taught and ministered to, were not to be dismissed.  Rather, the Apostles and disciples themselves were to find and give food to them, whatever their number.  In no way were they to pull back from what he expected them to do.

His persistence speaks to us.  It underlines how those who are called have an ongoing responsibility to nourish faith communities—as we are so often reminded by the lives of St. Paul and our own Father Alberione. Growth and development of mission are not grounds for hesitation or exasperation.  With Jesus’ help and guidance, they are problems to be faced and, with undaunted faith, responded to.

Some time ago, Pauline Books & Media came out with a splendid book by the extraordinary Vietnamese Archbishop Van Thuan, Testimony of Hope: The Spiritual Exercises of Pope John Paul II.  It told the story of his thirteen years’ imprisonment in solitary confinement soon after a Communist regime took over his country. It is a narrative that has done very much in promoting devotion and understanding the broken bread that is the Eucharist. The Pope at that time, now St. John Paul, was deeply impressed with Van Thuan’s faith and tenacity during his terrible ordeal. Once he was freed, the Holy Father invited him to lead the annual Lenten retreat held in the Vatican. Here is an excerpt from one of the sermons he gave during that retreat, with the Holy Father present:
“When I was arrested, I had to leave immediately with empty hands.  The next day, I was permitted to write to my people in order to ask for the most necessary things: clothes, etc.   I wrote: ‘Please send me a little wine as medicine for my stomach ache.’  The faithful understood right away. They sent me a small bottle of wine for Mass with a label that read, ‘Medicine for Stomach Aches’. They also sent some hosts, which they hid in a flashlight for protection against the humidity. The police asked me, ‘You have stomach aches?’  ‘Yes.’  ‘Here’s some medicine for you.’

“I will never be able to express my great joy!  Every day, with three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of my hand, I would celebrate Mass.  This was my altar, and this was my cathedral! It was true medicine for soul and body, ‘Medicine of immortality, remedy so as not to die but to have life always in Jesus,’ as St Ignatius of Antioch says.

“Each time I celebrated Mass, I had the opportunity to extend my hands and nail myself to the Cross with Jesus, to drink with him the bitter chalice.  Each day in reciting the words of consecration, I confirmed with all my heart and soul a new pact, an eternal pact between Jesus and myself through his blood mixed with mine.  Those were the most beautiful Masses of my life! 

“At 9:30 pm we had to turn off the lights and everyone had to go to sleep. It was then that I would bow over the bed to celebrate the Mass by heart. I distributed communion by passing my hand under the mosquito net.  Everyone knew that Jesus was in their midst....

“Thus, in prison, the Eucharist became for me and for the other Christians a hidden and encouraging Presence in the midst of all our difficulties.  Jesus was adored secretly by the Christians who lived with me, just as happened so often in other prison camps of the twentieth century.”
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Reminder: February 18 is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
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Brother Aloysius Milella entered the Society of St. Paul as a candidate for the Brotherhood on the feast of St. Paul, June 30, 1946, and pronounced first vows in September 1948. Following his perpetual profession in 1953, he was assigned to the staff of the SSP family monthly, Catholic Home Messenger, published in Canfield, OH, where he would be engaged in its editorial and production sectors for 14 years. He worked briefly as the province’s vocation director, before serving as a member of the congregation’s governing body in Rome for the next 17 years.  After returning to the States in 1986, he was involved in book center ministry and then in administration, guiding its day-to-day apostolic fortunes in various communities. After a period in Dearborn, MI, he returned to Staten Island in 2012.

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