What is the difference?

Today’s gospel is the last part of the “Bread of Life Discourse” from the Gospel of John. The disciples who have heard Jesus’ preaching, experienced his healing power, seen him command the stormy seas, witnessed the miracles, and hope him to be the promised Messiah – in today’s account we discover that, for some, Jesus’ claim that he is the “bread come down from heaven is a breaking point. “This saying is hard; who can accept it?…As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”  For some it was all a bridge too far, the last straw, and with no reason to stay, they left.  For some, there was motivation, desire, a reason to remain.  I think we have all been there at some point in our lives. What is the difference between those who stay and those who go?

We can all think about our own lives and experiences as a way to plumb the answer. All this make me think of swimming. I have swum competitively most of my life: high school, college, and even these days in the Master’s swim program. I wasn’t gifted with fast-twitch muscles and so have never had a very good sprint. The 200- and 500 yard freestyle, 200-yard backstroke, those were my best events. More of a grinder than a sprinter. But, a couple of years ago I competed in a meet and for some reason signed up for the 1500-meter freestyle – a little outside my usual range, but certainly do-able. Continue reading

If I’d only known…

It is a well know gospel – the miraculous feeding of the multitudes. St. John estimates the size of the crow as 5,000 counting only the men. The location of the event is somewhere on the shore of the Sea of Galilee on a “mountain” but then the same word can be used for “hillside.” The Christian community still remembered the location and shared it with the 4th century pilgrims. Today, there is the Church of the Multiplications on the traditional site that is maintained and served by Benedictine Monks. It is a site near Capernaum on the north side of the Sea of Galilee (St. Luke says it was in Bethsaida Julias, not too far away where the northern branch of the Jordan enters the Sea).

I recently visited the Church of the Multiplications and would note that it is about 2 miles from Capernaum to the northeast along the lake and about 2 miles from Bethsaida (not Julias) to the southwest also along the lake. I mention this in passing to note that villages were nearby – not that 5,000 people were going to head to the local market for dinner, but so often people imagine this place as a remote wilderness. But is actually quite verdant, on the lake, and with villages nearby.

When I was at the holy site, I was moved to remember a homily from some 30 years ago. The priest proclaimed that there was no miracle as we would understand it, but that the “real miracle” was that the people were inspired by the willingness of the young boy to give up the food that he had brought with him. His example, moved them to open up their satchels and share their food, ensuring everyone was well fed and there were still 12 wicker baskets of left overs. I am sure the priest meant well, was emphasizing the ecclesiological (“things church”) nature of Church as community, and was calling our local community to share with those in need.  All well and truly good, but…. no miracle?

Did you known that this miracle is the only one that is included in all four canonical gospels? (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:1-14). So, yes, the Church is communal in essence – just check out the Acts of the Apostle. Yes, the OT and NT alike call upon us to share with the poor (the orphan, the widow, the alien and the stranger among us). But Scripture says it was a miracle, every Gospel writer includes it in their accounts, so count me in the “it was a miracle” camp. Can I get an “Amen?”

But then there is something about the young man – and his willingness to share.

There is a story told in Kenya about an mchoro (literally a trash person). This old man slept on the streets and scavenged among the trash heaps and dumps to eek out an existence.  Then he would sit with his begging bowl on the streets of Nairobi, dodging the police, and depending on the kindness of strangers.

The word on the street was that the Supreme Chief of his tribe was coming and would pass by his “usual spot” on one of the avenues. The old man knew of the compassion and generosity of the Chief and so ready with his “speech.”  The day grew longer, the sun baked the city, and it was not until late in the day that the chief and his entourage passed by.

The old man gave the prepared speech and asked for help. Instead, the chief, extended his hand and asked the old man to give him something. The old man was surprised, stunned, but the chief is the chief, and when the chief asks…. And so, reluctantly, he reached into his satchel and gave the chief three Kenyan samosas he had received from a stranger. These were half of what would have been his dinner that night. “Asanti sana” (thank you) said the chief and went on his way.

Downcast and forlorn, the man returned to his usual sleeping place on the street. He was hungry, it was late, and time to eat the remaining three samosas. When he reached in, his hand found a samosa – at least shaped like one – only it was hard like a rock. He pulled it out. It was a rock of gold! He put his back in twice more – and retrieved two other rocks of gold.

Then the truth of the matter came to his mind. The three samosas given to the chief had returned to him three rocks of gold. “What a fool I’ve been,” he exclaimed regretfully.  “If only I had known.  I would have given him everything.”

Some 2,000 years ago, there was a young boy who generously gave everything – and from that gift, however small, Jesus worked a miracle that fed the 5,000. Some 2,000 years ago, I wonder if there were 4,999 who thought to themselves, “What a fool I’ve been. If only I had known.  I would have given him everything.”

It’s 2,000 years later. We are a Eucharist people, called to live the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Therefore hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, so that He who gives himself totally to you may receive you totally.”

And in doing so, Christ will work miracles through your gifts.


Look deeply and see

The great thing about being a child is that you can grow up to be a fire truck (my ambition at one point in life), not be concerned with gravity and the laws of physics, and your world in not limited by “that is not just the way things work.” It is a world of imagination and wonder that sometimes befuddles babysitters, teachers, and parents. It consumes lazy summer afternoons, creates space adventures, and can conjure up a most challenging collection of wisdom and insight. Nothing captures it better than my favorite comic strip of all time, “Calvin and Hobbes.”  Calvin is a preternaturally bright six-year-old; Hobbes is his stuffed toy who, in Calvin’s imagination becomes into his best friend, the innocently wise Hobbes. To read Calvin and Hobbes is to be infused into wondering and wandering on a cosmic scale; to engage the innate human capacity to be surprised, to imagine, and be absorbed into mystery. No topic in the universe is closed to such capacity – not even the theological arts. Calvin mused how predestination is molded by procrastination, finally concluding, “God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now, I am so far behind that I will never die.” Continue reading

Eucharist: a pattern of life in Christ

I would wager that most people would guess that in Francis’ own writings he spoke at length about poverty, his love of nature and animals, and other topics for which Francis is so well known in the modern world. Yet, in his own writings, there is perhaps no other topic that he addresses more than the Eucharist. In his Eucharistic writings, Francis expresses a deep view of the continuing Incarnation of Christ in the world, and in that vision is an entire way of life. These writings represent part of the movement of Francis’ mystical life from prayer and devotion in solitude before the cross, to a pattern of communal prayer and devotion in the Mass as well as a devotion to the Eucharist apart from Mass. Continue reading

Being Simeon

In today gospel account, it is now forty days after Jesus’ birth. Mary and Joseph are performing their duty as pious Jewish parents by coming to the Temple to fulfill the requirements of Exodus 13. It is a ritual that reminds the parents that this child is now a member of the family that God redeemed from the slavery in Egypt. And so, they come to offer a simple sacrifice as they dedicate their first-born child to the Lord and to the larger, holy covenant family of God. Continue reading

The Bread of Life: other thoughts

emaus02Where the principal focus of the previous section is the bread of life as the divine revelation given to men by and in Jesus, John 6:51 adds a clearly Eucharistic theme – ‘I am the living bread come down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.’ While some argue the words are metaphor, the Jews clearly understand. Jesus is referring to eating of his flesh. He recounts this action verb several other times between vv. 51-58, while adding the drinking of his blood to the command. This is no metaphor for accepting his revelation, already adequately expressed. Continue reading

Corpus Christi – metaphor and Eucharist

Christ_with_the_HostThe Eucharist. This section is written at two levels. At one level it is an on-going commentary on the verb “to eat” (cf. v. 31) summoning up a rich tradition of Eucharistic language: “bread,” “food,” “flesh,” “blood,” “to eat,” “to drink,” “will give,” “for your sakes.” The discourse, from v. 25 down to v. 59, presents Jesus as the true bread from heaven, replacing the former bread from heaven, the manna of the Law. The believer must accept the revelation of God that will take place in broken flesh and spilled blood (vv. 53-54), a never-failing nourishment (v. 35) that the Son of Man will give (v. 27). Continue reading

What gives you Joy?

FindingJoyDuring the holiday season with winter storms roaring about, one can be quite happy that the airplane finally got off the ground; yesterday in Chicago, 1000 flights were cancelled. So if you got airborne, you were indeed happy. A new round of happiness came when the pilot finally found smooth air. And even if it was 6 hours late, you are happy that you have arrived.  When you finally get off the plane, pass thru security, and at last see your spouse, your kids, your parents or grandparents, your fiancé, or whomever you have longed to see…. that is not happy. That is Joy.  You hear it in the tone and energy of the voices, the embraces, and the hugs.  And even when the reunion is right in the middle of everyone else’s way, when the reunion is clogging up the entire flow of foot traffic trying to get somewhere, you can’t help but notice even the most curmudgeon-y of travelers, however reluctantly, is giving evidence of a smile. Joy is embedded in the warp and woof, in the very fabric of relationships.  Just like Mary and Elizabeth. Continue reading

The Eucharist and Justice

EucharistWhen the English historian Christopher Dawson decided to become a Roman Catholic, his aristocratic mother was distraught, not because of Catholic teaching, but because now her son would, in her words, have to “worship with the help.” His background would no longer set him apart from others or above anyone. At church he would be just an equal among equals because the Eucharist would strip him of his higher social status. It was this very thing that first drew Dorothy Day to Christianity. During the Eucharist, she noticed the rich and the poor knelt side by side; all humbled before the great gift of Christ. Around the Eucharistic table what Mary prophesized in her Magnificat came to be, that, in Jesus, the mighty would be brought down and that lowly would be raised up. Continue reading