Greetings, SBT Readers!
Even as the world continues to grapple with the pandemic, another catastrophe is already unfolding: famine. As a result of warfare, climate change, Covid-19 supply chain issues and the refugee crisis, critical food insecurity is affecting such nations as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Honduras, Sudan, and Syria. In Australia, a head of iceberg lettuce priced at $11.99 has come to symbolize skyrocketing food prices. Even here in the States, we are not immune to cost of living increases and food shortages; in fact, the baby formula shortage has affected all demographics, not only creating a nightmare for parents but also for those who are dependent upon formula for medical reasons.
We are at a point in history when we can no longer think "locally" but have to live as global citizens if humanity is to survive. Hunger leads to malnutrition; malnutrition leads to disease; disease destabilizes the work force, overtaxes health care systems, leaves orphans, spreads contagion, creates poverty... Hunger also leads to desperation which, in turn, leads to desperate acts including violence, looting and general mayhem. Hunger, in fact, can drive people to lose their humanity. In his account of Nazi death camp horror, Elie Wiesel describes what happened when a German worker tossed a crust of bread into his train car: "There was a stampede, Dozens of starving men fought each other to the death for a few crumbs...Men threw themselves on top of each other, stamping on each other, tearing at each other, biting each other. Wild beasts of prey, with animal hatred in their eyes; an extraordinary vitality had seized them, sharpening their teeth and nails" (Night 95). Hunger, at its worst, makes beasts of us all.
Never has "love of neighbor" been more important -- not just the neighbor next door, but people starving in our own communities, across the country and in distant lands as well.
On this Feast of Corpus Christi when we reflect on the Bread of Life, let us also reflect on what it means to lack daily bread and how we might perhaps find ways of reaching out to our brothers and sisters in need. It is only in feeding the world that our own hungers will be satisfied...
Brothers and sisters:
I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,
that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over,
took bread, and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,
"This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
For many Christian denominations, the celebration of the Eucharist is what gathers, keeps and unifies the community. We come together to remember and be "re-membered" -- in other words, to find wholeness again, especially in times of fragmentation. We partake in the sacred meal to receive spiritual sustenance knowing that as we gather with our community, we are also at one with the universal church. Day after day, worshippers from many lands participate in this great act of remembering, hearing the words of consecration-- "This is my Body, this is my Blood"-- proclaimed in their own languages. Even when the pandemic emptied churches, "virtual" Eucharistic liturgies sustained the faithful, comforting the afflicted and providing a sense of community to those separated from loved ones.
On this Father's Day, I remember my dad and how celebrating the Eucharist sustained him until the very end. Well into his nineties, he lovingly served as my mother's caregiver, making sure that they were ready to watch Mass televised from the Vatican every Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. The highlight of his week was Friday morning when Fr. Daniel, the pastor of St. Phillip's Church, Zebbug, Malta, so kindly stopped by for a Communion visit. Regardless of the weather, traffic chaos and parking challenges, Fr. Daniel showed up week after week-- most notably, on my parents' 70th wedding anniversary when he celebrated Mass at the family home. Though my dad was a private man and didn't speak much about his faith, I am convinced that it was the Bread of Life that sustained him through the darkest of days and the most difficult of times.
Yes, the Eucharist is what gathers, keeps and unifies the Christian community. It is a Love Feast that invites the weary and the discouraged, the frail and the heartbroken, those who are afraid and those who have no hope, the hungry and the oppressed, to come to the table, to take, bless and eat. It is what renews us and revitalizes us, what strengthens us and gives us the courage to speak truth and act with integrity. It teaches us compassion and allows us to forgive ourselves as well as others. It heals, comforts, and transforms. In Catholic theology, we use the term "transubstantiation" to explain what happens to the bread and wine after the Consecration during the Eucharistic liturgy. The usual definition is that these elements become the literal Presence of Christ; another way of looking at this term, however, is that we who receive the bread and wine also become transformed, becoming that which we receive. In other words, we, too, become the Christ, not only the best version of ourselves but an extension of His Presence on Earth.