Chaplain's Comments

Welcome and Blessings! St Ignatius is an example of a person whose way of looking at the world turned around to face the other way. At the start of his autobiography, which was dictated to a secretary, he says 'until the age of twenty-six he was a man given to the vanities of the world'. By the end of his days, he had realized that the world was given to him, and for a purpose. A vain person's favourite view is the one in the mirror. But, slowly Ignatius stopped looking at himself, then started to look at the world and finally came to be enthralled by the loving way God looks at the world. In his Spiritual Exercises, he asks people to share the 'tri-une gaze', to be with God as God sees and loves us for who we are, with all our shortcomings and blindness, Ignatius said that God taught him as a school master teaches a child. As an older person, Ignatius used to go onto the roof of his house in Rome at night and hold up his hands as a gesture of wonder at the stars. He was looking further than the mirror.

[Photomontage: Current cave at the bank of the Cardoner river with the painting of Saint Ignatius by M.Coronas]


Recently, I heard this story of a friend who was invited to a relative's home for dinner. This family has been having more than a little trouble with their thirteen year old daughter, who is going through a particularly defiant and rebellious stage. The young girl was not happy with the vegetables her mother served at dinner and so she refused to eat them. The uneaten vegetables became the staging ground for an adolescent conflict. Trying to coax the girl into eating, her mother calmly used some lines I'd heard before. "Wasting food is a sin" and "There are starving people in the world that would be grateful for what you don't want". With that the girl jumped up and left the dining room. A few minutes later she returned with an oversized envelope and a marker pen. She began to stuff the food into the envelope and as she did, she angrily asked, "What starving people do you want me to send these vegetables to?"

Who said being a parent was easy?

This Sunday, 29th July, we interrupt our series of readings from Mark's Gospel and turn, on four of the next five Sundays, to Jesus' discourse on the "bread of life" in John 6. These Johannine texts will provide an important opportunity to reflect on what we believe about Jesus and the Eucharist. The Old Testament texts for these Sundays have been chosen with an eye toward types or models that illumine the Gospel passages.

Today's selection from 2 Kings 4 features the prophet Elisha, the disciple and successor of Elijah. The stories of these two prophets' exploits in 1 and 2 Kings are among the most attractive parts of the Hebrew Bible. These two colourful figures from the ninth and eighth centuries B.C. have much in common with Jesus. They were teachers, miracle workers and prophets. In today's passage Elisha the prophet feeds God's people. When a man brings to him 20 loaves of barley bread, Elisha places them before 100 people and manages to feed them all. More remarkable still is the presence of leftovers.

In today's reading from John 6, Jesus does what Elisha did, only on a grander scale. With five barley loaves and a few fish, Jesus feeds over 5,000 people and still has 12 baskets of leftovers. In both cases the prophet feeds God's people. But Jesus does it even better than Elisha.

The story of the multiplication of the loaves appears six times in the four Gospels. The distinctive features of the Johannine account include the characterization of Jesus' action as a "sign" and the identification of him as a prophet. A sign points to something else. The description of the way in which Jesus acts ("Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks and distributed them") points toward the church's celebration of the Lord's Supper and toward the eternal banquet celebrated in God's kingdom. Jesus' ability to do what Elisha did points to his identity as the prophet like Moses promised to God's people in Deut 18:15.

When we participate in the Eucharist, we place ourselves in the history of God's people. As the prophet of God's present and future kingdom, Jesus continues to feed God's people materially and spiritually. And what the prophets did points us toward the even more perfect reality of the messianic banquet in God's kingdom. The Eucharist is the sacrament of ongoing union with God and with our fellow Christians.

Some of us have never truly been hungry, so it can be hard to fully appreciate how wasteful our developed world must appear to those who watch their families die of starvation. People who lived through the Depression in the 1930's or have lived through wars often carry the scars of being hungry. To this day some of them are on guard against waste. Others try to numb their memory of want by overindulging in opulence.

For most of us in the developed world, especially thirteen year old middle class kids, hunger has only ever been fleeting and we are presently eating ourselves into obesity. There is such a thing as healthy guilt. It's where we become aware of what we have done or failed to do in bringing about Christ's kingdom in our world. Given that it is entirely unnecessary for over thirty thousand people to die each day because of lack of food and water and the diseases this brings, guilt on our lives when we decided to change our priorities, and call for similar changes in the priorities of our nation, which spends more on nuclear weapons than starving babies.

I often wonder what God thinks when he hears wealthy nations say that the reason they refuse to share more with the poor is because these poorer nations often have unelected despots who divert their country's wealth into Swiss bank accounts or nuclear and conventional weaponry programs. Even in the face of these complex issues, we could find a way to feed the hungry who might, one day, be empowered to take charge of their nations.

"What starving people do you want me to send these vegetables to?" the thirteen year old asked. To which I wanted to reply, "Put your own name on the envelope because your own level of comfort makes you the neediest person in the world."

Fr Gaetan Pereira SJ
College Chaplain