Being the bread of life23 May 2016
In many parts of the world the Feast of Corpus Christi is a huge celebration, with processions, pageants, song and feasting. Its
origins lie in early Middle Ages conflict about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The feast emphasised the reality of Jesus’ presence. It became even more popular in Catholic countries during the Protestant Reformation, when conflict about the Eucharist arose again.
The heart of the feast, however, is not conflict but the celebration of God’s gift to us in the Eucharist. There we meet Christ who feeds and speaks to us through God’s word, unites us to himself and to other Christians, and links us to his death and rising for us.
These are big ideas, But the Eucharist is also everyday. It forms our ordinary experience of church, with the familiar and strange faces, the winter coughs and sneezes, the ageing congregation and all the things that perplex and trouble us as Christians. Beneath these everyday things lies God’s huge gift and invitation to us in the Eucharist.
That mixture of the wonderful and the ordinary, of the large and the small, of faith and messy daily life, is also present in the feast day. The great things of God’s love and gift, Jesus’ death and rising, Christ’s continuing activity in our lives and in the church come together in the colour and solemnity of the ceremonies, the banners, floats, conversations, excited children, games and barking dogs of the procession, the smells of the cooking and smoke of the fires and the feasting afterwards with its tastes and contentment.
This mixture of human scratchiness and huge gift is also present in Luke’s story of the multiplication of the loaves. Jesus and
his disciples go away for a rest and are interrupted by the crowds whom Jesus then spends time with. The sun goes down; the crowds are hungry; the disciples see them as a problem to be sent away to be fed.
Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd themselves. All they have is a few stale bread rolls and tatty little fish for thousands of
people. The people sit down higgledy piggledy on the ground, the disciples distribute the bread and fish, which keep growing the more they are distributed. And eventually they collect a mountain of scraps.
That’s the bare story. We are left to imagine the excitement of the children and the barking of the dogs at this unexpected feast, and finally the happy murmur of people who feel full.
Of course, this story is also about big things – about God’s love and presence among us, about Jesus through whom we find
God, about trust that God can make something of our wholly inadequate resources, of not seeing people as problems but as faces to be fed.
For us at Jesuit Communications, Jesus’ words, ‘Feed them yourselves’ stay with us. They haunt and encourage us. So many
thousands of vulnerable people, including the young people we work with, are treated as problems. They go unfed and uncared for. Our call is to see their faces, and out of our small personal and material resources to help them feel valued and so to find the small miracle that will bring them connection and happiness.
Fr Andy Hamilton SJ is editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications