22 April 2010

'My father wants to receive the Bread of Life'

A memorable moment for me about 16 years ago when I was parish priest in Lianga, Surigao del Sur, Diocese of Tandag, on the east coast of Mindanao, was when one of our volunteer catechists came and told me that her father wanted to receive ‘the Bread of Life’. He had stopped eating normal food, nearly always interpreted here as a sign that death is near.

I learned that the dying man had been married three times, having been widowed twice. Children from his three marriages were in the house, along with some of his grandchildren. The man himself was fully alert and participated joyfully in the celebration of the sacraments, surrounded by so many of his family except during his confession.

We had a period of silence after the sick man’s Holy Communion. I then asked the family members closest to him to put their hands on them and to pray over him, something that is often done here. However, the man who had just received the Bread of Life had other ideas. One of his grandchildren was a child only a few months old. He took the child in his arms and clasped it to his breast. Then he embraced each other family member in turn, knowing that it was a farewell.

There was a tangible sense of joy in the house and I was invited to take a snack, the only time this has happened to me on a sick call. But it was fitting.

Next morning the catechist came to tell me that her father had died during the night.

Today’s gospel, John 6:44-51, reminded me of that incident. ‘This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh’ (vv50-51, RSV). Yesterday’s gospel, also from John 6, had this beautiful expression of God’s love: ‘For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day’ (v40).

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