26 July 2012

'He himself knew what he would do.' Sunday Reflections, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003) Directed by Philip Saville. Jesus played by Henry Ian Cusick; narrator, Christopher Plummer.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA) 

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel John 6:1-15 (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberi-as. And a multitude followed him, because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, "Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?" Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place; so the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!" Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.  

Pandesal, from the Spanish pan de sal, 'salt bread', is a very common part of breakfast in the Philippines. For some, it may be the only food available at that time. One night nearly 40 years ago in Ozamiz City, Mindanao, I was upstairs in the convento (presbytery/rectory) of the Cathedral parish before going to my own place in another building on the church plaza. I was looking out the window and saw only two people, a man and a woman. The man was a beggar whom I didn't know and the woman was Guria - from her baptismal name, Gregoria. She was a simpleminded, gentle creature, maybe in her 40s, who might wander in and out of a classroom of Immaculate Conception College, now La Salle University, also located in the cathedral plaza, and start doodling on the board. I was chaplain in the college department of ICC at the time.

I could see that Guria had two pieces of pandesal in her hand. She went over to the beggar, who hadn't approached her, and gave him one of the pieces. The only witnesses to this were God and myself - and, I presume, the heavenly host.

Guria herself would occasionally ask for something but I had learned that she was from nearby Tangub City, about 18 kms away, and came from a family that wasn't poor.

Stamp for canonisation of San Alberto Hurtado, 2005

St Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga SJ (22 January 1901 - 18 August 1952) was the second Chilean to be canonised, by Pope Benedict XVI on 23 October 2005. Columban Fr John Griffin, a New Zealander who spent many years in Zambales, Philippines, before going to Chile, wrote of San AlbertoProvidence was always on his side. At a meeting one night his board of directors was unwilling, for lack of funds, to approve a new project. In the midst of discussions there was an unexpected call for Fr Hurtado to attend to someone at his front door. He had a brief conversation with the caller who said she wanted to leave a gift to help the great work he was doing.

He gratefully put her envelope in his pocket, wished her a good evening and returned to his meeting. He looked at the contents of the envelope as he sat down. Then he tossed a check onto the table saying, ‘There you are, ye of little faith!’ It was for one million pesos – worth about US$30,000 at that time. 

Father John tells us about the young Alberto, The saint’s father was murdered by rustlers when Alberto was only four. This forced his mother to sell the farm, settle all debts and move with her two small sons to Santiago. There they depended on the charity of her brother and other relatives who took turns in sheltering them and giving them a home.
At eight years of age Alberto gained a scholarship to San Ignacio College, administered by the Jesuits, and he was there for the next nine years. He and his classmates deeply admired one of their teachers, Fr Fernando Vives.

He was a man who took seriously the social implications of the Gospel teachings and of the Encyclical Letter of Pope Leo XIII, ‘Rerum Novarum’ and he instilled a lasting social conscience in most of his students.

He further tells us, Overall, Fr Hurtado is best known and remembered throughout Chile for his ‘Hogar de Cristo’ (Christ’s Home) Foundation. The seed for this was sown late one night when he was on his way home to San Ignacio. He met a man who was in poor health, had eaten nothing all day and had nowhere to go.

St John tells us in today's gospel, Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 

Father Alberto, after his encounter with the homeless, hungry man, for whom he did what he could, spent the rest of his life serving those with nothing, especially through the Hogar de Cristo Foundation which he began on 19 October 1944. 'The Church's best-kept secret is its social teaching' has become a cliché that isn't quite true. But there are some who don't want to hear it.

Today's gospel is proclaimed within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. St John uses the feeding of the thousands to develop his teaching on the Eucharist. A parish priest from Ireland told me recently that he sees the faith for many in Ireland as having become a private matter, with no connection to life. Jesus is showing us today that the Eucharist and daily life are very much connected. The people had followed Jesus because they wanted to hear what he had to say and maybe some had hopes of being healed of their illnesses. Receiving the Bread of Life in Holy Communion is a public commitment that we are willing to share the love of Jesus with those who don't know him and with those who do know him but may lack the basic necessities.

San Alberto was a gifted man, one who could inspire and organise others and who continues to do so 60 years after his death. Guria would not be seen by most as 'gifted'. But she had the gift of a loving faith, even if she wasn't aware of it. Just like St Martin of Tours, while still a soldier, giving half his cloak to a poor man, she gave half of what she had to another poor man. She was giving breakfast food late at night. 

The Visayan word - the Visayan languages are spoken in the central Philippines and in most of Mindanao - for breakfast is pamahaw, from the root word bahaw, leftovers. Jesus tells the apostles to gather up the leftovers - and they filled twelve baskets in doing so. This shows the utter generosity of God and calls us to reverence the food he gives us, our daily bread and the Eucharistic Bread of Life.

Guria in giving half of her food to the beggar in the cathedral plaza, San Alberto Hurtado tending to the homeless man he met and seeing the multitude in need like him, were both doing what Jesus did when he fed the five thousand. Guria, St Martin of Tours and Father Alberto in sharing what they had with an individual poor person were sharing what they had received from God with God himself, the Word who became Flesh, Jesus the Lord who has identified himself with such persons.

You can find a couple of short videos of San Alberto here. What struck me in watching them was his joyfulness, even his childlike delight in being caught by a movie camera. These are on the website of Hogar de Cristo: Padre Alberto Hurtado. It's in Spanish but is easy to explore.

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