ON MONDAYS I’m usually incommunicado to give me time to catch up on the more creative side of my work—reading, writing and designing programs. By mid-afternoon I head out for my Mass in Makati.
Last Monday, the day of the State of the Nation Address (Sona), the airwaves were filled with various commentaries for and against the President. Some were expected, almost contrived, while others made you think and ponder.
This was what I had to deal with, since I normally have a television set on while I work.
Around 3 p.m., I made my way to Makati.
I saw a little girl and, I assumed, her grandfather. The girl must have been 7 years old and was wearing a school uniform and a red helmet, probably bought from a toy store and which clearly had no safety value.
It was a poignant scene. The little girl was seated on the bicycle, happily chatting as her grandfather listened and walked the bicycle along, sacrificing for his little granddaughter to be comfortable as he “drove” her home from school.
Given the location where I saw them, which was rather isolated, it must have been at least a 40-minute to an hour’s walk from school to home.
The moment brought tears to my eyes as my heart and soul went out to the little girl and her grandfather. At the same time, there was a brewing sense of indignation inside me, having spent the past hours listening to the “state of the nation” of different parties and some “clowns.”
This Sunday’s readings have a very interesting mix and a sense of crescendo. The First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm talk about the Lord providing for our needs.
Just as we are overwhelmed by this solicitous, caring God, we are raised to a near ecstatic state with Paul’s Letter to the Romans. “What will separate us from the love of Christ?” Nothing, absolutely nothing.
These are the stuff that Sonas are made of, the assurance of food and drink, of meeting all basic human needs and more—the vision of a more caring and loving society. This is a great vision that any leader can stand for and he will surely gain support.
But the key to all this lies not just in the vision but also in the person who will articulate and embody the vision. Perhaps more than the person, it is the values he stands for that inspires others.
In today’s Gospel, we see what makes the people “act in concert,” the compassion of Christ and the movement and flow of the Eucharist where Christ takes, blesses, breaks and gives.
In previous reflections, we defined compassion as the ability to “enter the chaos of the other” and to help the other make meaning out of his chaos.
Christ shows us this in today’s Gospel. The first virtue that allowed him to “enter the chaos of the other” was his setting aside his own needs for the greater good.
We are told at the start of the Gospel that Christ learned of John the Baptist’s death. This was why he planned to withdraw to and grieve in a deserted place.
When he arrives where he had planned to be in solitude he “abandons” his plan because “his heart was moved with pity for them.”
In another version of this story, it says, “for they were like sheep without a shepherd.”
This is the key to compassion: to set aside self-centered interests, to forego one’s own needs for the sake of others.
This allows Christ to respond to the needs of others, healing them and, in other versions, teaching them and exorcising demons.
This is the second virtue. But this is not the final word in this story. It was bringing out the best in others. Compassion allowed the movement and flow of the Eucharist to happen.
Christ takes, blesses, breaks and gives. This movement and flow of the Eucharist results in the multiplication of the loaves and fish that feed the hunger of many.
It brings out the best in people.
One interpretation of this miracle is that Christ awakened in others their generosity and made them share with one another the little that they had, the five loaves and two fish. As a Catholic lay leader couple, James and Evelyn Whitehead, put it: It is in human scarcity that the super abundance of God’s grace comes to us.
The movement and flow of the Eucharist empowers us. It empowers us to share the little that we have, to take stock of things in our life and to be grateful to a God who is always present in our life in a loving and providential way.
The real power and grace of the Eucharist is gratitude, gratitude that leads to giving back, the giving back in the spirit of Ignatius of Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises where the final prayer offers, “take and receive, O Lord” everything that I am and have.
We take and we heal and become whole. We bless for we are grateful.
This is the grace of the Eucharist. It heals us and makes us whole so that we can choose to break ourselves out of gratitude and offer ourselves in the service of others out of love for and gratitude to God.
Ignatius’ prayer ends: “To you I return them that you may dispose of me wholly according to your will. Give me only your grace and your love. These make me rich. I ask for nothing more.”
I have shared the story of the little girl, her grandfather and their bicycle a few times over the past week. Each time I share it the scene becomes very vivid in my mind. It still brings tears to my eyes.
We take. We bless. We break. We give—give back everything that we have and are.
May the superabundance of God’s grace be upon them, upon us all in the midst of human scarcity—or better still, in the midst of the scarcity caused by our human imperfection.