THERE IS a story about St. Ignatius of Loyola that Fr. Horacio dela Costa, SJ used in one of his homilies.
In the early years of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius, in the midst of running the then fast-growing Jesuit order, would sneak out to the streets of Rome to do priestly work. He had with him during these forays, as his alalay, a young Jesuit, Pedro de Ribadeniera. He was a naughty young lad who was supposedly “rejected” by the other Jesuits, and thus Ignatius took him under his wing and supposedly acted as his formator.
Pedro, according to the story, would tease Ignatius about his funny Italian as he tried to win souls in the streets of Rome. After one of those episodes, Ignatius turned to Pedro and asked, “Pues, Pedro, que haremos a Dios (What can we do for God)?” And Ignatius answered, “Nothing!” Then he asked the real question—and I paraphrase—What can we hope or try to do for God? Everything!
I remembered this story as I was saying First Friday Mass for a family (two days ago). The Gospel that day was about the multiplication of the loaves and fish in John (6:1-15).
There you had two characters, Philip and Andrew. Jesus tells them to feed the thousands who had followed him and listened to him. Philip immediately puts logic into the situation and tells Jesus, “No way! Too expensive! We can’t afford it!” (My version of what he said.) Andrew, with some hesitation, brings a young lad and tells Jesus, “Here are five loaves and two fish.” And Jesus takes the little that Andrew brings and “took the bread, gave thanks, and distributed.”
A Philip or an Andrew
Ah, yes! The miracle takes place because someone brought the little that there was. A seminar I attended 17 years ago referred to this as the “abundance in scarcity.” We will encounter the abundance of God’s grace in human scarcity if we come before Him and bring the little that we have before God.
In the face of the many challenges and crises around us— personally and communally— we can choose to be a Philip or an Andrew. We can, with the certainty of our human intelligence, academic prowess, and professional expertise and experience, say, “No, it can’t be done. That doesn’t make sense,” or with much human anxiety, but with deep humility trust that the little we can offer, God will take and use to work out His miracle.
The same is true for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in this Sunday’s Gospel. In the midst of their grief and loss, thinking the Messiah they had dedicated their lives to (presumably for three years following him) ended up in the defeat and the shame of the Cross. It was a bad choice, perhaps they felt. They were so convinced of this assessment that they did not even recognize that in their midst, walking with them, was the Risen Lord, the Messiah in the fullness of his victory—as promised and fulfilled.
The Risen Lord had to re-tell them the story to help them remember. As he was doing so the two started to rediscover the original inspiration, the original flame that made them leave everything behind and follow Jesus in that first moment of encounter. Their hearts were burning inside them as the Risen Lord helped them remember.
Constantly remembering the original inspiration in our life, perhaps the dreams of our youth that made us take the journey we are on now, is an important act to do regularly. Remembering our original inspiration, our journey, and our story keeps us connected to who we are and why we are, our identity and mission.
Sundays are a graced moment to remember. The Mass is a wonderful prayer, a moment of deep grace to remember when we can take, give thanks, break and give.
It is a graced moment to take stock of our life each week, or even daily, and simply feel God’s presence that is always lovingly providential. Yes, in the day to day and in the ordinary moments made extra-ordinary by his presence and grace. In the simple meals we share with family and loved ones. In the little child or apo who hugs us and considers us playmates making us feel childlike. In the people along the corridors of our workplace who smile at us even if we really do not know their names. In the quiet drive home when we notice the simple beauty of dusk after a hard and fulfilling day’s work.
We take, daily, weekly, or maybe in annual recollections or retreats, and as we look at it we realize God’s loving providential presence and we give thanks. To be grateful for life’s ordinary moments made extra-ordinary by God’s presence and grace.
No perfect moment
How can one not naturally choose to break and give to others? How can one grateful for life, no matter how imperfect or as they would say, “warts and all,” not choose to break oneself and give of oneself to others.
Perhaps there will never be the perfect moment, no perfect solution, but there is always the right question. “Que haremos a Dios (What can we do for God)?” Nothing.
What can we hope and try to do for God? Everything.
It is living a life of remembering—to take, give thanks, break and give. It is to choose to be Andrew and bring the little that we have, even the poverty of our person, and allow the miracle to take place where in scarcity there is abundance.