In a phone conversation recently, my mom told me about their latest concern. My sister and mother are both professors at the same private college. Enrollment is down, way down, because of the economy. Many families had their children's college tuition tied up in the stock market, and they simply don't have enough money to send their children to private colleges. Their college, like many others, is letting some staff members go. My mother and sister hope they are not next to receive pink slips.
My mother sighed, and said, "Well, at least Scripture tells us the righteous never go without bread." There was a moment of silence on both ends. I don't know what Mom was thinking, but I was wondering if that passage means what she thinks it means.
Does it, for example, really mean that righteous ones never go without food? I thought for a second about the poor and destitute in third world countries. Certainly many of them lead holy lives. Yet, they sometimes go to bed hungry.
Or does it mean that the righteous ones will always have access to the Bread of Life, the Eucharist, our food-for-the-journey?
Then, too, there is the question of what it means to be righteous. I'm not sure if Mom or I qualify as righteous. Trying, certainly. But there? No, not yet.
So what does the passage mean?
As Catholics, we believe that venial sins are removed when we go to Mass. And just a few minutes later, when we receive Our Lord, we can say that we have been forgiven, made clean and free of personal sin, ready to receive. The righteous are not foresaken and their children do not go without the Bread of Life.
Today's readings at Mass, both the Old Testament Reading and the Gospel Reading prove that God cares for physical needs. So, on the one hand, my mom is right. Food is multiplied. There is enough for all to eat.
But we, as Catholics, know that these passages point to another reality - a spiritual reality. While we may sometimes be without bread, we are never without the Bread of Life.
When we see references to bread . . . especially when it comes around the time of the Passover (as in the Gospel Reading), we know it is speaking to something more than a loaf of bread.
I wanted to say to my mom, I don't think that means what you think it means . . . or at least I don't think that means only what you think it means. But I sensed, from the pregnant pause that followed, that my mom knew what I was thinking. I could sense her relief when I didn't break into Catholic teaching . . . but the deeper truth is this . . .
Even though my bread basket may one day be empty, I will never be without the Bread of Life.
For we know, just a short time after the multiplying of bread and fish, Our Lord said, "You must eat my flesh and drink my blood, or there can be no life in you." In Sacred Scripture, bread and wine rarely mean just bread and wine. They mean that - but they also mean something far greater. The righteous and their children will always have access to the Bread of Life.