In a dramatic gesture to underscore the plight of immigrants fleeing both starvation, disease and often, persecution, in their home countries, Pope Francis made his first pastoral visit outside Rome as Pope to the Italian island of Lampedusa in July, 2013. The island is only 80 miles from Tunisia and over recent years, tens of thousands of migrants have made the dangerous journey, often in small, overcrowded and rickety boats, to seek a new life. Sadly, thousands have tragically drowned, including countless women and children, as they risk a better life. The pictures on television and in the newspaper tell the story in all its horrendous and heart-rending detail.
The great tragedy is that their simplest need, for a bit of food and fresh water, cannot be realized. They are now without food and what water that is available is often tainted with the cholera virus. Paradoxically, that which seems to offer life, robs life of its vitality through the disease that it carries.
Few of us will ever experience the kind of hunger that these men, women and children are experiencing. Few of us will die from hunger or cholera because our water supply has been compromised with disease. Yet, each of us at times must struggle with another kind of hunger, as we thirst for meaning and purpose in our lives.
The staggering incidents of teenage suicide, the opioid crisis in our land that claims more lives than recent wars, the endless stories of marital failure, of violence in our streets, of wholesale disregard for the sanctity of human life, point to a disease of the heart that is looking for love and fulfillment in all the wrong places.
God's word today speaks of the compassion that Jesus feels for the crowds that came to hear his teaching. He sees not only their human hunger but much more importantly their desire to be fed by the word of life - to satisfy the restlessness of their human heart. Tradition has it that the real miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes was in the fact that each person who received their small portion of bread and fish, shared it with those around them. And so, in their kindness and generosity the hunger of the many was indeed satisfied and in fact there was more than enough food left over.
For the next four weeks, the Scriptures at the Sunday Eucharist will open up for us the meaning of the Eucharist as food that can satisfy our deepest hangers. The Gospel selections will all be taken, as today, from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John - sometimes referred to as the Eucharistic discourse. Perhaps the most profound meaning of the Eucharist in our lives as Catholics is the fact that our sharing in this bread broken and cup shared empowers us to become that which we receive - the compassionate presence of Jesus in our world today.
Two women in the last century have understood well the power of the Eucharist calling them to be the compassion of Christ for others. In our own Country, Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement to bring food and simple human respect to the homeless in skid rows throughout our land - began each day feasting on the food of life at daily mass. In our own times, St. Theresa of Calcutta, foundress of the Missionaries of Charity whose special love and concern was for the poorest of the poor is known throughout the world – began each day on her knees reverencing and receiving the eucharistic Christ whom she would latter serve in the poor and dying.
Both Dorothy Day and in our own times Mother Theresa saw the Eucharist, not as an escape from the world and its problems but rather as the empowering nourishment giving them the inner strength to "grow in the likeness of the risen Christ".
May our sharing in this food of eternal life this day, satisfy the deepest hangers of our hearts with the unconditional love of Christ. And may it strengthen us for the work of the Gospel as we go forth this day to be what we have celebrated in these holy mysteries.