Fasting makes bread delicious. Next fast, when you’re really hungry and the blessed time of ‘one small meal’ finally rolls around, go out, buy a small loaf, say grace and eat. Not Wonderbread crap; real stuff. You’ll see what I’m writing about, I promise: Because when you have nothing, it’s the essentials you’ll love the most. In contradiction to the wealthy who say, “I’m making another million so I can focus on my family” or the workaholic who says “I am working everyday so I’ll have time to do the things I love” or the decadent who say “I am gaining all these things, all these pleasures that matter”, Christianity dares to believe that “only those who lose their life will save it”. Only those who give up everything will see the things that matter.
Life and Lent show us – somewhat painfully – that it is when we are empty that we most desire to be filled with good things. When you’re running out of money, then it’s your family that truly matters. When your mother dies, then the importance of being nurtured becomes clear. And when you are fasting, nothing sustains like bread. That’s what I love about Lent – we give up coffee, not to lose it, but to regain water. We give up cigarettes, not to quit, but become re-addicted to fresh air. We give up sweets and heavy food, not to merely starve, but – as my plot urges me – to again taste simple bread.
And what bread. It makes perfect sense that our God comes to us in the meal “that earth has given and human hands have made.” Think back to the cries for “bread and circuses” that rang around Rome, or the cries that now resound throughout the Middle East . Bread is indistinguishable from the demand for sustenance; it has always represented food in general, it has always meant being filled. What would our God become then, but the fulfillment of that demand for sustenance? When Christ instituted the Eucharist, I do believe that He chose bread as the instrument of his salvation for the sensible reason that the world already looked to it for salvation. God doesn’t change things, he transforms him to their full purpose, and now that which was a rescue to the poor is The Rescue to the Poor, and I am left with the realization that bread was always meant to become the Body of Christ.
It was with a little shock then, that my Protestant friend asked me – as I chewed reflectively on a loaf – if I was eating communion bread. Granted, having been thinking these thoughts, I was giving this bread a more appropriate amount of reverence then I usually do, but still, I choked. “That’s ridiculous.” said I, laughing. “Sorry!” said she, “It’s just that my sister and I, we used to eat all the bread that was left over after service, and see who could drink all the grape juice out of the little cups the fastest.” And that was when I realized the real crime of Calvin and Luther and the Protestants – they took out all the protest from the Church. If we are pre-destined can we cry for salvation? If bread stays bread, should we long for Communion at all? Should we demand sustenance? No, we will snack on it, for the portion at our service cannot fill us.
Ah well, negative notes never ideas nor songs end well. Think on this instead: How happy are the poor in spirit indeed, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven; not only after death but in life! for they truly enjoy what they have. Poverty is always Lenten, for who can appreciate a loaf of bread like a hungry man? Viewing it this way makes the vow of poverty such a beautiful thing – our nuns and monks and friars do not give up, they gain. Let us do likewise, this sadhappy season.