Sr. Delia "Dee" Smith, on mission in Guatemala, reflects on how the Eucharist nourishes us for a life of mission.
As I read the words of this week’s readings from the Old and New Testament I was struck at how ‘down to earth’ the themes are.
In the first reading, Elijah, who up until this minute seemed to be assured of what his mission was, started to doubt what he was about. He decided to go into the desert, fall asleep and pray for death…rather a dramatic action to take when not feeling up to the challenge of serving God! However, an angel appeared and seemed to take the matter into its own hands, telling Elijah to get up, eat something, pull himself together and march on to his destiny. Fortified by the care and attention of the angel, Elijah was able to journey on into an unknown future but one filled with surprise and promise.
The psalm for today, Psalm 34, continues to offer God’s people angels to assist with the difficulties of the people of Israel: “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and delivers them.” We are invited to taste and see how good the Lord is. Once again, we hear the idea of food as the basic sustenance that we need for any journey, be it a physical journey or a spiritual journey.
In the Gospel, Jesus proclaims He is the ultimate sustenance for the journey to fullness in God: “I am the bread of life.” Jesus’ narrative states clearly that in recognizing Him as coming from God, the path is open and the journey can begin for the promise of eternal life and complete communion with the universal divinity which we call God.
Bread was the staple food for the people of the Middle East during the time of Elijah and Paul and Jesus.
Here in Guatemala the staple food is maize made into tortillas. Anyone who has to face an arduous journey, a long day of labouring in the fields, or just the daily round of trying to survive will try to make sure there are tortillas to sustain them. When people are denied an opportunity to live a dignified existence, with sufficient nourishment to stave off the hunger and desperation of the daily struggle, they too, like Elijah, may say, “This is enough, O Lord. Take my life.”
Or oftentimes in desperation people will decide to begin the long journey north into the desert leading to the United States and the dream of securing enough to improve the lives of themselves and their families. They will meet ‘angels’ on the way, such as those of us who spend days on the bridge at the border between Guatemala and Mexico handing out food, water, medicines and comfort. They will meet people in Mexico and at the border of the United States who will offer them compassion and care, water to quench their thirst and food to sustain them as they journey on into the unknown. People who, in the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians, are called to be kind to one another, compassionate and forgiving as God has shown us through the example of Jesus.
Jesus knew that his followers would need sustenance in order to continue with their journey, and so in his own “down to earth” way likened his teachings to bread, to that which is common among all people, but with the added twist that this bread was THE Bread. It was and is the Bread that fills us, nourishes us and satisfies us so that we, too, can continue our journey in service. Our life of service in mission asks nothing more of us than to journey with God’s people as ALL seek a dignified life free from oppression, hunger, violence and hardship. “For I was hungry and you gave me to eat (Matthew 25:35).” Let us all be “food for the journey” to everyone we meet today.
Photo: Sr. Dee Smith with a guest at the hospice center at which she works in Guatemala, courtesy of Sr. Dee.