On Sunday I open the daily lectionary to find the readings I’ll be contemplating for Thursday’s reflection and groan. The Gospel is the story of the loaves and fish. Again. Perhaps there’s an interesting saint I can focus on instead? I see it’s the feast day of Marcella, fourth century Roman aristocrat, who, when her young husband died seven months into their marriage, relinquished her elegant lifestyle and, with a small band of local women similarly inclined, turned their opulent home into a refuge for the poor and for pilgrims. She was apparently one of those very intelligent women who become a monastic not only to serve the needy in God’s name but to indulge a passion for scholarship.
On Monday, sorting through email, I click on the link to the website of FOCO cafe, a Fort Collins not-for-profit restaurant which provides meals using mostly local, organic, sustainably-grown ingredients and lets customers pay what they can for the food. “FOCO” stands for “Feeding Our Community Ourselves.” This reminds me of Jesus telling his disciples, “You give them something to eat.” It’s easy for everyone to pitch in and share in an environment where all gifts are appreciated. Was Jesus’ hillside picnic a gathering in which boundaries between people were relaxed and our natural, human generosity was allowed to flow freely?
Later I reflect on the good fortune that allowed St. Marcella to pursue her studies. How many bright women through the centuries were unable to do this, swamped as they were by domestic responsibilities and the insecurity and condescension of the men in their lives. St. Jerome stayed at St. Marcella’s home for the poor for three years while he translated the Bible into Latin. She had studied Greek and Hebrew, so she helped him with this work. He admired how tactful she was with men who could have been threatened by her superior intellect. I find this a bit ironic.
On Tuesday I remember that the feeding of the 5,000 is a story told in all four gospels. Not only does that account for why I have studied it and reflected on it as often as I have, but – well, this tale is hugely significant. Feeding giant masses of people is the sign that Jesus is the Messiah. He doesn’t raise armies and overthrow governments, he feeds people. This is a clear way of showing what God’s dream for the world is. I begin to think about all the ways in which people are hungry and in need of being fed.
Later as I read the material assigned this month for my spiritual direction training program, I realize that listening deeply to people is also a way of feeding them. I think again of St. Marcella. And I remember my own experiences. There was that one hospice nurse who took an extra couple of minutes to learn what I needed as I sat with a dying friend. And that car mechanic who took me seriously as I tried to describe the noise my engine was making, thus saving me hundreds of dollars. Also there is that dear friend of mine who always seems to “get” how I am feeling underneath what I say.
“You give them something to eat,” says Jesus. I guess we are all called, one way or another, to feed our community ourselves. Whether it’s opening your mansion to the poor and to pilgrims, helping one poor sod to translate the Bible, joining up with Habitat for Humanity or ERD, starting a restaurant like FOCO cafe, working for justice for refugees, migrants, the oppressed and the incarcerated, or listening to those who need someone to hear them into speech, we each have a vocation that involves feeding others. As we all “em-body” Christ, we reach way more than five thousand people every day. Yet our work is far from done; there are so many more who are hungry.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and writer living in Fort Collins, CO. For the past year and a half she has been studying to be a spiritual director. To learn more about her and her work, go HERE.