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Bible Reflections View Comments

We Need to Begin Somewhere
By Kathleen M. Carroll
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, July 29, 2012
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In a crumbling wayside chapel, a young Saint Francis heard a voice telling him, “Go, rebuild my church.” Eager to have some concrete way of expressing his devotion to the Lord, Francis began to restore the tiny church of San Damiano. He took the stones that lay around the ruins and fitted them back into place as best he could. When those ran out, he begged stones from the townspeople of Assisi and hauled them down the steep slope to continue his labor. A close friend from his days of revelry became curious about Francis’s work and, after investigating, resolved to help. Others joined in the labor and some who
could not offer their work offered money for materials. Eventually, not only the little chapel was rebuilt, but the whole Church was restored and refreshed by his example.

Today’s Gospel offers a familiar story—the feeding of the multitude. Jesus takes a boy’s five loaves and two dried fish and feeds thousands. Many focus on just how this was accomplished. Did Jesus use his divine power to make food materialize out of nothing?
Did he somehow cause those few loaves and fishes to multiply, resulting in a sufficient quantity for all? Were there some in the crowd who did have food with them and who were inspired to share with those who lacked? Certainly a miracle occurred on that day, whether Jesus multiplied a bit of food or some small amount of human compassion. Though we cannot be sure just how it all happened, we can find in this story an example of how to make good things happen ourselves.

When Francis responded to the voice of God, as far as history records, he had no experience in construction. He couldn’t afford to hire an architect or a builder to plan the project at hand. He couldn’t buy the necessary materials. No reasonable person would have expected his efforts to be successful in the least. But, though many thought he was crazy, Francis made a start. Jesus, too, must have stunned his own disciples when he indicated that he wanted to feed the crowd and then asked for the boy’s meager rations. No reasonable person could have expected the crowd to be fed that day. But Jesus said the
blessing, and the meal began.

Whether we have a Christian obligation to do something, or perhaps are just responding to a need we sense in others, our task is to begin. Perhaps what we have set out to do will be finished by someone else. Maybe others will be inspired by our action and help in our cause, or begin their own. We cannot see the end of the works we begin in faith, but that does not mean we cannot make a start.

For the early Church this story of Jesus feeding the crowds with bread (and its foreshadowing of the gift of the Eucharist), was central to the gospel. For us, too, the actions of the Eucharist and sharing our bread with the hungry are intertwined. Despite achieving well beyond what he set out to do at San Damiano, in his last days Francis told his brothers, “We must begin to do good, for until now we have done nothing.” Yet later, as he lay dying, Francis said to them, “I have done what was mine to do; may Christ teach you what you are to do.”

Goethe has been quoted as saying, “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” Francis and Jesus would agree.


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Rose Philippine Duchesne: Born in Grenoble, France, of a family that was among the new rich, Philippine learned political skills from her father and a love of the poor from her mother. The dominant feature of her temperament was a strong and dauntless will, which became the material—and the battlefield—of her holiness. She entered the convent at 19 and remained despite their opposition. As the French Revolution broke, the convent was closed, and she began taking care of the poor and sick, opened a school for homeless children and risked her life helping priests in the underground. 
<p>When the situation cooled, she personally rented her old convent, now a shambles, and tried to revive its religious life. The spirit was gone, and soon there were only four nuns left. They joined the infant Society of the Sacred Heart, whose young superior, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, would be her lifelong friend. In a short time Philippine was a superior and supervisor of the novitiate and a school. But her ambition, since hearing tales of missionary work in Louisiana as a little girl, was to go to America and work among the Indians. At 49, she thought this would be her work. With four nuns, she spent 11 weeks at sea en route to New Orleans, and seven weeks more on the Mississippi to St. Louis. She then met one of the many disappointments of her life. The bishop had no place for them to live and work among Native Americans. Instead, he sent her to what she sadly called "the remotest village in the U.S.," St. Charles, Missouri. With characteristic drive and courage, she founded the first free school for girls west of the Mississippi. </p><p>It was a mistake. Though she was as hardy as any of the pioneer women in the wagons rolling west, cold and hunger drove them out—to Florissant, Missouri, where she founded the first Catholic Indian school, adding others in the territory. "In her first decade in America, Mother Duchesne suffered practically every hardship the frontier had to offer, except the threat of Indian massacre—poor lodging, shortages of food, drinking water, fuel and money, forest fires and blazing chimneys, the vagaries of the Missouri climate, cramped living quarters and the privation of all privacy, and the crude manners of children reared in rough surroundings and with only the slightest training in courtesy" (Louise Callan, R.S.C.J., <i>Philippine Duchesne</i>). </p><p>Finally at 72, in poor health and retired, she got her lifelong wish. A mission was founded at Sugar Creek, Kansas, among the Potawatomi. She was taken along. Though she could not learn their language, they soon named her "Woman-Who-Prays-Always." While others taught, she prayed. Legend has it that Native American children sneaked behind her as she knelt and sprinkled bits of paper on her habit, and came back hours later to find them undisturbed. She died in 1852 at the age of 83 and was canonized in 1988.</p> American Catholic Blog It was important for some saints to vanish from view, to “decrease” so that God could “increase” in the scheme of things. Many saints actively fought promotions. If obedience required embracing them, they found other ways to remain lowly.

 
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