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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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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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