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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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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Heavenly Father, I am sure there are frequently tiny miracles where you protect us and are present to us although you always remain anonymous. Help me appreciate how carefully you watch over me and my loved ones all day long, and be sensitive enough to stay close to you. I ask this in Jesus's name. Amen.

 
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