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Bible Reflections View Comments

Bread for Today, Bread for Eternity
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, August 5, 2012
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More often than not, we come to the Sunday Scriptures with mundane matters weighing us down. We might be struggling with family issues, job issues, broken lives, forsaken dreams. We half-listen to words that seem to belong to another people, another time, a more exalted spiritual realm than our own piece of earth.

And then today we hear the Israelites in the desert saying, “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!” We understand their longing for the good old days. We feel their desperation as they realize they’ve embarked on an arduous journey to something new and unknown. As the road becomes long, even endless, their slavery in Egypt seems less oppressive. At least they had enough to eat. And more, they had the varied food of the fertile Egyptian fields. Freedom has lost some of its luster, obscured by the desert sand. For us, too, embracing risk seems unthinkable, unwise, impossible, even when we have an inkling that our lives would be better for it.

Each of us has an Egypt in our life, that place where life seems easier, where the difficulties can be glossed over with something that deadens the pain and obscures the real price. We look back to previous jobs, wrong relationships, dysfunctional family situations, and a host of other times and places that look rosier in hindsight than they were in reality.

Every day we fight the struggle between Egypt and the desert. We stay just comfortable enough that we don’t need to make the difficult decisions that can lead to real freedom, that can lead to the promised land. One thing that characterizes most of our Egypts: Someone else is responsible for our pain, for our actions, for our decisions. Slavery comes in many guises.

Dreams of the future can be as beguiling—and as unrealistic—as memories of the past. In the Gospel, the crowds around Jesus are dazzled by his multiplying the loaves and fishes. Their lives, like ours, are filled with the daily demands of keeping food on their tables and a roof over their heads. When someone comes along who seems to offer them freedom from that daily grind, the impulse to follow is irresistible. How many of us play the lottery hoping for just such a break?

Jesus recognizes that most of the people have followed him simply because they’ve eaten their fill and want more. He knows he will need to lead them to a place much more challenging in order to give them the great gift of eternal life. Working for the kingdom can be even more demanding that merely working for daily bread. But it can be difficult to make that leap of faith.

The Scriptures make it clear that God always calls us forward. Going back is never an option. When we’re tempted to settle for less, we need to hear Jesus say, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” We might not have the material success of our friends. We might not have a career filled with intellectual challenges and the world’s recognition. We might not have endlessly varied entertainments. But if we trust Jesus’s words, we will never be alone. God is with us, even—especially— in the desert. And God always leads us to new life, even if it seems like a risk at the time.



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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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