By Fr. Thomas M. Santa, CSsR
When Blessed Mother Teresa heard about a family who hadn’t eaten for four days, she took rice to their home. The mother divided the small amount into two equal portions and told her son to take one portion to their neighbors because they hadn’t eaten for four days either.
At first glance, that story may not seem to have a Christmassy theme, but it’s actually one of the greatest Christmas stories imaginable.
There have been moments in my life when I’ve been generous and moments when I’ve been keenly aware of others’ needs, but never have I not eaten for four days. Never have I been grateful for only a small pile of rice. Never have I been presented with the opportunity to give not out of my abundance, but “out of the little bit that I have.”
It’s simply an accident of birth that I’ve never experienced what that family experienced. I was born in a country of wealth and prosperity, and I’ve been given the opportunity to grow, flourish, explore my talents and abilities, and make choices about what I like and don’t like, will and won’t do. I’ve been blessed with abundance.
Or perhaps not.
Is abundance always a blessing? If we’ve never been as hungry as the Indian family in the story, should we be grateful? Of course—but even when we’re filled, we can lack the ability to clearly see and understand. Hunger has a way of helping us separate the important from the essential. Without hunger—physical or spiritual—it’s hard to be fully aware of God’s presence and our absolute dependence on God for all that we are.
In John 6:51–58, Jesus tells the people that he will fill their hunger, that he will feed them and nourish them, because he is the “Bread of Life.” The people have experienced the miracle of the loaves and fishes and have been filled until they can eat no more, with enough leftover scraps to fill twelve wicker baskets. Because they have already been filled, the crowd struggles to understand what Jesus means when he identifies himself as the Bread of Life. Since they are no longer hungry, they don’t listen.
Perhaps the challenge of this gospel story is to pray to never be so stuffed, so comfortable, and so filled that we no longer hunger for that which truly gives us life.
At Christmas, many of us are filled with abundance of everything—good food, good gifts, good company of family and friends. It can be hard to remember that sometimes blessings aren’t so accessible. It can be hard to remember that even in this season of abundant joy, some people feel alone, isolated, and alienated from everything around them.
If we are truly blessed to feel filled rather than empty, it’s a good spiritual practice to be grateful and to remind ourselves that only Jesus, our Bread of Life, can satisfy our true hungers.
For those who struggle with the reception of holy Communion, this is not a time to deprive yourself of the sacrament.
Christmas is a good time to remember Pope Francis’ teaching that the Eucharist is not a reward for the perfect, but a remedy for those who yearn to be filled and made complete.