In the breaking of the bread


Bread and Flowers from Unsplash

“I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” [John 11.25-26]

Most Jesuits, in fact I think most people who have done the Spiritual Exercises, will tell you that the most difficult time is the three days which Ignatius asks us to spend in company with the Lord in the Tomb – the distance from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.
It is a cold, hard, lonely silent place, sitting in prayer and imaginative contemplation of Our Lord’s lifeless body. It is the end of Hope, the end of Expectation, the end of Goodness, the Death of God.

And there, in that cold hard dark, lonely and horrible place, Ignatius asks you to confront your own death –
-              the limit of all your hopes and expectations.
-              the Summit of all your fears
-              the End of all you have ever been or hoped you might become.

And not just your death, but also your failures, every one of them.
And your Sinfulness – especially those mistakes and failings that cannot now be rectified in our own lives. All the things (and don’t forget we all have them) that we will never get the chance to go back and put right. Ignatius insists that we confront those things squarely, look them full in the face and see them as they are.

And Ignatius does this with a purpose – not just to give us a hard time – but to break our hearts of stone. As he says, the Soul eventually wearies of dwelling only on its own miseries and begins to reflect on the miseries of all those who suffer death, disease, darkness, cold and loneliness. And that is why he gives us plenty of time to explore fully our own miseries, so that we can ultimately move beyond them to those who suffer also – and those who suffer more. And he hopes that, in this way, to have us experience Easter as the first disciples experienced it – as a huge rolling away of the stone of death and evil. So that, when it comes, our Resurrection is not just a personal salvation – it is not just the immortal Ego that is “saved” – but a Resurrection of our entire body and soul to the Service of God’s Way in the World.

A little story may help.

As part of our training for the priesthood, we had to do a forty day pilgrimage over four hundred miles through the north of Spain, from Loyola to Barcelona – that’s nearly as far as London to Glasgow, sleeping rough and begging for our food. And you wouldn’t believe the amount of blisters we had. During the day it was so hot that, in order to walk at all, we had to get up at five in the morning to walk until about 11am, when it would get too hot. Then we would have to take shelter in the culverts – little tunnels - under the roads until the heat of the day had passed and we could carry on. Physically, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

But one of the really good things was that every evening I would meet different people from all walks of life (quite literally all walks of life) - old and young, rich and poor alike - all walking the same way and all looking for the way of God in their lives. One evening, I met a man in his middle thirties. And when we sat to eat together, I noticed that he didn’t just say an ordinary grace. He seemed really to pray in thanksgiving for his food. So I went up to him and asked him: “Are you a priest?” And he looked a little surprised at the question and said: “No!”
“Are you a monk?” “No!”
So I persisted and asked: “So why do you say grace like that?”

He was silent for a little while and just looked at me as if wondering whether to trust me. But one of the things about pilgrimage is that it makes you very open with people. So he said: “Because I am a drug addict, an alcoholic and a thief. There was a time in my life when I was so sick that I could not eat anything for 3 months. I thought I would die. So, one night, he told me, he took a deliberate overdose – alone – sleeping out rough in a shop doorway in Madrid.
By the purest – most providential - chance he was found by a policeman – a ‘Guardia Civil’ - and taken to hospital. While in hospital, his heart stopped twice, but the doctors managed to restart it.
After ten days, mostly unconscious in the hospital, he woke up, amazed to be alive. And, having been drug free for those ten days, he found that he had another chance at life
It was like he had been reborn.
And so he said: “That is when I began to pray - really pray. And now, whenever I eat, I give thanks to God for the food he has given me and for the life he has given me back in which to enjoy it.”

I asked a little more and I found out that the reason he had set out on this pilgrimage was as part of a prison sentence. In his country, if you have a prison sentence of less than one month, you can to choose to do a pilgrimage instead lasting the same length of time. This was his sentence for his offences with drugs.

I have known many drug addicts, alcoholics and thieves and I do not normally think of them as saints, but I left this man knowing that I had been in the presence of Jesus. Jesus was alive in his heart and in his life.
And I recognised him in the breaking of the bread.

Let us pray for Angelo, where-ever he is now.

And let us stand to profess our Faith in the God who saved him and saves us all.

Paul O'Reilly SJ