‘Man does not live on bread alone.’


Bread and Flowers from Unsplash

We believe that men and women do not live by bread alone, but by the presence and goodness of God in our lives.

Two of my oldest friends are called Charlie and Sarah. They married about fifteen years ago. And, quite quickly they had two children, called Eddie and David. Then, about four years after they married, just when they had settled down comfortably to live happily ever after, Sarah developed a cancer of the brain. She suffered great pain and frequently she could not eat. And Charlie made a promise to Sarah that on those days when Sarah could not eat, he would not eat either. He thought that was a way he could show solidarity with his wife in her time of suffering. The doctors expected the treatment to last six months and he thought he could probably keep it up that long.

There were many days when he regretted that promise. The treatment actually lasted more than two years. Sarah gradually became more ill with it, with more and more severe chemotherapy and radiotherapy and there were more and more days when she could not eat. So Charlie did not eat either. He lost weight and began to look unwell.

His friends, myself included, tried to persuade him that if he ate normally, he would be stronger and better able to look after his wife and the two boys. We told him to go and ask Sarah to release him from his promise – surely she would understand. And, to be fair to him, he gave it serious thought. But in the end, he just couldn’t do that. For him a promise was a promise. And he said that it meant a lot to Sarah that he was prepared to suffer along with her. Once he had stood with her before an altar and promised to love, honour and cherish her until death did them part. And he had meant it when he said it.

But then it became clear that the treatment wasn’t working. The cancer was growing - out of control. They couldn’t stop it and Sarah was going to die.

And eventually Sarah did die and Charlie was heartbroken. He hardly ate at all and collapsed into deep depression. He still took good care of the two boys, but he was in a bad way and it took him many months to recover.
That was just about eight years ago.

Just recently I spoke to him on the phone and Charlie told me how glad he was to have fasted along with his wife. He felt he had genuinely been with her every step of the way and had participated – even if only a little – in her sufferings. Having grieved with her before she died, he was strong enough to endure it when she died.

That too is why we will fast in Lent.
We will walk with Jesus – and we will suffer with him - just a little bit, but an important little bit– on his way to Jerusalem and to His death. Because in sharing His death, we also share His Resurrection.

For a Christian, to fast means to hunger, not for food, but for God – to do without food in order that we may experience our deeper hunger for the presence of God.

I tell you this story today because next Friday would have been; no, will be… Sarah’s 47th birthday. On that day, Charlie, Eddie and David will be fasting in her memory.
They do not live by bread alone.

And neither do we.

Let us stand and profess our Faith in God who feeds us with the Bread of Life.

Paul O'Reilly SJ