Last Sunday, the Gospel was from the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, transferred on this year’s liturgical calendar to this time just before Advent. Saint Matthew provides us with the vivid image of Our Lord as Teacher, using richly textured parables, taken from the fiber of common life, to teach us about the kingdom of heaven. During the sermon, our chaplain’s thoughts turned to the powerful childhood remembrance of his mother making bread — “the best bread,” he emphasized. The memory produced such strong imagery for him that it was inseparable from the Gospel story of the woman mixing leaven in the measures of meal. That was likely Our Lord’s intention. The making of bread was an essential, regular effort and one that was intimately tied to the physical, and even emotional, welfare of mankind.
Listening to Father Jarecki led me to wonder if the parable is less comprehensible to a generation that does not have the experience of homemade bread in its database. This lack of pure, unprocessed bread in the diet links to the subordinated issue of an overall decline in man’s well being. This is not a new concern. Fr. Denis Fahey addressed this issue in 1952. In his book, The Church and Farming, he expressed his distress that modern food was undermining the health of individuals. In the section of the book dealing with “Food and Health,” he focused on bread, “because of its importance.” Fr. Fahey detailed some of the evidence of physical degeneration caused by processed foods. He also praised the “splendid work” of Dr. Weston A. Price, who, in the 1940s, authored a landmark study in which he noted that the excellent health of some of the more “primitive” people around the world was directly related to their habitual consumption of various traditional diets.
Perhaps the practice of making bread can be resuscitated. Time seems to slow down while bread is being mixed and kneaded, put to rise, and then fragrantly baked. (Life returns to its usual pace when the rapid consumption phase is reached!) The working of the raw materials into a living substance enriches the senses even into very old age, as we learned from Father’s sermon. (Father is ninety-one years old.) By baking our own bread we can better understand how “The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven.”
To aid us on a practical level, we can return to the work of Dr. Price, which is being expounded and expanded today by the efforts of the dedicated folks at the Weston A. Price Foundation. In addition to education, they are actively supporting small-scale farming, while conducting ongoing research in their efforts to demonstrate the overall nutritional superiority of traditional foods. Their publication, Wise Traditions, is online at www.westonaprice.org. The Spring 2003 issue features the ins and outs of producing healthy bread.
Of course, the greatest service bread renders is when it surrenders its essence to the consecrating words of the priest at Holy Mass: “This is My Body.” What looks like bread, breaks like bread, tastes like bread, is now the glorified Body of Jesus Christ. At this sublime moment our daily bread is changed into the supersubstantial bread of life. This living bread will nourish and sustain the worthy consumer unto eternal life.
Note: For a great exposition of Our Lord’s sermon on the Holy Eucharist (St. John’s Gospel, chapter six), read The Great Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide.
Both the natural and the supernatural aspects of bread are worthy of consideration. With his customary brilliance, Fr. Feeney ties them together in his book, Bread of Life: “Have you ever stopped to realize that if the fields yielded no more wheat, or the vineyards stopped distilling the liquids that become wine, there would be no more Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?” Humble bread, so important in the working of the Church, as Father told us on Sunday, is worthy of our meditation and affection.
Ego sum panis vivus qui de caelo descendi. (John 6:51).