In the winter of 2016, my family and I went to see an exhibit of Corita Kent’s artwork. Corita Kent was a pop artist, former woman religious, and advocate for social justice. She worked to bring the gospel’s message of concern for the vulnerable and marginalized to life through vivid pieces of art that juxtaposed contemporary advertisements and slogans with biblical verses, song lyrics and literature. My eyes were immediately drawn to a beautiful serigraph with the enormous words: “great,” “eat,” and “real bread.” In much smaller text below on a purple arrow pointing to the right, I squinted to read a quote from the Jesuit priest and social activist, Dan Berrigan:
“When I hear bread breaking, I see something else; it seems almost as though God never meant us to do anything else. So beautiful a sound, the crust breaks up like manna and falls all over everything, and then we eat; bread gets inside humans. Sometime in your life, hope you might see one starved man, the look on his face when the bread finally arrives. Hope you might have baked it or bought it – or even kneaded it yourself. For that look on his face, for your hands meeting his across a piece of bread, you might be willing to lose a lot, or suffer a lot – or die a little, even.”
Corita Kent’s painting and Dan Berrigan’s quote get at the heart of this Sunday’s gospel reading. In the gospel today, Jesus tells us, “do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” In her painting, Corita Kent contrasts slogans and advertisements for bread with Dan Berrigan’s reflection on the transformative nature of bread to critique our consumerist culture and draw us to Jesus’ essential message. The large text size of the advertisements juxtaposed with the miniscule font of Dan Berrigan’s quote challenge us to consider what really gives us sustenance and daily nourishment amid all the commercial noise. In Kent’s serigraph and the scripture readings, bread represents both material needs and desires and a metaphor for deeper spiritual nourishment. Her serigraph and the scripture readings challenge us to consider what actually satiates and nourishes us. What can we be doing on a daily basis to live lives of deep satisfaction? How can we work for the food that endures?
In today’s readings Jesus calls us to believe in him. The question then becomes what does it mean to believe in Jesus? Throughout the Gospels, Jesus asks us to be active participants in our faith by working to do justice. Through working for a world where no one goes hungry we can create a rich foundation for physical and emotional sustenance for our sisters and brothers. Furthermore, throughout the gospels, Jesus tells us that the more we work alongside marginalized and impoverished communities to bring about justice, the more we see the face of God. "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." Jesus calls us to be relational: just as bread is broken and shared among friends and family, we are most nourished when we are living out Jesus’ message to care for one another and build just relationships in society.
On World Food Day in 2013, Pope Francis exclaimed that, “it is a scandal that there is still hunger and malnutrition in the world! It is not just a question of responding to immediate emergencies, but of addressing together, at all levels, a problem that challenges our personal and social conscience in order to achieve a just and lasting solution.” In order to address food insecurity on a systemic level, a personal revolution needs to place within each one of us.
Today’s readings tell us of this need for personal revolution: “you should put away the old self of your former way of life...and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” As Dan Berrigan proposes, in helping others to eat and to be nourished, we might be willing to “lose a lot, or suffer a lot -- or die a little even.”
Jesus’s way of being offers us a road map to live a life where we feel nourished and sustained because we are in right relationship with all our sisters and brothers, especially those most at the margins. Nourished and sustained by the bread of life of the Eucharist, we can be both bread for others in a metaphorical sense and help those who are physically hungry get access to sustainable and lasting food security.
Over the course of the past year, I have participated in many meetings on Capitol Hill related to the Farm Bill as part of my work for Catholic Relief Services. At times, it’s difficult to see how seemingly minor changes in policy can dramatically shape food security outcomes for the people Catholic Relief Services works to serve. However, through accompanying grassroots advocates, faith leaders, and CRS board members to meetings, I have begun to realize how legislative advocacy is one way to answer Jesus’ call for us to work for the food that endures for eternal life.
The “real bread” in Corita Kent’s serigraph is the “bread from heaven” and “bread of life” of the scriptures. What gives us deep and lasting nourishment and sustenance is a belief in Jesus that calls us to work for justice in order to build the Reign of God.
Tessa Pulaski was raised by two former Maryknoll Lay Missioners and active Catholics. She graduated from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in 2015, where she studied Science, Technology and International Affairs. She has served as an intern at the Global Catholic Climate Movement, the Jesuit Center for Ecology and Development in Lilongwe, Malawi, and at Refugees International's Climate Displacement Program and the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement in Washington, D.C.
This past year, Tessa worked on Catholic Relief Services’ Advocacy Team, focusing primarily on food security issues. She is passionate about the intersections between climate change, food systems, development and forced migration. Tessa is starting law school in the fall and hopes to pursue a career in policy work.