To my community members in Christ, I offer you this reflection as food for your journey. From February to May of this year, I had the great privilege to accompany a young woman through RCIA: the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. We will call her Olivia. Olivia was incarcerated during this time in jail and felt called to be initiated into the Catholic faith prior to her transfer to begin her sentence in prison. And so we worked at it, every week for those 4 months to prepare her to receive the sacraments. We had our visits with her hands free enough to flip through the catechism book, and her waist and ankles bound in a lock. With the glass between us, in our hour-long visits, we prayed together, talked about scripture, reflected on where she saw God in the midst of her reality, and shared hopes and intentions with one another.
I reflect on this particular experience because during this time of the pandemic when communion was limited and only available through a livestream connection, I found that I received the nourishment of Jesus in other ways: beyond the locked doors of the church. These visits to the jail with Olivia, discussing the gracious and mysterious ways of God, time spent in holy conversation, was the very bread that fed me every week. And I think it was the same for her too. We were two complete strangers, brought together by the spirit and Word of God.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus said, I am the bread of life. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. With the worldwide pandemic, eating the precious bread and drinking the wine, was not available. And sometimes, pandemic or not, the Eucharist is not available to our brothers and sisters incarcerated in correctional facilities. So what of that? What do we do when the Eucharist is not available to us? How do we still ensure that the bread is still given to our brothers and sisters on the margins and to those without access?
Given this, I’d like us to take a moment to think differently and to reflect on the question, “How can we be the bread of life to one another?” (pause) And more personally, “How can I serve as nourishment to another person?” “How can I provide strength to someone who may need some encouragement today?” I believe now, more than ever, the invitation to be bread for one another is loud and clear. No doubt right now, there is division in our world, tremendous sadness, a desire to be seen or heard, there is loneliness, and loss caused by the twin pandemics of this time with racism and covid-19.
And still, regardless of our individual circumstance, we are all invited to the table to be compassion, to be forgiveness, to be love, and to be kindness to others. To be these signs of Jesus to one another and to our brothers and sisters on the margins, whether behind a solid glass or not.
And, when we do have the opportunity to receive Jesus through the Eucharist, we are again given the invitation to be living eucharist and bread for others. And sometimes this means giving a phone call to check in on someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Sometimes this means volunteering at a food bank to serve our brothers and sisters who are hungry, or donating clothes to a shelter for people in recovery, or perhaps this just looks like showing up for another person in need, knowing that your ministry of presence and accompaniment on this journey of life, may be the very thing that gets them through the day.
I don’t think we will ever know the true power of the sacred gift that God offers us in having the gift of one another, but l do believe it is worth finding out - more and more each and every day. And to live it, with faith, joy, and without expectation. But first, we have to show up - ready to take, give and receive our daily bread. And to be open to our God of surprises.
In May, when Olivia was prepared to receive her Confirmation, we were able to have a contact visit with her, the priest, another minister, and I as her sponsor. In a small room, Olivia still bound in locks, but without glass between us, together, we were able to break bread with one another through the Eucharist, and celebrate this sacred meal together. To offer peace to one another, and acknowledge that this bread is for all of us - regardless of the worst things we have each ever done. In that holy moment, communion was shared and Jesus was present.
And that’s how I think it is with the Lord. We are gathered at table, and we are one in God. And I think that is also where the invitation lies - to make space, regardless of the size of the room, to be with one another and to not only look for ways to be bread to one another, but to simply be there and show up when moments do arise.
To allow Jesus’ actions of sharing meals with tax collectors and others whom society would have deemed unclean, to speak to our own hearts, transform us and ask ourselves the question, “How can I be living bread to my brothers and sisters on the margins just as Jesus was?” “And, “What bread can I bring them on their journey?”
Yes, there will always be others murmuring, grumbling maybe, and yes, even criticizing, others trying to bring us down, or maybe times when we feel we can’t seem to go on as prophets, but we are reminded from the psalm today that the Lord will hear us when we are afflicted and call out, and we will be saved from distress.
And so today, may we feast on the words of Jesus when he says, “I am the Bread of Life.” And may we, as a community of faith, move forward with a spirit of disponibilità, as St. Francis Xavier Cabrini would say, to reflect a spirit of openness, and willingness to do whatever needs to be done for the Kingdom, to bring peace and justice here on earth..
May God bless us on this journey, and may we never fear from being living bread to those who need it the most. Amen.
Crystal Catalan currently serves as the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Presentation High School in San Jose, CA.
After working in sales and marketing in Los Angeles for a few years, Crystal served as a full-time missioner with the organization, Cabrini Mission Corps, the lay program of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (aka “Cabrini Sisters”). She had the opportunity to serve alongside the Sisters at Mother Cabrini High School in New York, Cabrini University in Pennsylvania, Cabrini Ministries in Swaziland, and within local ministries at the Diocese of Baguio City in the Philippines.
Crystal is a restorative justice practitioner, leading Bible studies, holding circles, and prayer services at the local correctional facility as a chaplain, for both the women’s and men’s units.
She has led numerous workshops and delivered talks for Confirmation and retreat programs, the Ignatian Solidarity Network, Catholic Mobilizing Network, youth and young adult ministries, and trainings in partnership with Catholic Relief Services. She has over 10 years of experience coordinating and leading immersion trips for youth and adults, and enjoys learning about new cultures and increasing our capacity for global solidarity.
When she is not watching a webinar focused on diversity, equity and inclusion topics or reading articles or books on how to provide spaces of belonging for all, she enjoys going on runs, practicing hot yoga, and singing karaoke.
Crystal holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of San Diego, an M.A. in International Development from Eastern University., M.A. in Pastoral Ministries with an emphasis in Restorative Justice and Chaplaincy at Santa Clara University, and the Certificate in Restorative Justice Leadership and Facilitation through the University of San Diego.
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