"Feeding the hungry is a greater work than raising the dead."
-- St. John Chrysostom
Many years ago, a number of months after the beginning of our Catholic Worker House in Salinas, we had finally run out of both food and money. I woke up in the morning wondering, and fearing, that our "experiment with truth" (Gandhi) was going to come to a screeching halt. I got depressed real quickly...
The first of the day's volunteers finally showed up -- I broke the bad news to them. Anna Marie suggested that we say a prayer, and Kevin said that he would pick a scripture passage to read: he read the story of the Miracle of Loaves and Fishes: where supposedly this ragged-preacher wandering the hills and towns of Roman-occupied Judea, became aware that the thousands of people thronging to hear him speak had no food to eat. According to the story, there were around five thousand men present (not counting women and children)... since women tend to be more interested in religion than men (especially a preacher talking only of kindness, mercy, and love), we can assume that there were probably ten thousand women... and since there was only the day care of moms and family, the women all brought along their children: say around fifteen thousand more hungry mouths to feed...
So the preacher tells his companions to feed them all: don't send them away, but feed them all yourselves! Astounded, they protested they had only two fish and five loaves of bread... The preacher then blessed the food and gave it to them to serve: sort of a "soup-kitchen-without-the-soup"... the story concludes that everyone ate their fill, and there were many baskets of food left over! Now a lot of folks had problems with this abundant "Godspell" on the loose -- then as now...
So, back to my story: Kevin reads this most unbelievable scripture: we gather in a small circle of five people, hold hands, and say the prayer that that same itinerant preacher had taught centuries before... that was it and that was all... About ten minutes later a white, unmarked, semi-truck drove up and parked in front of our House. We opened the door as he asked, "Would you like some bread? If so, could you help me unload the truck? You can have as much as you want."
We unloaded the truck: bread was three feet deep across the sofa: bread was everywhere it could be stuffed in a house... everywhere except the bathroom... we had just finished unloading the truck: I walked through the bread-stuffed living room into the kitchen: as soon as I stepped into the kitchen, the phone rang: I turned to Bob, the volunteer on my right, and said, "God, I hope that's not a donation of more bread!" It was a fisherman calling from Moss Landing: would we like 400 pounds of fish on ice?
True story: it's a true story because feeding the hungry is a greater work than raising the dead. There I was thinking my dream had died... so the Holy One made a joke at my expense and lack of faith... we served a fish chowder and French bread that day to the hungry who had gathered for our assistance... with enough left over to walk around our neighborhood giving it away to the migrant farm worker families living in our area...
Every good thing begins with a simple, "Yes... I am ready: I will try... Don't forget to help me, though!" It is this very same simple response that creates the opening for another story and another miracle...
Robert Daniel Smith was privileged to serve the homeless and marginalized for 30 years in Salinas, California. Together with his wife, Michelle, they founded an intentional community called the 'Companions of the Way', also in Salinas. Robert and Michelle are community organizers, Catholic Worker renegades, sacred activists, writers, poets, artists, Divine Mother devotees, and practitioners of Kriya Yoga as taught by Rev. Ellen Grace O'Brian of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment. Michelle is also a Montessori public school teacher. Robert is also an ordained Interfaith Minister.