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How Many Loaves Do You Have? Building an Economy of Gift and Communion

By Deacon Keith Fournier
December 9th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Pope Benedict's  Encyclical letter "Charity in Truth" (Caritas in Veritate')  contains within it the seeds of hope for building what the Church has long called a "truly integral humanism". The very idea of a an economy of communion and gift is rooted in this understanding.

CHEASAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - On Wednesday of the first week of Advent in 2012 I have the privilege of proclaiming St. Matthews account of the feeding of the five thousand at Holy Mass. Here is an excerpt:

"Jesus summoned his disciples and said, "My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse on the way.

"The disciples said to him, "Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place to satisfy such a crowd?" Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" "Seven," they replied, "and a few fish."

He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish,gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied. They picked up the fragments left over--seven baskets full."

The various accounts of the multiplication of the loaves not only recount a miracle of the past, they open up to use an understanding of the possibilities of an economic order rooted in gift and communion.

Pope Benedict's  Encyclical letter "Charity in Truth" (Caritas in Veritate')  contains within it the seeds of hope for building what the Church has long called a "truly integral humanism". The very idea of a an economy of communion and gift is rooted in this understanding.

The Holy Father reminded us that "ideological rejection of God and atheism of indifference, oblivious to the Creator and at risk of becoming equally oblivious to human values, constitute some of the chief obstacles to development today. A humanism which excludes God is an inhuman humanism." (#78)

In an age which has born the bad fruits of atheistic and "secular" humanism, we are called to proclaim the new and true humanism revealed in Jesus Christ, the New Man. These words of the Second Vatican Council in its' document on the relationship of the Church in the "modern" world, reflect the understanding of the early Church:

"The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear."

We see, in the humanity of Jesus, who we are to become and how we are to live.

In this letter Pope Benedict addresses economic challenges presented by globalism. He calls for the application of social and economic ordering principles the Church has long proposed, such as "subsidiarity", within these new contexts.

He reminds us this is a principle of "inalienable human freedom. Subsidiarity is first and foremost a form of assistance to the human person via the autonomy of intermediate bodies. Such assistance is offered when individuals or groups are unable to accomplish something on their own, and it is always designed to achieve their emancipation, because it fosters freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility."

He continues, "Subsidiarity respects personal dignity by recognizing in the person a subject who is always capable of giving something to others. By considering reciprocity as the heart of what it is to be a human being, subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state." (#57)

The Pope asserts the inextricable link between this principle of subsidiarity and the principle of solidarity which affirms that we really are our brother's (and sister's) keeper.

When this Encyclical was released the early responders attempted to read it through the prism of political categories such as "left" and "right", "liberal" and conservative". The wrangling reminded me of the line in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy is asked by Belinda "Are you a good witch or a bad witch" to which she responds, "Why I am not a witch at all".

The incessant efforts to characterize the principles offered in this brilliant letter as "for or against capitalism" when it does not even use the word "capitalism", missed the directions offered within it to proceed with a proper approach to development.

This letter, like the miracle of the loaves, invites us into a way of living which begins in, proceeds through and reveals our human vocation to live in relationship. We are by grace and nature called to communion with God and, in Him, to communion with one another. That should change everything, including how we relate to the goods of the earth and how we share those goods with one another.

Pope Benedict XVI calls for an approach to economic development which reflects the primacy of the person, the family, our obligations to one another and our special call to love the poor. He points to another way, the way of gift, love, participation and communion.

He helps to unpack the meaning of the Gospel story, inviting us to build an economy of gift and communion. The Gospel account is not only about a miracle which occurred in that "lonely place", but about the miracle which can occur in every "lonely place", including the place in time in which we now find ourselves.

In the synoptic accounts Jesus instructs the disciples "You give them something to eat" (See, Matt. 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9), the invitation to move beyond a mentality of economism and scarcity into a new way of living, with and for one another.

When they gave what they had, placing it in the hands of the Master, He multiplied and mediated their gift and the economy of gift and communion was manifested.

Not only were all fed but "the fragments" left over filled twelve baskets. The number twelve reflects the twelve tribes of Israel and the Twelve Apostles, the living stones of the New Israel, the Church. There will always be enough if we recover our true humanism and learn to live together in love.

St. John the theologian uses the little boy to demonstrate the condition of the heart required. (John 6) As a child, he held nothing back. He simply gave what he had. Will we? Gather the Fragments, live the miracle, build an economy of gift and communion.

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