Good Zeal

Good Carbs

Bread for Holy Thursday baked by Sisters Kathleen and MichelleThe drive from Palm Springs to Riverside in California is reached via State Highway 111, twelve miles of barren desert intersecting with the I-10 interstate. It is a pleasant yet bleak respite before being thrust into the chaos of defensive driving, lane switching, and white knuckling. Highway 111 is plain boring, a curvy divided state expressway, absent of any interesting landmarks or billboards. Twelve miles of sagebrush, dust, wind, dunes, tumbleweeds, and cacti. Twelve miles of barren high desert. At the six-mile mark, my ears popped from the change in elevation.

On the return trip, I noticed a sign on the edge of Highway 111, mounted on aluminum posts with a directional arrow advertising a church: “NEED GOOD CARBS? JESUS IS THE BREAD OF LIFE.” I continued cruising along but it got me thinking about bread. I am a bread lover, and I come from an extensive line of bread lovers. When we eat in restaurants, we instruct the wait staff to keep the bread coming and warn them that “we are bread people.” I and my kinfolk have been known to consume baskets of bread and rolls while waiting for our appetizers or entrees. The cinnamon raisin bread baked by the monks of nearby St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman is culinary perfection. While visiting the grotto last October, I bought two loaves and consumed one entire loaf on the drive back home.

I whizzed past the church sign and reflected on the creativity of the message, of how Jesus is the bread of life, good carbs that provide us with spiritual nourishment. The Lord’s Prayer came to mind immediately: “Give us this day our daily bread,” which is attributed to Matthew 6:11.

After I flew home, I was still thinking about the clever sign and bread in the Bible and began my research. There are forty-eight references for “bread” in my Bible. Bread is described as a gift from God. The first concordance listing is Deuteronomy 8:3, “….man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” God’s word is our spiritual bread. In Exodus, Chapter 16, it states that the Israelites who followed Moses into the desert were fed bread from heavenly grain in the form of manna for forty years! The New Testament is full of bread references. Jesus demonstrated his love for people by performing two miracles and feeding bread to thousands of hungry followers twice, as depicted in Mark 6:35 and John 6, 1-9. Jesus provided so much that they had leftovers.

In John 6:35, Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” In Matthew 26:26, he described the Lord’s supper; “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take this and eat, this is my body.’”

A famous painting by Rembrandt is “Supper at Emmaus,” painted in 1648, documents Jesus as the bread of life. After witnessing the crucifixion, Cleopas and his friend walked seven miles to Emmaus unknowingly befriending Jesus on the path and discussed with him what happened there. Growing tired, the trio paused to eat at an inn and sat down. “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” (Luke 24:30-31).

I further reflected on bread in the Life and Miracles of St. Benedict [Book II of the Dialogues] by Pope St. Gregory the Great. In Chapter 8, he tells the story of Benedict feeding a friendly raven a piece of bread at mealtime every day. Florentius, a rogue monk who was jealous of St. Benedict, gifted him a poison loaf of bread disguised as a fellowship offering. The pet raven started cawing loudly and crazily flapping its wings. Realizing it was tainted, St. Benedict ordered the raven to dispose of it where no person could consume it. The raven did as instructed and then returned for his treat, a morsel of bread from St. Benedict (p. 13). I found a sacred depiction of this event in a 13th century fresco located in Sacro Speco Monastery in Subiaco, Italy, titled, “The Stealing of the Poisoned Bread by the Crow.”

The Rule of Benedict is practical yet specific about the amount of bread distributed to each monk and why. Monks who were physically robust ate a vegetarian diet and relied on bread for strength and stamina, like runners who carb-load the night before a race. Bread also appeased them and quieted their mood. “An hour before mealtime, the kitchen workers of the week should each receive a drink and some bread over and above the regular portion, so that at mealtime, they may serve their brothers without grumbling or hardship” (Chapter 35, 12-13, p. 233). “A generous pound of bread is enough for a day whether for only one meal or for both dinner and supper. Should the work be harder than usual, the abbot has the authority to decide if something additional is allowed but overindulgence must be avoided. Young boys should not receive the same amount as their elders, but less, in keeping with frugality of the rule (Chapter 39, 6-9, p. 239). As shown in this section, St. Benedict retained common sense and equanimity in his approach to monastic living and developed strategies for reducing conflict.

Bread is the most consumed food in the world, and people enjoy eating it when it is freshly baked and the aroma permeates the room. That delicious smell is like a big hug, suggesting hospitality, kindness, comfort, and welcoming. Bread is important to us. Consuming the “good carbs,” the bread that nourishes us spiritually, helps us to be good servants, to build on our spiritual life, and to be present to others (Polan, G., Oblate World Congress, 9/23). As the sign on Highway 111 indicated, Jesus is the bread of life, and whoever eats the “good carbs” receives the gift of eternal life.

By Jan V. White, Oblate OSB

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