In the scene of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, St. Mark highlights that the encounter with Jesus doesn’t take away any responsibility from the men and women who have begun to live a friendship with Him. In this episode of the first friends of Jesus finding themselves powerless in front of the challenge of feeding more than five thousand people, God helps us understand how He himself lives and acts with us. And it is precisely in this education that he gives us true freedom.
The Apostles want to disentangle themselves from the problem: “Dismiss them so that they can go to the surrounding farms and villages and buy themselves something to eat” (Mk, 6:36). They, too, expect that someone will resolve the problems of the poor: God, the state, some institution, an NGO. The others are a problem for “someone else” to resolve. Jesus uses the imperative, almost a command, to respond to his disciples’ lack of humanity: “Give them some food yourselves” (Mk, 6:37). Jesus requires those who are with Him to take care of others themselves. Those who meet God are required to say “I” in front of Him and in front of others. Christ knows that man’s difficulty is this lack of protagonism in life: man always waits for someone – always an abstract someone – to decide and act for him. For this reason, Jesus came to give us back the freedom that we had lost, because freedom is the courage to say “I” in front of the problems and difficulties of daily life, which means that no one can decide for us. When Jesus sees his disciples waking up and beginning to think, that is, to take on responsibility themselves, a strong “we” is born. This “we” of the Church is made up of many individual protagonists who live, not spectators who merely exist.
Miracles occur whenever man recognizes his inadequacy and powerlessness in front of the most difficult circumstances in life. From that awareness is born the most vibrant expression of dependence, which we call prayer. The vibrant man’s first move is letting himself be struck by reality; the second is saying “I”; and the third is discovering his own powerlessness and, therefore, begging. In this way, prayer becomes the most realistic aspect of man in front of his destiny. Begging is the preamble of charity. The result of this equation will always be love, that is, gratuitous interest in the other solely because he exists: a moved gift of oneself for the other as Fr. Giussani said.
We must be truly happy and grateful that we too can take part in this same education. God continues to instruct us in the freedom and protagonism of life. Concretely, to not disengage ourselves from reality, He gave us the life of the St. Raphael Foundation. The Foundation helps us say “I” in front of the problems of hunger, health, old age, education, and of the many people who need concrete help from someone. Every work of God forces us to come face to face not only with the poor but also with the ways and means that God uses in order to enter into our life and educate us. Fr. Aldo shows us that God needs people to realize His Presence among us. Everything that has been born around him has also made us protagonists in this work.
Refusing to do God’s work does not just mean abandoning the poor; curiously, it does not even just mean abandoning God. Refusing to do God’s work means abandoning our own freedom, refusing to be real men in the world, conscious of the fact that what is at stake is the only thing that can move the world, especially today’s world which is in such great need of witnesses to His presence.
Grateful for Fr. Aldo’s “yes”, we give thanks as well for the gift of his life, which is the most concrete witness we have that it is possible to live this way, and the clearest example of the fact that God has repeated that same miracle of the Gospel in front of us: He has fed more than five thousand people in front of our eyes. In His mercy, God didn’t give us an NGO but a presence, a sign of his true presence among us, the true poor ones.
In the image: J. Tissot. The Multiplication of the Loaves. 1896.