“I have food to eat that you do not know about.”


A Bicycle in the grounds of a cloister or church

Why is it that we fast? Is hunger a good thing? Certainly starvation is one of the world’s great evils. Around the world, 200 million people will starve today. I come from a country where - not so very long ago - eight out of every 10 people were lost to probably the worst famine there has ever been - anywhere. Don’t try to tell us that hunger is a good thing!

But a little hunger can be a good thing. A little hunger reminds us that human food and drink sustains us only for a short time. We need something deeper to sustain us into eternal life. That is why we come to the Eucharist. So, I want to tell you about the moment when I came to understand that.

Nearly thirty years ago, I set out with a friend on a pilgrimage by bicycle from Lindisfarne to Land’s End, the length of England - a journey of over a thousand miles. After a day’s hard riding, we came to a little village high in the Peak District called Matlock to stay the night. We were tired; we were hungry; we were unhappy and we didn’t know why we were doing this stupid pilgrimage in the first place. But it was an important feast day - Corpus Christi - and we knew that the first thing we wanted to do was to go to Mass. And we knew there was a priest in the village. So after we had parked the bikes, we went and knocked on his door. He opened the door and we asked, “Is there a Mass?” He was angry at being disturbed - well maybe he had been doing something more important - and he said, “No, it was earlier - you’ve missed it; come back tomorrow.”

We didn’t say anything, but I think he could see to look at us that we were terribly disappointed. So, he changed his mind and he said he would offer a short Mass specially for us. So he brought us into the chapel and began the Mass. At the start, you could see anger and impatience in his every word and gesture. But as the Mass went on, you could see the Holy Spirit working in him, bringing him to peace. His words became slower; his gestures more solemn and reverent. And he really started to pray the Mass. We prayed with him. We received communion and prayed for a little while. And then we went on our way. And as we left, he said something beautiful, something that made me know that I too wanted to be a priest - he said, “Thank you - Thank you for being hungry for the Eucharist.”

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to see the Spirit working in someone else? As we left the Church, I noticed that my friend now seemed much stronger, much brighter, much more positive than when we had arrived in the village. It was only many days later that I realised that I felt it too. And we could now remember why it was important for us to do this pilgrimage. We were searching for direction - the Will of God - in our own lives. And now, in the Eucharist, we had received the food and the drink we needed for our journey - food and drink that would last us - in fact did last us - the whole journey of more than a thousand miles.

Let us give thanks to God who gives us food that even we don’t know about.

Paul O'Reilly SJ

Originally written for the Farm street church parish newsletter