ROME — Five loaves are enough to change the world, papal retreat master Fr. Ermes Ronchi told Pope Francis and members of the Roman Curia on Wednesday morning, as they entered the third full day of their Lenten retreat in the Roman hillside town of Ariccia.
Transparency regarding the Church’s assets, and the broader question of the fight against hunger and food waste, were two key points raised in this morning’s meditation based on Jesus’ question to the disciples: “How many loaves do you have?” (Mark 6:38, Matt. 15:34).
“What hurts Christian people most,” papal retreat master Fr. Ermes Ronchi told the pope and members of the Curia, “is the clergy’s attachment to money,” while “what makes it happy is bread that is shared.
“There are people so hungry that, for them, God cannot have the form of bread.” Life begins with hunger, and “to be alive is to be hungry,” Fr. Ermes said as he opened the meditation. And if you look at the wider picture, there is mass starvation, “a siege of the poor,” millions of outstretched hands asking for something to eat, not for “a religious definition.” How does the Church respond? the papal retreat master asked.
No smoke screens
Commenting on the Gospel account of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, Fr. Ronchi analyzed the scene: The disciples asked Jesus to send the crowd away to buy themselves something to eat. But Jesus answers, telling them to give the crowd something to eat. When the twelve object given how much money would have to be spent, the Master asks: “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”
Jesus “is very practical,” Fr. Ronchi observed. He asks them to “do the math,” and he doesn’t stop asking, even today:
“All disciples — including me — are asked to check their assets. How much do you have? How much money, how many things? What is your standard of living? Go and see, check. How many cars or how much jewelry do you have in the form of crosses or rings? The Church shouldn’t be afraid of transparency, of clarity regarding her loaves and fish and accounts. Five loaves and two fish.”
Sharing is multiplying
“With transparency comes truthfulness. And when you are true, you are also free,” the papal retreat master said. Like Jesus, who “was never bought by anybody” and “never entered the palaces of the powerful, except as a prisoner.” When transparency and freedom aren’t present, Fr. Ronchi continued, one holds back, like religious orders that try to manage their assets as though this could produce the security that’s been eroded by the vocations crisis. By contrast, Jesus’ logic is one of gift. In the Gospel, “loving” translates into “giving.” The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves shows us that Jesus “pays no attention to the quantity” of bread. What he wants is that our bread is shared:
“According to a mysterious divine rule, when my bread becomes our bread, then even what is little becomes sufficient. By contrast, hunger begins when I hold on to my bread for myself, when the satiated West holds onto its bread, its fish and its assets for itself (…) Feeding the world, the whole world, is possible. There is bread in abundance. We don’t need to multiply it, we just need to distribute it, beginning with ourselves. We don’t need miraculous multiplications; we need to beat the Goliath of selfishness, of wasting food and accumulation by a few.”
“The hunger of others has rights over me”
“Give and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be put into your lap …” This promise of Jesus contains “the mysterious, immense economy of giving and the hundredfold that defies balance sheets,” Fr. Ronchi said. This “comforts me,” he said, “because it shows that final truth follows the logic of gift, not observance.” And “the ultimate question will be: ‘Have you given little or have you give much to life?’ Life depends on this, not on assets,” Fr. Ronchi concluded.
Five loaves are enough to change the world: “The miracle is the five loaves and two fish which the nascent Church placed trustfully in the hands of Jesus, without calculating, and without holding back anything for herself and for her own supper. It was very little, but it was all she had. It was little, but it was the disciples’ whole supper. It is a drop in the bucket, but it is that drop which can give meaning and hope to life.”
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.