Last week, millions around the world were shocked to hear that an American hunter had gunned down a beloved lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe.
But there is another important story that also attracted attention, though it didn’t spark as much media coverage or outrage. But it should have.
I’m speaking of the undercover videos involving Planned Parenthood—showing how workers there have been killing the unborn and harvesting their tissue for sale. The videos are horrific and upsetting. They’ve prompted renewed debate in Washington about the funding of Planned Parenthood. Some have even called the videos a tipping point in the pro-life movement, one that could permanently change public perception about abortion.
Like many around the world, the writer Kathryn Jean Lopez watched those videos and she felt something had to be done, that there needed to be a Catholic response. She decided to use the most powerful weapon at our disposal: prayer. Kathryn put together a Holy Hour at St. Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan and contacted as many people as she could, and said if you are in New York, and can make it, please be there. If not, try to join us in prayer anyway.
She got a remarkable reaction. The word was spread on Facebook and Twitter. Many who could not be there in person said they would be there in prayer, joining from different time zones.
St. Vincent Ferrer is just a short walk from my office. So I went. I wasn’t prepared for what I would experience—or how powerfully that experience would speak to me of the gospel we just heard.
At 3 o’clock Friday afternoon, there we were: a small group, a couple dozen of us, gathered in an un- air conditioned church on a hot July afternoon to sit in silence and pray. Outside the church doors, people were heading to the Hamptons, or dragging their suitcases to the train station to start vacations, or hailing taxis to head home. But we were there, in that vast, darkened church, kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament.
A Dominican priest named Fr. Aquinas presided. He read the gospel of St. Luke, and the account of the Visitation, with the beautiful words of the Magnificat. And he reminded us that one of the great themes of the Magnificat is mercy—God’s mercy for those he loves. Pray, Fr. Aquinas said, for all the women recovering from abortions, all those considering abortion, all those involved in the abortion industry. Pray for mercy. Pray for healing.
A few moments later, as I looked up at the host in the monstrance, to my surprise the words of St. John’s gospel came flooding back to me. And it was all so clear.
“I am the bread of life.”
There it was, before me.
It all came down to this: a sliver of bread behind a piece of glass. This presence, this Real Presence, changed everything. It changes everything…for everyone.
Friday, in silence, the presence of Christ in that monstrance spoke volumes. At the end of a week consumed by death, it stood before us proclaiming life.
“I am the bread of life.”
The readings from St. John’s gospel that we’re encountering right now are often called the “Bread of Life discourse.” It started with the feeding of the five thousand last weekend. In the gospel today, we see the aftershocks of that miracle: we find people seeking out Jesus, looking for him, trying to understand what happened. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll hear more questions and more answers about what happened —and those answers won’t always be what Christ’s followers want to hear.
Some of his disciples didn’t realize that this miracle was, like all of his miracles, a sign—one that even now points to something greater, to SOMEONE greater.
The beautiful message here is that Christ does more than just provide food for those who want a meal.
He feeds all who hunger—in every way.
Friday afternoon at St. Vincent’s, I found myself thinking of those who are living with the aftermath of abortion—who hunger for forgiveness and healing.
There are those who hunger for compassion and dignity.
Others hunger for a way out or a way forward—and still others hunger, very simply, for love.
To all of them—to all of us—Christ says: stop. Stop searching. Stop doubting. Stop fearing the future or regretting your past. Come to me and your search is over. Your hunger will end.
Because “I am the bread of life.”
This morning, as we come forward for communion—hands outstretched to receive that bread in a most intimate and tangible way—let us pray.
Pray for all who are in pain. Pray for those who are suffering because of abortion. Pray, as Fr. Aquinas said, for mercy and for healing. Pray for those who are quietly working to transform the culture of death into one of life.
If there is some good that will come out of the horror of these Planned Parenthood videos, it is that more people are finally awakening to the brutality of abortion—brutality that goes on around us every day—and more will now want to see it end.
Friday afternoon, we concluded our Holy Hour with Benediction. Here at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, our Benediction always includes a well-known prayer before communion, composed in part from the words of St. Augustine. I want to leave you with these words before we receive communion today.
They are words of hope for a world that is not only hungry, but starving:
Father in heaven, you have made us for yourself; our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Fulfill this longing through Jesus, the bread of life, so that we may witness to him who alone satisfies the hungers of the human family. By the power of your Spirit lead us to the heavenly table where we may feast on the vision of your glory forever and ever. Amen.