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Il Nostro Pane Quotidiano

December 15, 2022 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


“Our daily bread.”
Italians befuddle. One moment they’re boasting that socialism is the best form of government, while capitalism is by contrast awful. The next they’re complaining about the economic crisis. I’ve never seen the Italians go without their daily “pane,” however. We can easily believe that this is so more out of charity than efficiently functioning bureaucracy, an oxymoron if there ever was one.
Italian temperament has certainly not found its apogee in the effective organization of society since the fall of the Roman Empire. The mere frequency of the collapse of one Roman government and the cobbling together of another serves in itself as a unique news cycle. But the fact that one must travel to Italy to behold eighty percent of the world’s art treasures reveals the true genius of the Italians.
“Man does not live on bread alone” could serve well as the motto for artists of all kinds, as well as the Artist who, in creating everything out of nothing, continues to inspire every good and beautiful expression of the human mind and spirit. The Italians have fed the world for millennia with food spiritual and cultural.
Everyone has the capacity to taste and see beauty, rich or poor. It serves as a sustenance which is inexhaustible because capable of being handed down faithfully from generation to generation through conservation and preservation.
“The poor you will always have with you,” our Lord counseled. Whether capitalism or Communism, with whatever mix of control or freedom under which one labors, it is rather how we treat the poor by which we will be judged, not upon whether we have discovered the perfect system for finally and fully eradicating poverty itself from the face of the Earth. Perhaps our Lord here warns against seeking utopias which only ever exist in the mind. And the zeal which, in seeking the “final solution,” inflicts horrors and evils which are, in fact, an attack upon the human person himself, the very antithesis of sustaining with bread daily or otherwise.
We do know, however, that the culture inspired by the Church’s worship has flourished as goodness, truth, and beauty which draw souls from all over the world to the Italian peninsula, where I also find myself this week. One can go almost anywhere on the globe and find pieces of Rome whether in the lively or plastic arts, architecture, music, literature, culture in many different forms. It is here, in Italy however, that one must find the whole in situ.
After a transfer in Dublin, I landed mid-morning in Rome and the airport greeted me with its grungy-around-the-edges familiarity. A third plane of the new ITA airlines, which replaced the bankrupt Alitalia, transported me to my first stop near Venezia. Mestre is the mainland extension of Venice where I stayed with the Frati Cappuccini, the capuchin friars, for the first few nights. An old Italian friend who is well familiar with the order set me up to enjoy their hospitality, after many years in which my relationship with them has lapsed after my return to the United States.
One visit, more than twenty years ago, included a stay at the ancient friary of Il Redentore, named for the Redeemer, on the island of Giudecca in the Venetian lagoon. I made a short voyage then with the friars on an antique “caolina” boat across the lagoon and then up the Grand Canal to the area of the Rialto bridge for gelato. I remember well the old brick boathouse and the private walled gardens enclosed behind the church and convento, a sanctuary of silence in the midst of the bustling maritime metropolis.
In the Dominican church of Santa Anastasia in Verona, there in the choir where the friars intoned the Latin chants and prayers of the divine office, the ambo bears the words, “Thirst for the Word comes in silence.” Silence and prayer must be preserved as life itself with efforts both physical and spiritual, for prayer as our Lord teaches informs the “bread,” life sustained by the love which obediently does the will of the heavenly Father.
On this trip I accompany a friend who is seeing many places in Italy for the first time, but even within these very familiar parameters there will be much to discover, if not appreciate anew with rediscovery.
Upon my arrival among the friars, I encountered new acquaintances as well as old. Some members among the community here in the capuchin Venetian province recognized me from my visits years ago and welcomed me kindly. I dormed at Il Redentore as chaplain on liberty, aboard the aircraft carrier Ike while in port in 1998. I visited there again on an Italian pilgrimage up and down the peninsula for the Jubilee Year 2000.
I was blessed to share in their meals as well as witness their charity to the local poor with a daily “mensa,” or lunch, whereby they open their doors to feed about 150 needy locals. Daily bread is not physical only, however. As we sadly learned from the tragedies of the pandemic, privation of human contact inflicts a poverty of such spiritual and mental nature which mere material assistance cannot serve to succor. No doubt the company and charity of the friars which accompanies the experience of the meal serves to satisfy the needs intangible as well as physical of the whole of the human person.
I write to you from the sun-splashed refectory where the friars consume their meals in community. Over my head, on the wall above the table where I sit, hangs a painting of the Last Supper. It poured forth from the brush of Friar Simplex, a disciple of the master Veronese. In it we see our Lord and the apostles seated after His last meal. Christ bends down from one side of the frame to give Holy Communion to a wizened, white-haired Peter who kneels in adoration and gratitude. At the opposite extreme of view Judas huddles in conference with two confreres. On his belt is inscribed by the artist a warning against cupidity and a small dark devil hovers close by, suggesting evil and temptation, seeking his way through the weakness of the flesh. Despite the presence of the Lord, offering divine help, the human will so often disobeys. This is the poverty of rejecting that daily Bread which is Our Lord Himself, offered once for always on the cross and in every Holy Mass.
Greed and sin have afflicted the course of the Church and the world from the beginning, and the succeeding centuries have revealed neither a cessation of malice nor a limitless cooperation with the Divine. All too often we see ourselves written into those pages delineating the first days of the Gospel, either with the betrayal of Judas or the denial of Peter.
The mealtime of pranzo arrived in the midst of this writing. I cleared away my laptop and joined the friars in their midday meal. Fraternity and the Earth’s bounty shared serve together to sustain body and spirit. “Give us this day our daily Bread.” Amen.
Thank you for reading and praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

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