By Alex Gaynor
For those who have hunger, give bread.
For those who have bread, give a hunger for justice.
This Benedictine prayer was uttered by a Director of Loaves and Fishes, as he placed crosses around the necks of my community mates at our goodbye party last July. A few days after this commissioning, and after finishing up my year of service, I would be jetting back to the East Coast to start a new position as a Campus Minister at Saint Joseph’s University, a Jesuit university in Philadelphia.
I would no longer be working with those that didn’t have bread, like the children experiencing homelessness at my placement called, the Mustard Seed School. I would be serving those who had plenty of bread, the college students at a Jesuit university. But my task now was to provide them with a hunger for justice. One that would allow them to be with those who need bread.
At our closing retreat on the West Coast, one of our speakers mentioned that often, one “does not come all the way back from this experience.” A little piece of ourselves will always be stuck in this year of community, service, struggle, and growth; in a way that makes it challenging. Four months out of JVC, this sentiment rings as true as ever. I would love to share glowing accounts of how my JV experience has positively colored my ministry work, but in reality, it’s a lot grittier, challenging, and not something that can be wrapped up neatly in flowery language and tied with holy ribbon.
After spending a year accompanying families who may not know where they’ll sleep that night, or children who have experienced more trauma and hardship in a few years than some will experience in a lifetime, their stories have stuck with me more than I would have expected. I often struggle to take in the everyday stresses of college students. It can seem trivial in comparison to what I’ve come to know as a JV. At these times of less-than-saintly-ness, I’ve been reminded of this Benedictine prayer. What I remind myself everyday, and what I hope all newly minted FJVs can aim to do, is to reflect deeply on how to enflesh that hunger for justice that we’ve experienced.
How are we called to be prophets of joy and disciples of the gritty truth we’ve come to know through our service? I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but I do have a vision: keep sharing. Sharing yourself, your passions, your experiences, the stories you’ve heard, the lives you’ve encountered, the truth behind the issues facing society’s most vulnerable people. It’s in the times when I don’t bring to life the stories I encountered last year, that I feel a distance and disheartening with the students that I serve now. If we don’t continuously breathe life into the stories that touched the innermost chambers of our hearts as JVs, then the vision can get lost.
Whether you’re still serving bread, or are trying to inspire some much needed hunger for justice within others, know that it’s all of upmost and holy value. Through ministry, I have found that if we aren’t acting as disciples to inspire this type of holy hunger within young people, then we may not have people to serve the much-needed bread to the world.
And with that, comes a knowledge that perhaps these young people need bread too, despite it looking a bit different than the bread needed by society’s most marginalized. It’s all a beautiful, messy, holy circle of communion, and the bit of solace I have found has been a further realization that we are all companions on this journey of life, and we are called to influence one another in profound ways. Whether that be through bread or hunger or both, each helps bring us all to the table of community, faith, love, and justice.
By Alex Gaynor,
Alex was a Jesuit Volunteer in Sacramento, CA (2015-2016) at
Loaves and Fishes: Mustard Seed School.