Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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The Die is Cast in the Presidential Election
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Saturday, June 19, 2004The Die is Cast in the Presidential Election
William Kristol of The Weekly Standard appeared yesterday evening on PBS's Lehrer News Hour and baldly stated that Kerry made a "mistake" in charging that the Bush administration misled the nation into the Iraq War. Kerry charged that Bush and Cheney lied about Iraq's contacts with Osama Bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist organization (see Washington Post story, June 18, 2004):
The problem is, as Kristol's own publication has documented, that those contacts and ties did indeed exist, as corroborated even by Clinton administration officials. Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard makes that clear in his most recent article criticizing the misreporting (calculated in my opinion) of statements by the 9/11 Commission (see article).
Kerry jumped the gun, caught up in the misreporting concerning the 9/11 Commission's statements by the liberal media, especially the New York Times whose inaccurate reporting has been forcefully challenged by Vice President Cheney as "outrageous." As a result of Kerry's error, the major divide in this election is now clear: Kerry's campaign is based on the allegation that the President lied to the American people about Iraq's ties to al Qaeda. Yet those ties did indeed exist. In addition, Kerry apparently spoke before taking into account yesterday's statement by President Putin of Russia--who opposed the Iraq War--but nevertheless confirmed that Iraq was planning terror attacks in the U.S. before the war began and that this information had been passed on to the U.S. government.
Saddam Hussein was obsessed, after the first Gulf War, with exacting revenge against the U.S. That's why he plotted to assassinate the first President Bush and why the Clinton administration retaliated against Saddam for that plot. That's why Saddam was planning terrorist attacks in the U.S. That's why Saddam had extensive connections with terrorists, some of whom were active within Iraq's police state with Saddam's knowledge and approval. Those terrorists included al Qaeda. There is no doubt that Saddam was actively pursuing weapons of mass destruction to advance his aims. Given these facts and the continued defiance of U.N. resolutions on disarmament, war was inevitable.
Any U.S. President who, in the face of all of this and especially in the aftermath of September 11th, would sit on his hands would be derelict in his sworn obligation to protect the nation. Yet, Kerry is in effect now saying that in the face of this grave threat he would not have overthrown Saddam Hussein. If Kerry had been president, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today planning attacks against the U.S. That Hussein is in fact now a prisoner of the U.S. means that an extremely dangerous terrorist dictator of a terror state is out of commission. For that reason, you and I and our families are safer.
The American public, in the midst of a Terror War unleashed upon us on September 11th, now has a clear choice: a President Kerry who believes in doing nothing in the face of a grave and gathering threat and a President Bush who will take no more chances with the possibility of another and deadlier September 11th. In the privacy of the voting booth, the moment of truth will come. Between a do-nothing Kerry and a forceful Bush, the choice in a time of war is clear.
Never has Catholic or Christian teaching asked for a nation in the midst of a war for its survival to do nothing in the face of attack and the threat of attack. In fact, the Christian is morally obligated to protect the common good. And, in the end, that is all President Bush has done and will do. The moral weakness that allows Kerry to comfortably support abortion on demand is the same moral weakness that allows him to imagine living comfortably with the grave threat of Saddam Hussein. It is a moral weakness based on an extreme, dithering reluctance to confront evil. To elect a man like that as President in the midst of a global war on terror is to surrender our fate into the hands of our enemies. Under Kerry, our enemies would drive events in this war, not the U.S. And that would be a sin against the common good.
Update: The U.K. Telegraph online points out how the misreporting of the links between Iraq and al Qaeda is a result of media hostility to Bush and Blair ("There was a link between Saddam and al-Qa'eda,", by Melanie Phillips, June 20, 2004, U.K. Telegraph).
Friday, June 18, 2004U.S. Bishops Call for No Honors or Platform for Pro-Abortion Politicians
In a statement issued today entitled "Catholics in Political Life" (June 18, 2004), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for Catholic institutions to refuse honors or a platform for pro-abortion politicians, whether Catholic or non-Catholic:
Source: U.S.C.C.B. Website.
This means that we should not see John Kerry holding campaign events at Catholic schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, or soup kitchens. Kerry will have to limit his photo opportunities with Catholic symbols to his entering and exiting Catholic churches for Mass.
On the issue of denying Communion, the Conference recognizes that the decision is in the hands of individual bishops:
Source: U.S.C.C.B. link above.
This stand is not a concession. The Conference cannot bind the hands of any bishop in this matter. St. Louis Archbishop Burke and other brave bishops are completely free to deny the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians. Obviously, Cardinal Ratzinger, in his letter to U.S. bishops, must have upheld the power of bishops to deny the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians. Hopefully, this green light from the Vatican will mean that more bishops will play the man and defend the Sacrament. To repeat, the Vatican has given the green light to bishops who think it is necessary to deny the Eucharist to politicians like Kerry.
The conference statement also shows that the view apparently held by some that Catholic teaching requires leaving the decision on whether to receive the Eucharist solely to the individual communicant's conscience is wrong.
This statement is a victory for those who see the need to deny the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians like Kerry. It is a victory because for decades the status quo has been that these politicians can receive Communion with impunity. This statement recognizes that the status quo is changing. And that is a victory for the right to life.
Postscript: The Archdiocese of New York sponsors the Al Smith Dinner as a fundraiser which is a big media event with speeches by the presidential candidates. If, as the bishops' statement says, the Catholic community should not provide a platform for pro-abortion politicians, then Kerry should not be allowed to address the gathering. Let's see what transpires. See this N.Y. Times editorial from May 10, 2004, already bemoaning the fact that Kerry may not be allowed to speak at the dinner.
Update: Catholic World News carries an analysis of the bishops' statement that supports my own positive assessment at this link (Catholic World News, June 29, 2004, "U.S. bishops rejected task force statement on Communion," by Culture of Life Foundation).
Change is a Function of Truth
Change is in the air for Catholics in the U.S. The upcoming nomination of adamantly pro-abortion Senator Kerry for president has brought to a head tensions that have been increasing for years. Church teaching is crystal clear that the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to life of the innocent. Issues like the death penalty or military conflict are not on the same level. Kerry, although Catholic, is an extremely ardent supporter of legal abortion. Kerry is even worse than some other Democrats because he even opposes a ban on partial birth abortion. Some southern Democrats have found it necessary to draw the line at partial birth abortion. So much for Massachusetts being a Catholic state. With a schizophrenic Catholic electorate like that in Massachusetts, the Church is better off with more Southern Baptist voters.
Archbishop Burke, as the previous post shows, has just as adamantly stood his ground that Kerry should be denied the Eucharist. Burke's common sense logic is unassailable and grounded in canon law, Scripture, Eucharistic theology, and the magisterium. As I have noted, Burke has become the New Athanasius for American Catholics. The power of one man standing ramrod straight for the truth should never be underestimated. The previous post contains a link to Burke's most recent writing on the issue. It is a delightful call to battle--a call that should have been made years ago.
On the other hand, it is clear that some clerics are in fact "pro-choice" although they know better than to explicitly admit their view for attribution. As Paul VI said, the smoke of Satan is in the Church. That some clerics actually welcome Kerry with open arms to the Eucharist is evidence of that smoke. But as the saints have taught us, Satan has a tendency to cut and run in the face of bold assertion of the truth. Lies and self-deception are the stuff of his arsenal. But the truth boldly and persistently stated disperses the lies.
E-mail a bishop, write a letter to the editor. Pray and keep speaking out. We may be at a turning point at which an American Church for too long cowed by the Culture of Death may be ready to march. We know with certainty that victory belongs to the truth because the Person who is the Truth left behind an empty tomb.
Thursday, June 17, 2004The New Athanasius in St. Louis
Like Athanasius who is said to have virtually stood alone in turning back the Arian heresy in the early Church, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis, Missouri, is standing tall for the truth. My reaction to the article at the following link is: Wow! Habemus episcopum! We have a bishop!
The article was published in America magazine and is available at this link ("Catholic politicians and bishops," by Most Rev. Raymond L. Burke, June 21-28th issue). Truth is powerful. The silence has been broken. Like the emperor without clothes, the scandal of inaction is there for all to see. In secular language, we say that history will be the judge. More accurately, the Lord of history will be the judge.
Icon of Misdirected Emotions: Bill Clinton
Self-absorption on a gargantuan scale elicits no shame in today's America. Years ago, there was a bestseller entitled Looking Out for No. 1 preaching a gospel of self-absorption and self-promotion as virtues. Today's America has in many ways accepted that gospel of ego as an unquestioned part of the landscape. In another time, self-promotion was viewed as bad form. Your actions were supposed to speak for themselves, and it was up to others to offer praise. Emotions did not make facts. Facts elicited emotions.
Bill Clinton is currently putting on display the reigning power of self-absorption. Recently, we saw the Clintons basking in nostalgic self-absorption when unveiling their portraits at the White House. Soon Bill Clinton's new autobiography will be released--a book that is unlikely to shed the light of truth on anything of significance. Instead, we will likely get a surrealistic view of events, a view that will affirm the ego and nobility of the main character.
What is most striking about this prominent example of baby boomer self-absorption is its emotionalism. Emotions when directed at moral challenges are greatly needed. Outrage at abortion on demand, at the incessant pornographic assault of the media, at the moral debasement of our young people, especially girls and women, are in short supply. There is a curious stoicism and emotional restraint about assaults on life and on human dignity. But, when it comes to matters of self-absorption and one's ego, our culture gives emotionalism free rein.
Because of his public stature, Bill Clinton is an icon of this misdirected emotionalism. What does Bill Clinton get emotional about? We know that Ronald Reagan was deeply and emotionally committed to fighting the evils of Communism. What is Clinton deeply and emotionally committed to? The closest thing to such emotional commitment that I have come across is his commitment to civil rights for all races. But that is an old battle from another era, initiated and won by others. It is an emotional commitment with no current cutting edge: there is no serious social debate that all citizens should have their civil rights protected. It is now a noncontroversial verity or piety of our culture.
Is Clinton's emotional commitment then to a balanced budget and rising stock market? It appears from the media that he views those as his greatest accomplishments as President. Like the issue of civil rights, that is an emotional commitment that is too banal, too common in today's America. We all agree that a prosperous economy is good. In a culture where moral consensus on crucial issues has broken down, malleable moralists, like Clinton, can always comfortably fall back on one of our culture's few noncontroversial moral absolutes: more money is good.
In my view, what seems clear from Clinton's behavior and comments, is that his primary emotional commitment is to himself. In the wake of Ronald Reagan's death, the media carried an odd interview--about which I have seen no commentary-- in which Bill Clinton waxed in emotional, rapt tones about the late President. It even seemed from looking at his eyes that he was on the verge of tears. Some trial lawyers are adept at giving the same impression before a jury. It was, in my view, another exercise in self-absorption: he emotionally appropriated Reagan as part of himself, however nonsensical such a link is on its face. Here is the typical baby boomer mentality on display: absorb everything and coopt everything, however alien, to bolster yourself.
At the recent unveiling of the portraits at the White House, Clinton spoke of Theodore Roosevelt and referred to TR as "macho" and as someone who while "scared to death" still did the right thing (see CNN transcript). The language is psychobabble about feelings inappropriate for serious public comment. Yet, that is the signature language of our culture of self-absorption that cannot be repressed even in public.
Finally, in an upcoming interview with Dan Rather, Clinton refers to his fighting impeachment as a "badge of honor." Again, emotions process reality and change it into something unrecognizable. Just as he emotionally transformed Ronald Reagan into his new "hero" to match the mood of the moment, just as he projected his own emotional insecurities onto Theodore Roosevelt, Clinton now emotionally transforms the dishonor of his impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice into a fictitious badge of honor.
We are seeing self-absorption of gargantuan proportions on display. It is everywhere. Clinton is just one prominent version of what is endemic. It is almost like an extended adolescence--well into one's fifties.
Wednesday, June 16, 2004American Life League: Bold and Effective Newspaper Ad
You can see at this link (PDF document) the newspaper ad that the American Life League is currently sponsoring (the link may be somewhat slow in loading). I saw the full page ad in today's print edition of USA Today. The ad, as you will see, boldly states the simple truth: stop the sacrilege of pro-abortion politicians receiving the Eucharist. The ad also cites the relevant canon (c. 915) in the Code of Canon Law, plus sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In response to this ad, some will bemoan the rise of "factionalism" and any attempt to lobby the bishops by advertising. The problem with that complaint is that orthodoxy is not a faction. Orthodoxy is the Church. American Life League is seeking to foster respect for the Eucharist and to protect the Eucharist from sacrilege, consistent with the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism. Factionalism is when a group seeks to impose its own doctrines in place of revealed doctrine. In contrast, the American Life League is defending revealed doctrine.
As to lobbying bishops, that is also a right recognized by canon law. In an anti-Catholic society and in a Church where heretics and the heterodox are highly active and organized, the bold articulation of the authentic sense of the faithful is all the more necessary and urgent. Every bishop should welcome such bold articulation. Thanks to the American Life League for speaking up for so many Catholics who are tired of excessive compromise and are hungry for bold leadership from our bishops. The time for boldness is now.
Turning the Other Cheek Is Not Retreat
In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we have the famous words of Jesus that we should turn the other cheek, give the shirt off our back if our coat is taken, and go the extra mile if we are forced to go one mile (Mt 5:38-42; Lk 6:29-30). These are words about responding with heroic generosity, instead of with fearful retribution. Yet, these are, as is often said, hard sayings. The Scriptures are so rich in divine meaning that no one writer, no one meditation can ever do justice to their depth. That is certainly true of these famous passages. But common sense tells us that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. Grasping imperfectly part of the rich message of the Bible is a good thing for us humans to do. And so I offer my own thoughts on these hard sayings.
The prestigious New Jerome Biblical Commentary comments on the ethic of non-resistance found in these words by pointing out that non-resistance is not the exclusively available Christian response in conflict. The commentator writes that the type of Christian response depends on the moral stage of one's enemy. If the enemy is the Gestapo, it is better not to give up the Jew hiding in the cellar. If the enemy is a segregationist Southern governor in the sixties or the indifference of American public opinion, then Martin Luther King, Jr., proved that civil disobedience can be powerfully effective. If the enemy is an expansionist Soviet Union, Ronald Reagan proved that standing one's ground with strength without mincing words can be devastatingly effective.
But even if the non-resistance described by Jesus is not meant to be the only option for Christians, that non-resistance is surely being taught as the epitome of the Christian response. We have heard these words so many time that many of us just ignore them. Most of us would probably be able to admit that we treat these words as so much rhetoric or exaggeration that paints a good but impossible ideal. Many of us just glaze over these famous words because we just don't know what to do with them.
But if we look closely and think about these words, they can stir us. In Matthew's version, Jesus calls us not to resist evildoers. As we have said, this command cannot apply to all evildoers of all kinds. The Church--the Body of Christ guided by the Holy Spirit--teaches that we have the right of self-defense. This right of self-defense taught by the Church cannot contradict any other part of divine revelation. But let's focus on the words "no resistance." In certain situations, we are indeed not to resist. But not resisting does not mean doing nothing. It is not a command to do nothing.
In daily life, not resisting does not mean not announcing the truth. "No resistance" does not mean "no truth." In many situations, people approach us with hostility. In some cases, that hostility is nothing more than a cover for envy. The usual way to respond is with equal hostility and even vitriol. We then feel satisfied and proud that we have held our own and shown that we cannot be pushed around, that we are people to be reckoned with. But the Gospel can mold our response in another direction. The conventional expectation is to hit back in the same way that we are hit. The powerful Gospel alternative is to change the game, to refuse to play on the game board set before us by our enemies.
A powerful way to change the game of hostility is to state the truth. Not shouting the truth, not pushing the truth, but simply and calmly stating the truth about what our enemies have really said. And so what the enemy is met with is not the same aggression they have meted out, but with a challenge to think about what they are saying or doing. The goal of trying something different from conventional tit-for-tat is to transform the enemy. That transformation recognizes that the enemy is created in the image of God with a rational nature that is vulnerable to the truth. Saying the truth is fruitful. It never returns empty. It is the mustard seed that should never be underestimated.
So if we turn the other cheek in this way, we are showing our enemy all that we are. We are giving him the whole truth that we have. If we hand over the shirt off our back, we are giving all that we value--all the truth that we have-- to our enemy. If we go the extra mile with our enemy, we recognize that the enemy is a fellow human being who is really asking for help. We give him that help. If we give to the one who asks of us, we are giving him what he most needs: the truth we ourselves have received as a gift from God, even while we ourselves were still God's enemies.
In daily life, these hard sayings are powerful weapons to transform our enemies. It is foolish to skip these famous words. They offer us victory for all concerned in many common situations. Instead of humiliating the enemy, what Jesus recommends can transform the enemy. And, in some cases, we may even learn some transforming truth ourselves because of our enemies.
Tuesday, June 15, 2004More on Vatican and Communion Debate
Back on June 5th, I commented on a story from Catholic News Service which gave the impression that the Vatican might somehow restrain those courageous bishops saying they would deny the Eucharist to pro-abortion celebrity politicians. Now, Catholic News Service has followed with a story dated June 11th which is all over the place but, in my opinion, appears to signal that the Vatican is happy to let bishops like Archbishop Burke in St. Louis and Bishop Sheridan in Colorado Springs play a long overdue prophetic role on the problem of pro-abortion Catholic politicians. The key statement in the article is the admission as an undisputed fact that a bishop can indeed deny the Eucharist to a pro-abortion politician. Here is how the article states the matter:
Source: Catholic News Service, "No easy answer: U.S. debate over Communion reverbates at Vatican," by John Thavis, 6/11/05.
In addition, the same article notes as follows:
Source: See above link.
How does all this fit into my prior analysis of the situation? In my prior June 5th post, I ruled out that the Vatican would just prohibit denial of the Eucharist to these politicians, because canon law and Eucharistic theology in fact support denial. The latest article supports that conclusion.
I also opined that the Vatican, given its concern, would take some sort of stand, most likely one providing guidelines so that bishops proceed carefully in this matter. If the Vatican sources in this latest article are reliable, then it seems that this is exactly what will happen: the Vatican will urge care and provide guidelines but leave the decision in the hands of individual bishops. And it is important to note, as the latest CNS article does, that an individual bishop cannot be hamstrung by the bishops' conference:
Source: See above link.
So the handful of prophetic bishops can take comfort. As these bishops already know, since some of them are knowledgeable canonists themselves, they are on solid ground in taking the prophetic actions that have generated so much media coverage. In addition, these bishops were right in stepping forward and leading instead of waiting for the bishops' conference task force which does not appear to be in any hurry to address the scandal created by the pro-abortion politicians.
Monday, June 14, 2004Catholic Does Mean Universal
Sometimes a small news story exposes the chasm between Catholicism and the rest of American culture in a way that even the big stories can fail to do. Recently, the N.Y. Times reported on a story that it is amazing that it even bothered to cover: that American Catholics are asking Catholic priests in India to offer Masses for special intentions and, of course, paying the customary offering associated with such requests ("Short on Priests, U.S. Catholics Outsource Prayers to Indian Clergy," by Saritha Rai, 6/13/04). Why would a major newspaper bother with that story? Even more intriguing, why would this major newspaper present this practice as somehow sinister or even vaguely scandalous? The implied thesis of the article is that this practice is unseemly and means that American Catholicism is on the verge of collapse and that Indian priests are somehow corrupt.
Well, if "catholic" means universal, the practice of American Catholics requesting Masses from Indian priests is not anything that is even remotely bad or unseemly. Rather, this practice is an expression of the heart of Catholicism: Catholicism as a universal communion. This universal communion encompasses Americans and Asian Indians. At the same time, when memorial Masses are involved, this now newsworthy practice shows that the universal communion of Catholicism includes the dead. As Cardinal Ratzinger does not tire of pointing out, the Church must be viewed "diachronically"-- literally, "through time"--and not merely synchronically, that is, focused only on the present or same time. As a result, Ratzinger concludes:
Ratzinger, Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today (Ignatius Press, 1996), p. 99.
In addition to Ratzinger's point that a majority in the Church extends through time, it is also clear that a majority in the Church extends through geography. So the story of Asian Indian priests saying Mass for the intentions of American Catholics is a perfect concrete illustration of the nature of the Catholic Church. She encompasses the living throughout the world and the dead in another world. It all comes down to the traditional description of the Church, seldom heard in American homilies today, the Church Militant on earth, the Church Triumphant in heaven, and the Church Suffering in purgatory. All of those form the one Catholic Church. To split off the Church Militant from the others is to be left with a denomination or club, not a Church.
Ratzinger emphasizes this difference between a Church and a mere denomination holding periodic assemblies or conventions where resolutions are adopted by majority vote. He notes about majorities:
Ratzinger, p. 154.
In fact, Ratzinger quotes another cardinal on this point. Cardinal Meisner wrote that "[d]emocracy in the Church means to accord the right to be heard in the present-day generation of Christians to the generations who have believed, hoped, loved and suffered before us" (Ratzinger, p. 154 note 9). Ratzinger comments again that "[i]n fact majority in the Church can never exist only synchronically but in essence is always purely diachronic, because the saints of all times are alive and because they are the true Church" (Ibid.).
And so we can see the great losses inflicted by the Protestant Reformation's rejection of prayers for the dead and de-emphasis on the role of saints. Even worse, we see the stunning myopia of liberal or modernist Catholics who strip our churches of images of the saints and treat purgatory as a medieval fiction. These so-called "reforms" are no more than attempts to dismember the Church.
So when an Asian priest says a Mass for a soul in purgatory, it is a reflection that the soul in purgatory is as much a part of the Church as any Catholic walking on earth. When an Asian priest invokes in the Mass the intercession of a saint or commemorates a saint in the course of praying for the intentions of an American Catholic, that priest is literally "being Church." If I were a non-Catholic reading about this exotic practice of international Mass intentions in the Catholic Church, I would want to be part of that Church, that communion of the living across the earth and including the dead. If a Catholic, I would once again have proof that I am in the right place.
Sunday, June 13, 2004Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: Gn 14:18-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; Lk 9:11b-17
In Genesis, in a way, Christ makes his first appearance in the form of Melchizedek who, as Christ would do much later in the Gospels, brings out bread and wine, as a "priest of God Most High." The book of Hebrews in the New Testament clearly links Christ to Melchizedek. This first "eucharist" was a thanksgiving for the deliverance of Abram from his enemies. This first "eucharist" (which in Greek means "thanksgiving") became a source of blessing for Abram who received the blessing of God's priest. Let us allow Scripture to comment on Scripture:
Hebrews 7:2b-3 (RSV).
In my personal opinion, who else could Melchizedek be but Jesus Christ, the king of righteousness and peace, the pre-existing Word without human genealogy, the Alpha and the Omega? This is only a private opinion, but it is certainly defensible.
In First Corinthians, Paul passes on the tradition about the institution of the Eucharist. The New Melchizedek offers again the bread and wine for our blessing. In Genesis, Abram responded to Melchizedek with a tithe of "everything." Today, as a eucharistic people we will inevitably respond with equal generosity to the blessing we receive.
In Luke, Jesus multiplies the loaves and the fish and "all ate and were satisfied." Jesus as our food satisfies all. He can do so because He is the Alpha and the Omega without "beginning of days nor end of life" as was Melchizedek. Jesus as the Word is also our Creator. As our Creator, only He can satisfy us. No creature on earth, no created thing on earth can satisfy the human heart. We search, sometimes with great agitation, for self-fulfillment. Yet, it is there, quietly and serenely, in the tabernacles of our churches, always waiting for us. For many of us, it takes a great crisis of "hunger," a personal tragedy or failure of some sort, to bring us there. Our suffering, our finding ourselves "in a deserted place" like the crowd fed by Jesus, finally brings us back to reality.