*Alternate* First Reading: Excerpt from “God’s Not Dead—He’s Bread”
by Billy Critchley-Menor, SJ

An excerpt from “God’s Not Dead—He’s Bread” by Billy Critchley-Menor, SJ

Three years ago, I found myself on a pilgrimage that began with $30 and instructions to be gone for 30 days. Two weeks in, at a computer in the public library of Pacifica, CA, I learned that Fr. Dan Berrigan had died. I immediately opened a new tab searching bus rides to New York for the funeral. I needed to get on a bus in 6 hours if I wanted to make it.

I was staying at an AIDS hospice run by the Missionaries of Charity. Leaving would mean saying goodbye to patients I was learning from, sisters who were providing me food and shelter, and giving up meaningful work. Nevertheless, I felt called to be in New York.

So, with a mixture of excitement and uncertainty and in the cold, dark Greyhound Station in San Francisco, I waited to embark on a four-day bus trip. We departed at 11:00 pm, and soon crossed the Oakland Bay Bridge where I could see Alcatraz in the distance. I tried my best to fall asleep.

The bus ride was lonely, sad, and it smelled. I was deeply uncomfortable and slightly scared. The bus was filled with people who, like me, seemed uneasy about where they were going. Some were angry, and tensions at times ran high. There were racial slurs being thrown, threats being made, children being screamed at, drugs being traded, and a driver who treated the passengers like animals. This was all paired with constant worries about missing the funeral and having nowhere to sleep in New York. My stomach was in knots.

After two days, we got as far as Denver and my prayer became rather testy.  “You need to do something.”

I reboarded the bus and found myself next to a new stranger. Fortunately, she was eager to chat. For the next two days, Laura and I shared our anxieties and fears. I’d never felt so lonely or helpless in my life. She had recently lost everything and was moving to the East Coast with $14 to her name. Laura was worried she would miss a connection in New York and I feared I’d miss the funeral.

In the middle of our first night on the bus together, we were woken up and told to deboard the bus. It was 2:00 in the morning and the bus needed to be cleaned. Frustrated and hungry, Laura and I sat outside the Greyhound station. When it opened at 2:30, we went in to find something to eat. With our money, we purchased a plain bagel.

In the dark, we sat on an uncomfortable wire bench. We took the bread, broke it, and shared it. Suddenly my worries began to dissipate. The fear and stress crumbled with the breaking of that bread. My anxiety about the bus, the discomfort and the loneliness, the possibility about missing the funeral and it all being in vain seemed silly with this bread now in my hand.

Bread has a way of putting things into perspective. If I were stuck on that bus for five or ten more days, it would not have been comfort, a phone, a funeral, or a bed which I desired most: it would be bread. That bagel and Laura revealed the root of who I was: hungry. How glad I was to share that and complete it with a stranger.

The words of Billy Critchley-Menor, SJ.