By Peyton Parra
A little over a month ago, I moved from the deep south (Pensacola, Florida) to the South Bronx for a mission year with Seton Teaching Fellows. I’m one of forty missionaries serving up here in the Bronx this year…that’s forty young-adult Catholic men and women sold-out for Jesus Christ, His Church, and the gentle invitation to join along in His great adventure of radical love. Each of us said yes to this mission for different reasons; we ventured to this place along wildly different paths. Despite these differences, we are united in our pursuit of making known the love of Christ to children and families here, as well as allowing Him to transform more deeply our very own hearts.
Flash forward to one of our first Sundays here in the Bronx. The challenges of mission were just beginning to set in: adjusting to an unfamiliar culture, learning a whole new rhythm of life, and being humbled through simple communal living, just to name a few. To set the scene for you, I was very overwhelmed by the transition taking place – there was (and still is) so much new, so much unknown. I distinctly remember finding peace in the collection of mass readings this given Sunday. I found comfort in how seamlessly they all seemed to line up, nicely centering around the theme of God’s provision for His people. The readings started with the Lord’s promise to Moses of daily manna for the Israelites (Exodus 16), which the responsorial psalm then beautifully echoed, “the Lord gave them bread from heaven” (Psalm 24). Then, the gospel reading was an excerpt from the Bread of Life discourse (John 6).
From first glance, it’s clear that these readings include some pretty foundational tenets of our Catholic faith. They all point to the very source and summit of our faith – the Eucharist. But for some reason, from all of these beautiful, theologically-dense readings, one simple word jumped out at me: “manna.” I kind of thought it was funny, actually, that out of all these readings, my greatest takeaway was the simple invitation to ponder the word “manna.” Often times, when the Lord speaks to me most powerfully, it occurs in the simplest of ways.
No doubt, the Holy Spirit was etching this word – manna – into my mind and onto my heart. I wondered what this even meant…what was the Lord trying to tell me? In what direction was He calling my heart with this word? What did the Lord promising the Israelites manna have to do with me, here in the Bronx, many many years later? It dawned on me that here in the South Bronx, in August 2021, the Lord’s provision for me might look different than it did for the Israelites long ago. But, like the Israelites, I am vulnerable and in need. On a physical level, I’m in need of food – of daily bread. Sharing in their very same humanity, I’m in need of so many other things, too – sleep, shelter, connection, community, laughter, the list goes on. This laundry list of needs very quickly leads me to my utter dependency on others, and ultimately, God.
It was a mini “aha” moment when I realized God was providing for me in so many ways here in the Bronx. In all the discomfort that beginning mission entails, He was there, supplying for all my needs – the big ones, the small ones, the visible ones, the hidden ones. When I was feeling insecure and turning inward, He had gifted me little moments of belly laughter, simultaneously filling me with joy and helping me look outside of myself. When I was stressed out after hearing of the demands of mission, He was there to listen, to be with me, and take on the burdens I was attempting to carry alone.
When I was thirsting to feel known in this new place, He gave me a friend who asked intentional questions when getting to know me.
That same Sunday evening, after my community prayed together, I shared with them how I was struck by the word “manna” and asked each of them to share what “manna” the Lord had given them here. Together, we pondered – “how has God provided for us since moving to the Bronx?” Each of us took a turn sharing our answer to this question. It was such a beautiful moment with my community, one I deeply cherish. There’s something special and powerful about taking the time to slow down and recognize the gifts the Great Giver is bestowing upon us.
Since then, not a single day has gone by that I don’t think about “manna,” and what that looks like for me in the here-and-now of mission in the Bronx. So, what is manna? For me, it looks different each day. Some days, manna looks like my quiet time in the morning, the one time every day when I can savor silence with the Lord. Some days, manna looks like catching glimpses of the beauty of humanity – a family holding hands walking home from the park or an unexpected “I’m thinking of you” text from a friend. Some days, manna feels like waking up well-rested, like the endorphins after a solid jog around St. Mary’s park, or like feeling incredibly known and loved when your community surprises you with a custom-made birthday card. Some days, manna sounds like the beauty of a poem that rips your heart open unexpectedly. Other days, manna sounds like walking down the stairs to hear my roommate strumming a song I love on the guitar. And as she strums, the stress and exhaustion built up throughout the day slowly release off the top of my shoulders. Some days manna smells like freshly baked peanut butter cookies, homemade crepes after Sunday morning mass, or the coffee my community member woke up early enough to brew for all of us. Manna looks like quality time with new friends and catching up with old ones and the little moments that somehow restore life to the parched soul.
Here on mission in the Bronx, manna comes in many different forms. The Lord is faithful. He is our Father; He is the perfection of love. How blessed we are to call ourselves His children!! We are not “sort-of” loved by Him, or merely loved “very well” by Him – we are loved perfectly by God the Father. Let that move you to the core – He loves you perfectly. Therefore, in our every need and want, we can turn to Him in complete confidence. In every desire of our hearts, we can trust in Him. We can rest in the peace of His perfect provision, knowing that while it may not always appear in the form we expect, the manna will always arrive. And it will be beautiful.