The Bread of the Father’s House, by Venerable Fulton Sheen, 26 January 1936

1952 photograph of Venerable Fulton John Sheen produced as promotional material for the television show 'Life is Worth Living'The first condition of the prodigal’s return to the Father’s house was self-examination. The prodigal “entered into himself”, that is, he began to do the pre-eminently human thing which differentiates him from the beast, namely, to reflect. The second condition revealed by the parable, was a recognition of a “sense of need”. “How many hired servants in my father’s house abound with bread, and I here perish with hunger”. The misery, want, and spiritual desolation he felt in a foreign land made the prodigal yearn once again to break and eat the bread of the father’s house.

If Western Civilization is to recover it must fulfill both these conditions. The first condition has already been discussed: It must enter into itself, i.e., respect the true nature of man. Now we pass on to the second condition which is a feeling of need; for unless it feels its own inadequacy, its own insufficiency, its own hunger, how can it aspire or even yearn for the Bread of the Father’s house? There is no hope for any civilization which is hungry and does not wish for bread; but there is hope for one that is hungry and feels the need of it. There is very apt to be in the minds of my hearers a general feeling that the Bread of the Father’s House or the Eucharist is too spiritual a concept and can therefore have no application to the ills of our day. If we have any such suspicion it is only because we have lost hold of the fundamental truth that there is no salvation apart from God. In order to show how vital the Eucharist is to our problems, let us begin by contrasting the Capitalistic, the Communistic, and the Eucharistic or Catholic, philosophies of life.

The problem of social reconstruction revolves about the three words which have rung around the world since the French Revolution: “Liberty”, “Equality”, and “Fraternity”. With which shall we begin? Which shall be first in rebuilding the social order? Capitalism said, Start with Liberty: Let a man be free, and let freedom mean the power to amass wealth without any interference either from the State, or the Church. Well, they had their liberty, which was only another word for selfishness, and it brought neither Equality nor Fraternity. Communism believes in starting with Equality, or the development of a homogeneous jelly-like state in which all men are equal because all are servants of the New Capitalism or Communism. They have had their “Equality”, which was another name for tyranny, and it destroyed both Liberty and Fraternity. The Church says both are wrong. She says you cannot start with either Liberty or Equality; you must start with Fraternity or Brotherhood. Brothers may share, but sharing does not make them brothers – that is the mistake of Communism. Thieves may share their loot, but such equality is only the equality of gangdom and not a brotherhood. In Russia, where there are no classes, the workers in a tractor factory and the Soviet Political Directorate are equal in the eyes of the State, but it is ridiculous to say they are brotherly.

There is only one way to build up a social order where men are free and equal and that is by starting with Brotherhood. There is only one way in the world to make men brothers, and that is by giving them a common body and a common blood. And there is only one Father in the universe who is good enough and powerful enough to make us all His adopted sons, and that is the Heavenly Father who so loved the world that He sent His Beloved Son into the world to give us His Body and His Blood.

Thanks to the Eucharist, the age-long symbol of the common meal becomes the basis of the brotherhood of men and the Fatherhood of God. Just as many grains of wheat make one bread, and many grapes of the vine make one wine, so we who are many are all made one in that Bread which is the Body and that Wine which is the Blood, Once men are made brothers of Christ and sons of the Heavenly Father at the Communion rail, then Equality and Liberty follow. Then men are both equal and free: Equal because God loves each infinitely, and because each has a common need which God alone can supply; free because each soul is one with Christ who can do all things that are good – and what greater freedom is there than this?

The Communion rail is for that reason the most democratic institution on the face of the earth; it is even a greater leveller than death, for there the distinction between the rich and poor, the learned and unlearned disappears; there the millionaire must take the paten from the common laborer, the em- ployer must kneel at the same board as the employee, the university professor must eat the same Bread as the simple Irishwoman who knows only how to tell her beads. There the dividing wall between nationalities is broken down and rebuilt into that spiritual Kingdom where all are one, because of One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One Bread. There every prayer is said in the great context of a brotherhood where every selfish act of the rich, and every envious deed of the poor, is envisaged as a hindrance to the unity of that Body. Hence, the real way to be a Communist is to be a Communionist or Communicant, i. e., to bring our hearts to the anvil of Divine Life and have them under the Flames and Fires of the Eucharist forged into that unity where we call one another not the atomic name of ‘Comrade’ but the spiritual name of ‘Brother’.

The beautiful superiority of the Eucharistic Life over the Capitalistic and Communistic views, thus emerges because of the value it sets upon a man. Capitalism considered every man a “hand'”, and hence employers were wont to speak of having ten thousand “hands'” in the factory; the newer Capitalism, or Communism, considers every man a “stomach” to be fed like the beast of the field, as long as he works to amass wealth for the great Capitalistic State. The Church, on the contrary, says man is neither a hand nor a stomach, but a creature composed of body and soul, made unto the image and likeness of God, and destined one day like the planets to complete his orbit and return unto that same God of Love who made him. The Church has ever insisted that mobilization must not minimize the value of a soul; and that collectivity does not make even a single soul less precious. Millions may go to war wearing only a tag, hundreds of thousands may go into factories with only a number, or may swell the breadlines under the generic title of “the unemployed”, but for the Church each of these souls is just as precious in the sight of God as the soul of a Shakespeare or a Washington. And why is each man precious? Because God has paid an infinite price for him, namely the Blood of the Lamb slain from the beginning of the World.

However low he may sink, man is still in the eyes of the Church an exile from the royal household of God; for the King has issued the command: “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and feeble, and the blind, and the lame.” Or to paraphrase it: Call in the hungry tramps, the beggars sleeping under papers on park benches, the sandwich-men placarding on their broken frames the latest luxuries, the sidewalk artists awaiting the drop of a penny, the half-nourished bodies crowding the out-patient wards of hospitals, the off-scouring of the earth, the broken earthenware of humanity – call them in, all of them! And these same souls who a moment before would have thought a bread line a Paradise and who would have picked a crust of bread from the gutter, call them in, tell them they have an immortal soul, sit them down at the Banquet of the King and nourish their souls with the Bread of Life and the Wine that germinates virgins. Judge them not by the clothes they wear, their accent or their knowledge of world affairs. Give them Divine Life, for their souls have need of life as well as their bodies. Tell them they are not just men, but children of God; infuse their peasant blood with the Blood of Royalty; rejuvenate their hungry bodies with the Meat which nourishes unto life everlasting; lift them up from the slavery and serfdom of the world to the aristocracy of the family of the Trinity; let them forget for the moment their relations to the State, to the family, to society. Let each soul stand naked, face to face with God in a private audience with Divinity, where spirit meets Spirit, so that each may rise from the tryst as a new creature conscious that he must be worth something since God loves him so!

The real way then to establish the Classless Class is not by hatred and class-struggle, but by love and communion. Men are not called to be pessimists shouting and shrieking that life is too short, because it does not give man a chance to finish his Five Year Plan; they are called to be optimists rejoicing that Life is long enough to complete their part of the Eternal Plan. Souls are not so many sticks to be thrown into the great cosmic bonfire to keep it blazing for the next generation – each one is cut from the great quarry of humanity, and then squared and fitted as a Living Statue into the Temple of God by the Hand of the Heavenly Architect whose name is Love. This is the goal of life – union with God.

Does the Bread of the Father’s House seem too idealistic? Do you condemn it because it is impractical? Certainly it is impractical, but that is precisely why it will succeed. When a machine is half out of order any tiiaker can fix it, but when it has gone radically wrong you need something more than a practical man. And so it is. with the world today. It is too far gone for practical solutions. Its soul is sick!

Did not Our Lord Himself choose a very impractical way to redeem and transform the world? Extremely impractical it was to put down economic and political injustices by dying on a cross! Impractical indeed it was to win a victory over the hardened hearts of men by going down to defeat! Impractical indeed it was to save a selfish world by the Love which lost a day! No wonder the practicalminded men and women of His day when He was unfurled as a wounded eagle on the gibbet of the Cross, came beneath it and challenged Him to come down. “Come down from your Cross of impracticality. Come down and shake dice for the garments of a God; come down from your Cross of Love to our class struggle and our hate; come down from your love of God to a love of Caesar. The only man who will ever save us is the practical man who in the language of the commercially-minded has ‘both feet on the ground\ But you have not both feet on the ground! You are suspended between heaven and earth, rejected by the one and abandoned by the other. Come down and we will believe”. But He did not come down. And why? Because it is practical to come down; because it is human to come down; because if He came down He never would have saved us! But it is Divine to be impractical; it is Divine to hang there!