Post 7: Loaves and Fishes, Part Two

Loaves and Fishes, Part 2 (See last weeks Post for Part 1)

No one knew or could guess who was providing the meat. All the committee member’s best guesses came to naught. Sister M didn’t know, and she was as honest and blunt as they came. After the third dinner, when the mystery was broached in his presence, Father Peter, pleaded ignorance. “That’s you women’s job to organize this thing, not mine. I’ll help do the dishes afterward, or sing something in Polish,” he said with a smile, and then joked, “perhaps you should be calling this the Loaves and Fishes Night after all.”

Soon people began calling it that, first in conversations, unofficially, sort of as a joke, yet spoken with a touch of reverence—well, there are always left-overs. The name became official when the monthly flyer announced it as Loaves and Fishes Night and it was scheduled for the last Saturday of each month, the poorest time of the month. Still, with rent due on the first, and grocery money envelopes flat, Loaves and Fishes Night grew into an event worth planning ahead for. It became another family challenge—this one based on hope—to tuck away an extra potato, or can of beans, or promise the kids you’d bake a cake for the Loaves and Fishes Night, then gather them to mark the date on the funeral home calendar so all could anticipate and drool.

Not known for their shyness, Jane and Agnes assumed leadership for coordinating the dinners. They arranged with Sister M for the eighth-grade boys to set up the tables after school (and after their husbands mopped and waxed the floor before they snuck off to some tavern), scheduled the moms to help set up, serve, or clean up, plus chaired the monthly planning meeting. A meeting of questionable need. Planning could little change what their bare cupboards held, but it became something the moms looked forward to almost as much as the dinner itself. Sister M conveniently introduced a preschool story hour as a practicum for the junior high girls at the same time as the meeting. The students loved reading to little children, particularly the ones not their siblings. The mothers loved a break along with the fresh strong coffee.

Jane and Agnes deemed it their responsibility, indeed, their mission from God, to discover the secret, the mystery, the miracle of who was supplying the fishes—actually it was only meat, never fish. The loaves were a no-brainer, multiplying bread didn’t take much, just more yeast and flour. But meat simply appearing on an empty table? In the same roaster every month? The same pan that disappeared after dinner and never awaited someone to pick it up? This indeed came close to being a miracle.

They didn’t announce their mission to the planning members, better to keep it under wraps—spying on miracles was best done through stealth. Jane and Agnes arrived earlier and earlier to set up, first five minutes, then ten minutes, but to no avail. Each month the mouthwatering smell of meat greeted them as they came down the stairs. Today, in a daring and desperate move—who knew what their children could do unsupervised in that much time—they arrived two hours early, thirty-minutes earlier than last month. They didn’t have long to wait.

A rounded apparition in a black cassock with white collar floated into the shadowy room, then softly placed a dented roaster with smells of turkey wafting from it into the oven and turned it to low. The women were too stunned to pop up and confront the angel. Furthermore, Jane’s flabby knees would only pop out if she moved so quickly. The two women remained hidden as the angel left as quietly as he came.

They were stunned. It was Father Peter. They figured he was as broke as they were.

“Did he lie to us? Back when he pleaded ignorance?” Jane asked.

They thought a moment, then Agnes decided he hadn’t, not directly. “No one pointedly asked him if he was the one providing the meat, so his response wasn’t truly a lie, misleading maybe, but not an out and out lie.” Jane agreed.

But now, their dilemma deepened; should they broadcast such privileged, possibly saintly, information? Let the mystery continue? They wondered when was it appropriate to share the truth? And when was it permissible to let things slide?

“Are we sinning by not sharing what we know?” Agnes mused.

“Or, will God frown on our efforts to solve a mystery that didn’t need solving?” Jane shook her head in distress. “Agnes, if we tell the others, will we need to confess our sneaking around, our spying, and our big mouths? And who would we confess it to? We only have one priest, Father Peter. Now that might be awkward!” They didn’t verbalize it, but both wondered why this mystery became so dang important to them.

They didn’t think they needed to announce their discovery. Both reasoned no one else knew of their secretive efforts.

“Well, no one besides God.” Said Agnes.

“And possibly Father Peter. Why else did the meat always arrive before we did?”

They thought about that for a moment. Their decision became final, unchangeable, when Agnes said, “God works in mysterious ways, just look at the strong sense of community we now enjoy. That’s enough of a miracle.”

“I agree.” Jane replied. Then added with a wink, “But at St. Joe’s, our loaves and fishes’ miracle comes in a dented roaster, not a basket, and most importantly, ours happens every month.”