16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen/Sacred Heart of Glyndon
July 24 & 25, 2021
Year of the Eucharist
Last month, on the feast of Corpus Christi, the Archdiocese of Baltimore launched “The Year of the Eucharist”, a year dedicated to renewing our faith in the gift and mystery of the Eucharist. There are many good reasons for doing this. First is a well-founded concern that some taking part in virtual liturgies might not return to in-person Mass, even when the pandemic is definitively behind us. A second reason for launching this initiative is the sad fact that, long before the pandemic, Mass attendance was in decline – coupled with a decline in belief among Catholics in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. A third reason is to prepare Catholics in the Archdiocese to participate in a multiyear Eucharistic Revival Project which will be conducted nationally. These are all sound reasons for launching “The Year of the Eucharist”.
Yet, even these very good reasons do not get to the root of the matter. The essential reason for this initiative to rekindle Eucharistic faith is simply this: that the Lord Jesus gives himself to us in a uniquely beautiful way in the Eucharist – in a way that is utterly generous, loving, healing, and forgiving – and in a manner that corresponds to our deepest yearnings for love. When we come to terms with the “hole” in the middle of our being, the inner emptiness that drives us to seek satisfaction where it cannot be found – only then will we take a second look at the precious gift the Lord gives us at every Mass, only then will we truly believe that, ‘the hand of the Lord feeds us, he answers all our needs’ (Res. Ps.) Today and over the next four Sundays, the Lord himself will speak to us of the Eucharist as the Church proclaims the Bread of Life Discourse from the Gospel of St. John. What an opportunity to open our hearts to the grace of the Holy Spirit, asking that our love for the Eucharistic Lord be re-ignited and henceforth burn brightly.
A Sign of Jesus’ Redeeming Love
In last week’s Gospel, taken from St. Mark, we read how Jesus responded to a large crowd who came to him, looking to be cured of every imaginable affliction. St. Mark told us that ‘Jesus’ heart was moved with pity’ for those people were ‘like sheep without a shepherd’. Today, we find Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and once again a vast multitude has followed Jesus, looking as before for him to cure them of diseases and to release them from unclean spirits. Jesus chose that particular time and that particular place to perform a miraculous sign, the feeding of the 5,000, a sign that gives us some idea of the depth of his love for us.
The timing, the place, and the size of the crowd are all significant. John tells us this miracle took place during Passover; Jesus performed this sign in a remote place, far from any center were provisions could be purchased. Finally, the size of the crowd was huge – more than 5,000 people.
Doing for Us What We Cannot Do for Ourselves
What, then, do the circumstances of this miracle, this sign, teach us about ourselves – the timing, the location, and the size of the crowd? First, Jesus fed the 5,000 during Passover, a time when the Jews recalled how God delivered their ancestors from the slavery of Egypt, fed them with manna in the desert, and brought them to the Promised Land. If we reflect upon our own lives, we will readily see our need for deliverance. At every Mass, we ask to be set “free from sin and [to be] safe from all distress…” Experience teaches us that willpower alone is not enough to set us free from sin, and even the sturdiest individual grapples with inner doubts, fears, and anxieties. Just as the Israelites could not, of themselves, escape the clutches of the Egyptians, so too we cannot escape the clutches of sin and distress…unless and until we turn to Jesus. For by his Cross and Resurrection, Jesus has opened the way for you and me to make our own Passover, our own safe passage, from the slavery of our sins to the freedom and joy of God’s Kingdom. By participating in Holy Mass, you and I are put in touch with the Paschal Mystery, with the saving Death and Resurrection of Christ, so that throughout our lives, we can be continually set free from sin and attain to a peace the world cannot give … … as step by step, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, delivers us and brings us safely home.
What does the isolated location of the miraculous feeding teach us about ourselves? Recall that provisions were nowhere to be found, except for five loaves and two fish, and, in any case, the disciples did not have enough money to buy food for so many. This describes our situation quite well! We may live in an interconnected world but find ourselves isolated and lacking the wherewithal to cope with life and to overcome our sins. Comforts and conveniences may surround us; yet, deep down, we sense that, left to ourselves, we cannot expiate our sins or nourish ourselves inwardly. Jesus wants to break through our personal and cultural isolation, to take what little we have offer, bread and wine, symbolic of our daily lives, so as to transform them into a food we could never create for ourselves, a food we could never buy for ourselves – namely, his precious Body and Blood. When received with faith and a heart that is open to the demands of the Gospel, the Eucharist is the only food that changes and transforms us inwardly, making us to resemble the One whom we receive. Thus does the Lord satisfy our hungry hearts!
Lastly, let us consider the size of the crowd, some 5,000 people. Note that Jesus gave everyone in that large crowd more than enough to eat, and afterwards, twelve wicker baskets of leftover food were collected. What does this tell us a about ourselves and about the food that is the Eucharist? It tells us that we are not meant to make our spiritual journey alone but rather in company with those who believe and who are struggling to be believe. Indeed, we are not meant to dine alone, to seek spiritual nourishment in a solitary way, apart from others. Rather, we are to receive the spiritual nourishment that is Christ in and among our fellow parishioners and in union with the whole Church. For Jesus loves each of us personally but he also wants to gather us as his flock, to enable us to live in a union of faith, hope, and love – as St. Paul makes clear in today’s reading from Ephesians. By participating in Holy Mass, we not only build up our own spiritual lives, we also contribute to the building up of Christ’s Body, the Church. Thus do we participate in multiplying the effects of Christ’s redeeming love – as we reach out to those in need, educate the young, assist the sick and the dying, reach out to the unchurched, and defend the vulnerable.
Let me conclude by making my own the words of St. Augustine from his Confessions. Addressing God the Father, he wrote: “Your only Son, in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge, redeemed me by his Blood . . . …I meditate on my ransom, and I eat it and drink it, and try to share it with others. Though poor, I want to be filled with it in the company of those who eat and are filled, and they shall praise the Lord who seek him.”
May God bless us and keep us always in his love!