18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Agnes – St. William of York
August 2, 2020
An Early Culinary Mishap
One morning, when I was about twelve, Mom left my brother and me at home, alone. An emergency had come up and she simply had no other choice. She told me that she would be home in time to fix lunch, but when noon rolled around and Mom wasn’t yet home, my brother and I decided that we were about to starve to death. So, I decided to try my hand at cooking.
It was a disaster. I tried to boil pasta and to melt cheese over top of it – Velveeta, to be precise – but the net result of my efforts was something akin to Elmer’s glue. Just as I was ladling out this culinary tragedy, Mom walked in. Her facial expression was a mix of horror and amusement. My brother, for his part, was never happier to see my Mom come home.
That episode came back to me when, in today’s Gospel, I read the Lord’s words to his disciples: “Give them some food yourselves.” My first attempt to do just that did not turn out so well. Over time, I have learned that my culinary limitations are not confined to the kitchen. For the spiritual nourishment that I consume and share, I utterly depend on the same Lord who miraculously fed the 5,000 in the desert. So, with your kind permission, I’d like to draw from today’s Scriptures two points. The first point I might entitle, “the myth of our self-sufficiency”; and the second point might be called “the joy of our dependence”. As a bonus point, I’ll throw in a word of encouragement from St. Paul.
The Myth of Our Self-Sufficiency
In the 1st reading, the Prophet Isaiah speaks to the self-satisfied, those whose money can buy whatever food and drink they might wish to have. Whether simple or lavish, such food and drink fails to satisfy. We can easily have a full stomach and an empty heart. To put it another way, even in the best of times, we are not self-sufficient. Only God can nourish both body and soul; only God can satisfy the hungers of our heart. This is a message that should hit home in a consumerist culture such as our own. But these are not the best of times. B. Last Good Friday, Fr. Cantalamessa, preacher of the Papal Household, raised eyebrows when he said that coronavirus pandemic is God’s way of awakening humanity to the reality that, for all our scientific prowess, we are not invincible. I quote: “It took merely the smallest and most formless element of nature, a virus, to remind us that we are mortal, that military power and technology are not sufficient to save us.” Here, Fr. Cantalamessa did not deride the research that is underway to find a vaccine. But he was reminding us that we are not as self-sufficient as we think, and that, with trust in God, we should direct more of our resources to those in need.
In the Gospel, we read that when Jesus learned of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew to a deserted place, presumably to pray, to be alone with his Father. In his sacred humanity, Jesus, the only Son of God, was not self-sufficient. In prayer, Jesus found the wisdom and strength he needed for his ministry. Indeed, while he was still praying, a huge crowd assembled in that deserted place. So it was, that Jesus spent the day curing the sick. But, as the day wore on, the disciples became alarmed. The crowd was hungry and no source of food was readily available. Their solution was to send everyone home but Jesus insisted, “Feed them yourselves”. All they had were five loaves and two fish.
To be sure, Jesus wanted us to know that we are not self-sufficient, but he was also teaching us that he will work whatever we have to give, no matter how small. I think of that at Mass when I present to the Lord a bit of bread and wine and say, “It will become for us the bread of life!” “It will become our spiritual drink!” Often Scripture reminds us of our dependency upon the Lord. Take, for example, our Responsorial Psalm: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” Think of what the Lord told us about the birds of the air and the field lilies. For all our progress, we are far more dependent upon the Lord than we like to think!
The Joy of Our Dependence
When the disciples handed Jesus the five loaves and two fish, they must have sensed that he would perform some sort of miracle. But notice what Jesus did do – it should have a familiar ring to every Mass goer. St. Matthew recounts that Jesus took the bread, said the blessing, broke the loaves, and then gave them to the disciples to distribute to the crowd— and the same with the fish. “Blessed, broken, and given” – that is how Jesus fed the crowds. He performed this miracle, not to wow those people or merely to save the day, but to foretell how wondrously God would feed his people in and through the Eucharist.
The sheer superabundance of the food that Jesus generated is a sign of this. After everyone was fed, twelve wicker baskets of leftovers were collected. This miracle exceeded all of the miraculous feedings in the OT put together, and signaled the abundance with which Jesus would feed us in the Eucharist: no longer with loaves and fish, no longer with bread and wine but with the most superabundant food of all, his own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. This is he only food that truly satisfies the deepest hungers of our human hearts. If you don’t believe me, then take it from every saint who ever lived. Their lives, without exception, were centered on Jesus in the Eucharist.
The miraculous feeding of the 5,000 exceeded the laws of physics, and the miraculous feeding of the Eucharist exceeds all we know of metaphysics. The world is bound to be skeptical and we ourselves may have our share of doubts, but in our hunger, can we not see that the Lord is reaching down from heaven to feed us with the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation? The older I get and the longer I serve as a priest, the more I realize that the joy of my life is my dependence upon the Eucharist. I’ve tried depending largely on myself, on my good will and talents. What a burden there is in all of that! But what joy and freedom there is when I finally recognized that the Lord will take what little I have to offer and make it into something so beautiful and good that I can hardly believe my eyes. In fact, I can’t believe my natural eyes – only the eyes of faith.
The Extra Point
At the outset, I did promise you an extra point, a word of encouragement, courtesy of St. Paul, and here it is. In today’s second reading from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul tells us that if we are in communion with the love of Christ there is no form of setback or suffering that can overcome us: not our mortality, not the unseen principalities and powers, not the things that are going on in the world, not the heavens above or the depths of the sea . . . To St. Paul’s list of hardships we might add the coronavirus, economic hardship, unemployment, and so much more!
Dear friends, when we unite ourselves to Christ’s love in the Eucharist, that is, when we receive the Eucharist worthily and with devotion, no challenge, no suffering, no problem will be able to separate us from Christ … Not suffering, but only sin can separate us from Christ, and there is no better bulwark against sin than devout and active participation in the Eucharist and healthy Eucharistic devotion.
With prayers of Mary, the Mother of God and the Woman of the Eucharist, let us joyfully acknowledge our dependence upon the Eucharistic Lord and thank our heavenly Savior for drawing so close to us in love. “O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!”