13th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year C)

In this Sunday’s gospel passage, particularly the second half, we are confronted with what could be called ‘hard’ sayings of Jesus.  He is on His way to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, and after an encounter with some inhospitable Samaritans, as He continues His journey with his disciples, he meets up and talks with several people about following Him. 

In a sense, Jesus’ responses present us with a breakdown of the elements of discipleship; Jesus speaks in what to us appear to be extremes, because the seriousness of the Kingdom of God, of salvation is extreme.

St. Luke shares three particular encounters Jesus has with people, confronting each of them, and us, with the gravity of what being a true disciple of Jesus really means.

The first person very zealously announces, ‘I will follow you wherever you go!’  This sounds very much like later comments from St. Peter (about following Jesus even to the point of death, and Jesus pointing out to Peter that he would, when confronted, deny he even knows Jesus).  It is clear to Jesus this person has not seriously contemplated what following Jesus wherever he will go actually means. Jesus tells them the Son of Man has nowhere even to lay his head – that complete detachment from the things of this world are necessary if we are to live in complete discipleship of Jesus.  To completely empty one self, setting aside attachment to anything that could possibly interfere with a deep and complete relationship with God is where Jesus ‘will go’ – and it must be clearly understood that in this world, that is where a disciple of Christ must go too. This must be their clear intent.

The next person is someone Jesus actually calls, rather than responding to; ‘follow me,’ He says.  But this person replies that he wants to go bury his father.  Jesus response as St. Luke relates it sounds really harsh and cold ‘let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’  We might first think Jesus is asking the impossible – but if we take the time to understand the context of the culture and the times, scholars suggest that this process of going and ‘burying’ this man’s father could be anything from waiting a customary period after death to clean and inter bones –which was up to a year – to meaning the man’s father is old and is waiting for death and this could be a lengthy period of time as well. 

In fact, we don’t know what the circumstances or response were; perhaps Jesus was waiting for the man to respond to the calling by offering to proclaim the kingdom to his own father and family. 

Whatever the case – Jesus makes it clear that when He calls, if we would truly be  his disciples, we must respond immediately; we can’t say, ‘well Lord I want to be your follower, but let me go take care of this one thing.’  Human nature being what it is, there will always be ‘one more thing’ to take care of.  Jesus is telling us anyone who would be His disciple must be ready to respond to His call to proclaim the Kingdom whenever the opportunity presents itself – whenever He calls.

The last person says he just wants to go say farewell first to his family. The writing of this encounter seems to suggest that this person has been following along the road with Jesus, embarking on life as a disciple, and then decides he wants to go back to his old life, just one more time.  Jesus tells him whoever looks back, once he puts his hand to the plough, is not fit for the kingdom of God.

We are fortunate to live near rural areas, to see mile after mile of cultivated corn fields.  Early in the season we see how the ploughs have tilled the soil and the crops are then planted in very straight symmetrical rows for maximum yield.  You can imagine if, while plowing the field, instead of looking ahead and keeping straight on track, the operator were to turn around and look behind them while they drive.  The rows would be winding, crooked and most certainly would not yield their maximum potential, if at all. 

A disciple of Christ needs to keep their eyes focused ahead, always intent on God, rather than always looking behind at past mistakes, errors, previous hurts or misunderstandings.  We are to always look forward to the kingdom, rather than dwell in the past, clinging to old ways or carrying old burdens.  A disciple must be disciplined, committed to moving forward in the spiritual and Christian life.

So in these exchanges we have three characteristics of discipleship; the clear intent to follow Christ, being prepared to respond to His call at any time, and being disciplined, or committed to moving toward Him or ‘lining up’ our will to His.

We cannot overlook one more important aspect of this conversation in Luke’s gospel though.  Jesus is with this group of people, traveling toward Jerusalem.  He is present to them all, each in their own particular circumstances; and He doesn’t ask them to do anything that He isn’t doing Himself.  He is accompanying them, and in His presence to them, He will be the support and focus that will give them the strength and the grace to live as true disciples, if they only ‘let go’ and follow where He leads them in their own daily lives.

That same invitation is extended to each of us, and the conditions of discipleship are no less extreme for us – but that discipleship is a response to the extreme love that Christ has for each one of us. And like those people on the road to Jerusalem, He accompanies us if we ‘let go’ and follow where He leads us too.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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12th Sunday Ordinary Time

Who do people say Jesus is? Today, in the twenty-first century, there are several schools of opinion on just who Jesus is.
There are those who consider him a great teacher-philosopher; a non-violent radical who was trying to ‘shake up’ the established order….but that’s all.
There are those who consider him a great prophet, on par with a number of ‘prophets’ who started their own religions…but again, that’s all.
Then there are those who even question his existence, despite historical and sociological evidence to the contrary.
As people who profess our faith at Mass, however, we respond to that question differently: we claim that we believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, Our Lord.

This is really no different than the response Jesus receives from His disciples when He questions them in today’s passage from the Gospel of St. Luke;
He first asks them, who do the people say I am?

They respond with very similar answers to many in our secular society: one of the prophets, or John the Baptist come back from the dead. Despite his teachings and his miracles and the works he has done to this point in his public ministry, the prevailing public opinion in the areas his disciples have travelled is that Jesus is a teacher or someone delivering a message from God…and that’s all.

But then he narrows the question and shifts the focus of it: he makes it more personal, and says to his disciples Who do YOU say I am?

The importance of this particular moment cannot be underestimated. Here Jesus speaks with his closest companions; those whom He has called personally and who have shared in his public ministry and his private life up to this point. Who do you say I am?

The way St. Luke writes this passage, the silence must have been deafening…perhaps like a group of school children being asked ‘who broke this’, or maybe people in a parish meeting being asked ‘who wants to volunteer to take the minutes?’…no one answers; then St. Peter breaks the silence: “ you are the Christ of God”
Peter is uttering words that on the political stage could result in arrest and execution – calling Jesus the anointed one – the Messiah : and of course given the misunderstanding of what the Messiah was to be, the occupying Romans would have taken this as a challenge to the authority of Caesar – because the people thought the Messiah would be a political and military leader that would lead Israel to independence from Rome.
On the religious stage this could have caused a great deal of trouble too – various factions accepting the ‘Messiah-ship” of Jesus, and others denying it, both sides jockeying for position trying to promote Jesus in a bid to take power from the religious leaders in Jerusalem.
All of this fallout could have resulted in Jesus mission being ‘derailed’, or bogged down in controversy even amongst his followers. No wonder he told them not to say anything about this to anyone.

To underscore though, the importance of this exchange between Jesus and His disciples, St. Luke leaves us a little clue in his writing: when you read the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus is involved in any important turn of events, or before a miracle or particularly important teaching, he spends time with the Father in prayer.
We see this at the beginning of today’s Gospel.” One day when Jesus was praying alone, with only his disciples near him…”

The rest of the disciples understood the importance of St. Peter’s answer – in St. Matthew’s account of this same exchange, he adds more to the response, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
An answer to Jesus question cannot be more direct than that. It equates Jesus with God.

This is pretty heady stuff: imagine being in the disciples’ position. They are close friends and confidants of the Son of God. He is there in their midst. There would be a tremendous temptation to consider themselves elite, or better than everyone else.

But the second part of this passage is where Jesus brings the disciples (and us) back down to earth: that He, the Son of Man is to undergo suffering and death, but to rise again.”

And it is here he places the cost of discipleship: “If anyone wants to become my follower let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”
The image Jesus uses for his followers is very graphic, and alarming – in his time it would have been scandalous;
Crucifixion under the Roman forces in Palestine in the first century was not simply a matter of execution; there were other ways of carrying out that sentence. It was particularly brutal and agonizing, and it was used to put on display the person accused of a crime – to act as a warning to others, but also to completely humiliate, degrade and dehumanize the person who was crucified. Someone who was crucified was held out for public ridicule – we read in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion how passersby and the chief priests mocked Him while He hung on the cross;
This would have been the common understanding of people in Jesus’ time of what the cross meant. So we can imagine somewhat, the reaction to Jesus directions in today’s Gospel passage:

But this is a message of self-denial; yes, it can mean accepting suffering that we endure as a simple fact of life and part of our existence; it can mean we use those setbacks to offer up our own sacrifices in prayer for others; but self-denial is really a matter of putting ourselves second – of putting God and others first. It’s a matter of developing and having an attitude about our relationship with God. It is a matter of being faithful to the teaching of Jesus handed down to us through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. It is an attitude that everything we have is a gift from God, including life and salvation, and that we exist because God loved us into existence – and all God asks is that we love Him in return and return to relationship with Him. That’s what the cross means to Christians – it means that God entered into our humanity in the person of Jesus; and that rather than cling to His divinity, he emptied Himself, surrendering everything – even His life – and allowed Himself to be crucified by His own children: but it didn’t end there – with His resurrection, His victory over sin and death – He handed that victory on to us.
Emptying of one’s self; denying of one’s self; putting others needs ahead of our desires; that’s a crucial part of the teaching of Christ. It’s not just a matter of performing some charitable works- it is about living a life of charity – it is not just a matter of exhibiting a few kind acts; it is about living a life of kindness; it is not about a few devotional practices – it is about being a living witness to our faith.

In our current society, the carrying of the cross, the practice of embracing and living out our faith can be a source of ridicule in the public forum; we might feel uncomfortable, or even embarrassed. Sometimes we think it’s safer to distance ourselves from Church teaching when we are at work or in a social setting, because upholding that position can cost us in our secular society – it can cost us in social circles, it might affect our reputation, it might affect our business dealings – that too is part of carrying the cross;

But we don’t carry the cross in isolation:

Jesus said that those who would follow Him would have to pick up their cross daily, and, He says, ‘follow me’
That phrase ‘follow me’ tells us that He doesn’t ask us to do anything that He hasn’t experienced in returning into that deeper relationship with the Father. He took the weight of our sins upon Himself. He doesn’t say, “ here’s what you have to do. Now go do it and let me know how it worked out.” He is right there with us. He leads, we follow. He puts us first, so that we can put Him first. He journeys with us – he doesn’t leave us to wander around on our own.

We pick up our crosses daily, not because we have to, but because we want to. It is an expression of love; love that calls us to enter into, and bring others into, a deeper relationship with the One who loved us first and carried that cross in the first place, for us.
We carry our own crosses daily because that is how we answer His question, “Who do you say I am?”

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever

11th Sunday Ordinary Time

There are those who consider themselves righteous or ‘right with God’ because they follow some ‘rules’ and ‘laws’ on the surface, but they miss the heart of the law – compassion and mercy- and there are those who consider themselves righteous because they expect something from God whether they follow the law or not; that they are ‘good to go’ because they ‘never sin’.   Often that type of phrase is followed with, ’well I’ve never murdered anyone’, as if that is the sole criteria that determines someone’s sinfulness or not.  We forget that sin is simply, by definition, anything that we knowingly and deliberately chose that separates us from total relationship with God.

Anything – not just our actions, but also our attitudes.

We have this illustrated in our Gospel passage from St. Luke in which Jesus’ feet are washed by the tears of a woman in the home of a Pharisee.

A Pharisee invites Jesus into his home for a meal, extending hospitality to Him; and Jesus accepts– obviously Jesus is not hostile to all Pharisees, and this is something crucial in placing this particular story in a proper context.  Jesus accepts a Pharisee’s invitation to dinner; why would He have accepted that offer, if He was not open to relationship with everyone?  Jesus wouldn’t go to someone’s house for a meal just to chastise them in front of their household or other guests – that would be rather mean-spirited and petty.

It’s important to remember that Jesus didn’t ‘hate’ the Pharisees, and that not all Pharisees ‘hated’ Jesus.  Just like every other group of people in the world, there were some who authentically lived out their faith, and others who didn’t.  Even while Jesus tries to clarify the Scriptures and God’s will to the Pharisees – sometimes those ‘public’ debates get quite animated – we still see Jesus repeating over and over that He has come for everyone; that God’s love is for everyone; that God’s mercy is for everyone.

And into the middle of this dinner of righteous people who don’t consider themselves sinners, comes a woman who they think is very sinful, someone who shouldn’t be in their company; someone who wasn’t invited in.

Jesus tells this woman that she is forgiven because she loves much; her heart is overwhelmed with her desire to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness – and this is displayed in her weeping and her clinging to Jesus, washing his feet with her tears; drying them with her hair; kissing and anointing them.  This is a pretty strong picture of someone who is completely overcome with emotion and gratitude.  Yet she had to come to Jesus – she had to seek out forgiveness and mercy – she had to desire it and ask for it and in humility, welcome it.

Jesus doesn’t excuse her sins, whatever they may be – and the Gospel is not particularly clear on what her sins are. Jesus only says they are many.  He doesn’t say, ‘keep doing what you have been doing.’  He forgives her and tells her to go in peace; that language indicates an expectation that she will not waste this great moment of mercy that she has been granted.

The Pharisee on the other hand, is not a ‘bad’ person. He has invited Jesus into his home as a guest of honour.  He may not have completely attended to all of Jesus’ physical needs (as in offering some water to wash His feet), but He has opened his home and his table to Jesus.  There may be a presumption on his part that, as a Pharisee and as one who rigorously follows the letter of the law, he is ‘entitled’ to a relationship with God – that God somehow ‘owes’ him.  But there is no humility in this approach; and if we think we are ‘owed’ something, there is no gratitude in receiving what is due to us.

How would each of us react in the presence of Jesus in this story; would we be quite comfortable, expecting that we deserve His company, and that our relationship with Him only requires the bare minimum of our attention and devotion when it comes to serving Him?  Or would we react like the woman, coming into His presence completely overwhelmed and unable to contain our deepest longing and desire for love and mercy and forgiveness?

Well, as Catholics we believe that Jesus is really and truly present in the Eucharist; He is really and truly present to us, right here, right now.  How do we react to that?

If Jesus was saying, ‘you’re perfect just the way you are’ there would be no need for Him to tell the woman she is forgiven her ‘many’ sins, and there would be no need for Him to offer the Pharisee correction in his observance of the law of Moses.  God tells us we are loved as we are; that He desires a relationship with us, seeking us where we are in the circumstances we find ourselves.  But there is much more for us; there is an expectation that we will be moved to deeply desire and act upon His love and mercy and forgiveness.

We can’t simply call ourselves Christians’ and expect that is enough.  We have to live what it means to be Catholic, a Christian, a follower of Christ; a disciple of Jesus; a child of God. We have to live that all the time; not just on special occasions.

It is a meaningless gift that only asks us to love God and our neighbour in the most minimal and superficial way; it is a great treasure that requires us to completely change our lives, our attitudes and our approach to God and others – seeking His love and mercy and forgiveness, and then, with His help, showing that same mercy, love and forgiveness to everyone we encounter.

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Praised be Jesus, now and forever!

Am I present to God?

I have sometimes thought perhaps our terminology, how we describe and define concepts , in and of itself, creates its own sense of confusion.  This was reinforced when I was discussing spirituality and prayer with a Jesuit spiritual director, while I used terms from my studies as a spiritual director with the Carmelites.  He suggested, ‘maybe we need a ‘concordance’ to cross-reference terms so we each know what the other is talking about!’

Recently, this has been brought more directly to me in the phrase, ‘in God’s presence’ when discussing prayer.  How often do we hear this?  How often do we ourselves use this phrase to explain the principal involved when connecting to God in prayer. ‘Placing ourselves in God’s presence’?

I think, just perhaps, in using this phrase we unconsciously invent a scenario where God is somewhere we are not, and through some combination of practices and words, we ‘transport’ ourselves from where we are, to wherever we conceive God ‘happens to be’.  There is a hidden spiritual danger in this, of course, in that it can lead to somehow thinking there are times when God ‘isn’t watching’; or can lead to a denial of God’s omnipresence.

God is most certainly everywhere; God’s glory is most certainly reflected in all of creation (and no, I am not saying God is in the wind and the trees, etc…); most definitely there are places and settings that are far more conducive to sensing God’s presence than others. 

God is present to us all the time.  The trouble is, quite often, we are not present to Him.

I guess it would be more accurate to suggest that in prayer, we ‘make ourselves aware of God’s presence’.  Or at least, we attempt to become conscious of God’s presence to us.

(Yes I am aware analogies are never accurate – but sometimes they are helpful) It is as if we need reading glasses to read our favourite book; we can’t make out the words at all no matter how much we strain our eyes; but if we put on our glasses the words become clear and we can enter into the text, understanding concepts or perhaps embarking on a grand adventure.  It is not as if the words were not on the page all along – it was that we were unable to see them until we took the necessary step of putting on our glasses.

Or again, it is as if we are trying to have a conversation with someone in a room that has a television blaring, the telephone ringing, and traffic noise coming through an open window.  We need to turn off the television, return that phone call later, and close the window to the outside noise so that we can hear what that person in the room is saying to us; to be able to enter into that communication through listening and responding to what our friend has to say.  It is not as if our friend ‘magically appears’ in the room when we remove those distractions – they were there in the midst of all of that noise.

I sometimes think of God’s presence as a radio playing in the background all day long.  Sometimes I sing along with a favourite or familiar tune; sometimes I engage in manual labour and the music helps with it’s cadence and beat; sometimes I relax to the soothing sounds of a delicate and warm piece; and yes, sometimes I even forget that the music is playing. 

But it is always there, whether I am ‘attuned’ to it or not.

So as you engage in prayer, don’t think of it as entering God’s presence. 

Think of it as acknowledging the Presence of the One who is always there.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

10th Sunday Ordinary Time

“Members of the Church are out of touch with the real world.”

How often have we heard that?  It is usually in response to the Church’s teaching, handed down through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, with regards to such things as abortion or marriage.  Those who use that remark often forget, or are perhaps unaware, that the Church is made up of members who live in ‘the real world’, and who strive to remain true to her deposit of faith, to the Gospels and to being authentic disciples of Jesus; while at the same time, trying to balance their own needs and  the needs of those who depend on them with their abilities, resources and talents.

But as that ‘accusation’ is casually tossed about, it also implies that the One who is at the heart of the Church, who is at the centre of the lives of truly authentic disciples – Jesus – is also ‘out of touch with the real world’. His teachings are too hard. He is too demanding.  He is too far removed from our reality.

Sometimes recounting the depictions of Jesus in the Gospels, we might see Him as distant, maybe even somewhat aloof when relating to the sufferings and sorrows of the people He encounters.  We may recall phrases like, ’let the dead bury the dead’ or ‘you give them something to eat’ in instances where people approached Jesus, looking for miracles or affirmation of their actions.

This particular passage from St. Luke’s Gospel that we read today, the healing of the son of a widow of Nain, certainly takes away any illusion that Jesus was distant –or worse ‘disconnected’- from the troubles and trials of people in the ‘real world’.  In this story we hear how Jesus, His disciples, and the crowds that have begun to grow around Him approach this small town; they are met by a funeral procession coming out, in the opposite direction.  This is the funeral of a young man; we are told he is the only son of his mother, who also happens to be a widow. This is a scene of sorrow, of hopelessness, of death.

It’s important to note that in that culture, at that time, a widow had no means of support – her husband is gone, and so she has to rely and trust that her sons, if she has any, will continue to ‘take care of her’; to support her and provide for her. However, as her only son, this young man is the only means of support she has, and so in several senses she has lost ‘everything’; she has previously lost her husband, she has lost her only son, and now she has no means to sustain her in the material world.  She is now ‘on her own’ both literally and figuratively.

Perhaps it is because He can identify personally with her situation (our Tradition tells us Jesus was Mary’s only son, and perhaps Mary too was a widow at this point in Jesus’ life); perhaps it is because He is moved by the mourning of the crowd; for whatever reason, Jesus takes it upon Himself to approach – to ‘go out’ – to this widow.  No one asks Him to help her; no one suggests He do something for her; she doesn’t cry out to Him for help; none of the mourners demand a miracle.

Jesus, it says, ‘had compassion for her’; He reaches out to her.  He tells her not to weep. Then he touches the funeral pallet carrying the young man, and tells him to ‘rise’. Jesus in a very gentle and loving gesture, then ‘gives’ the young man back to his mother.

This is not the action of a God who is distant, cold and unfeeling; this is the action of a God who knows the needs of his children, even when they don’t ask for them, and provides for them.

But as with all of the movements, actions and teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, there is an expectation placed on all of us, if we would honestly and authentically call ourselves His disciples – His Church; we are to go out and do the same. We are to go out and provide for those who are in need – those who have lost everything, those who have nothing – without being asked or solicited.  We are to be instruments of healing in situations of sorrow, helping restore life when families or communities are torn apart,  ‘giving’ children back to their families.

For us to participate in the Sacramental life of the Church, we must also participate in this world as Jesus Himself did; in living out compassion, love, healing and mercy. It’s not enough for us to attend Mass a few times a month and confine our care for the weak and vulnerable to a collection or some occasional mission or petition ‘campaign’.  We need to apply the life we receive through the Church and the Sacraments, to the life we share with our fellow human beings in the world. 

We cannot remain distant or apathetic to the plight of those who suffer poverty and loss in our midst (whether that poverty be material, social, spiritual, etc.); we cannot always wait to be told where the need is greatest. 

As it did in this Gospel passage, the needs of the suffering will always present themselves to us – in the real world – in our midst.  As members of Christ’s body, the Church, may we have the grace, the compassion and the strength to bring life and hope where there is none, just as Jesus did and continues to do, in the ‘real world.’

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Ordinary Time – Corpus Christi

There was an experiment a number of years ago involving chimpanzees – they were in cages with food and water; but opposite their food tray was a board with a small hole in it separating them from a dish of ‘treats’.  The hole was big enough for them to put their hands through to grasp the treats.  The problem was, when they grasped the treats in their fists, they couldn’t pull their hands back through the hole.  They were trapped; the only way to get their hands back through the hole was to drop the treat.  They were, in their minds, unable to get back to their own food tray on the other side of the cage because they thought they were ‘stuck’ with their hand caught in the hole.  As long as they were clinging to the treat, they were unable to go where they could be completely fed.

Sometimes in life we ‘cling’ to things and completely ignore the blessings that satisfy our needs; this is often especially true in our spiritual lives.   We cling to social standing or material goods or privilege, and we ignore those things that truly feed and sustain us.  Take for example, the central mystery of our Catholic faith, Holy Communion; what we as Catholics profess to believe – that Jesus is really and truly present to us, body and blood, soul and divinity in the Most Holy Sacrament.  This gift stands at the very heart of our Catholic faith, instituted by Jesus Himself at the Last Supper; a gift that we describe with the name Eucharist, a Greek word meaning ‘thanksgiving’.  It is truly all about thanksgiving, all about gratitude, when we discuss Holy Communion, especially on this feast of Corpus Christi – the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  Yet often enough, we act almost mechanically – ‘getting’ communion without giving a lot of thought to Who we are actually receiving and becoming more deeply connected to.

This feast reminds us of our attitude when we receive this gift, and invites us to live that attitude out continually in our own faith lives – not just during the celebration of the Mass, but as we live out our daily existence.  How we live ‘out there’ as Christians, is rooted in what we profess and believe ‘in here’ about the Eucharist.  When we approach the altar during Mass, we don’t demand this gift, we are granted this precious favour.  We don’t grasp at it, we are open to having it given to us. We don’t take Communion; we receive it. 

Then, receiving the graces that we are hopefully open to, we share that life and grace that we have been granted.

This sense of ‘receiving’ and ‘gift’ is illustrated in our Gospel passage from St. Luke, recounting the miraculous feeding of five thousand with five loaves and two fish.  This massive crowd has come to hear Jesus preaching and teaching; perhaps to see for themselves some miracle of healing – obviously Jesus’ reputation has preceded Him.  While the people don’t seem to be clamouring for food or complaining of physical hunger, the disciples suggest the people be sent away so they can find something to eat.  Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowds themselves, giving them an opportunity to participate in providing for the needs of others.  But the disciples respond by complaining they only have five loaves and two fish; barely enough for their own needs.

Jesus has them organize the crowd, and He blesses the small offering – then has the disciples distribute the food, which has miraculously multiplied; the disciples initially didn’t want to share what little they thought they had; the crowd doesn’t demand or take this food by force – they simply receive that which is given to them by Jesus, which is more than enough for their needs.  It is a gift which was freely given – a gift that was not demanded or expected or earned; a treasure handed to them by Jesus through His disciples and gratefully accepted.

Perhaps we can simply consider our own Christianity – rooted in the Eucharist – in light of the reactions of the disciples and the crowd.

Is our Christianity something that we grasp tightly, keeping to ourselves? Or is our Christianity something we recognize as a gift from God, a gift meant to be accepted in absolute gratitude and shared with all those we encounter?   Do we approach Jesus as the disciples approached their ‘food’ (Lord send them away, because we barely have enough for ourselves)?  Or do we respond to the gifts of Jesus as the crowd did – generous gifts that were unasked for, totally unexpected, and accepted and shared with gratitude?

At Mass, we consume the host; but we don’t just take Jesus into ourselves individually; we enter into Christ, into His Body, with everyone else who has received Holy Communion, we become living signs of that Sacrament in which we believe Jesus is truly present; as St. Augustine said, ‘we become what we eat’.

When we leave Mass, we take that Real Presence of Christ with us into all the situations we encounter, however we act: when we are harsh or unkind or hurtful, we bring and expose Christ to that as well.  It is just as true that when we leave the celebration of the Eucharist and are charitable to others, show hospitality to the neglected, feed the hungry, address the needs of the poor in our midst – Christ is with us there too, present in and through us.

In receiving Christ with truly grateful hearts, and believing that we have become more closely, intimately identified with the One who gives us this blessing, we are empowered to share the love of Christ with everyone and anyone around us. 

It is up to each of us to decide how we will live out that miracle of the loaves and fishes in our own circumstances – how we will respond to receiving the gift and grace of the Eucharist at Mass –  grasping our faith tightly in clenched fists, or sharing it freely with open hands and open hearts.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!