29 July. 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
2 Kgs 4:43-44. The prophet Elisha miraculously provides abundant food for a hundred men. This foreshadows our Lord’s miracle of the loaves.
Eph 4:1-6. From prison, St. Paul invites his readers to live a life in keeping with the Gospel, emphasising unity and harmony.
Jn 6:1-15. Like Elisha Jesus feeds the people in the desert, using five barley loaves and two fish provided by a young boy; with a little cooperation, he can enhance life so much.
Eucharist in Daily Life
On hearing of the death of John the Baptist Jesus was deeply upset and in need of finding a quiet place where he could share his grief with his apostles. However, when he stepped ashore there were thousands waiting for him. Immediately he made them welcome, talked to them about the kingdom of God and cured those who were in need of healing. This healing was not just a magic wave of the hand. It would have involved listening to the people and their stories, spending time with them, showing care and concern and empathising with them.
Here we have a picture of the Church in every age. Jesus did not feed the hungry crowds on his own. He did it with the help of the apostles who were reluctant to accept responsibility for the hungry crowds. Their first reaction was to send the people away. Get somebody else to deal with the problem. Don’t we often do the same when faced with a difficult situation: send them off to some so called expert or other. However, Jesus challenged them to look to their own resources. They remembered that they had 5 loaves and 2 fish which they brought to Jesus. The little they had when placed in his hands turned out to be more than enough for all.
The five loaves and two fish are symbols of the power for goodness which we all possess. In our eyes our gifts may appear to be insignificant, but they are what the Lord has given us and expect us to use in his service. This, in fact is their living out in daily life what the Eucharist is all about. Every single person is called upon to a life of service in their own way. It does not have to be spectacular or extraordinary – parents caring for their children, children helping in the home, doing one’s job of work whatever it may be to the best of one’s ability. Even the sick, the old and the housebound. The blind poet John Milton put it well: ‘they also serve who only watch and wait. A smile, a kind word, a listening ear, a warm heart – these cost nothing but can mean so much.
Sometimes people say to me: I have nothing to contribute to any one any more. I am too old and to infirm to have anything to offer. This is false. In my life as a priest I have learnt so much from people like that. In spite of their infirmities they can be an inspiration to us all: their strong faith, their trust in God, their cheerfulness, their gratitude for small mercies.
And so, on this the feast of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ), the Lord invites us to be nourished at his table and always remember that the Eucharist is food for the sinner, not the prize for the perfect. As well as that the Lord sends us forth to give as we have received, to forgive as we have been forgiven and to love as we have been loved.
Feeding the Hungry
Today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings tell of the feeding of hungry people. Elijah’s miracle, for the poor widow, came towards the end of a long drought when famine raged in the land of Israel, and the kindly action of a well-wisher enabled the prophet to feed his hungry community.
We are all too familiar from television with the obscenity of people dying of starvation in an affluent world for whom there has been no miraculous feeding. Sometimes, by contrast, we have known joyful moments of humane solidarity, when music and celebration aroused the hope that we could “Feed the World.” On days like that, the little we gave seemed as important as the loaves and fishes. When people share food and resources with strangers, barriers are broken down. They recognize their dependence on one another.
But just as soon as one crisis of starvation has been relieved, another seems to arise. People in the poorest of developing countries still struggle, just to survive. It is easy to feel powerless in the face of the sheer impossibility of feeding the world, to allow the first symptoms of “compassion fatigue” as the aid agencies call it, to give way to numbed indifference. Like Elijah’s servant or Andrew, we ask, “How can we feed so many, with so little?”
It would horrify the humane voters in democratic lands if our leaders and planners openly admitted how the economic logic which sustains our way of life dictates that the most powerless are destined to go hungry for ever. But our developed world makes tough trade agreements, creates food mountains and milk-lakes, and diverts financial and human resources into the arms trade rather than into development and education. Even if our leaders and planners are sensible, humane people, they are – like ourselves – caught in the web of unjust expectations which is part of what we mean by “the sin of the world.”
Mahatma Ghandi said once, “To the poor man, God does not appear except in the form of bread and in the promise of work.” The Eucharist renews the deepest springs of our humanity by a story of bread broken and eaten for the life of the world. Can we help those who celebrate the Eucharist with us this Sunday to see a link between it and the hunger of the world? Has the parish some project to support a missionary helping in the developing world, or can some local people to be enlisted in telling the story of such a project? “Gather up the fragments so that nothing gets wasted.” Global solutions lie beyond the power of our local parish, which is why we need to remember the lesson of the fragments. If we can put a little new heart into our efforts, that will be something worthwhile. If we can become conscious of our wastefulness of world resources, it may be the beginning of repentance.
An Appeal, by Prisoner Paul
Today’s Gospel (the multiplication of the loaves) would easily justify a Eucharistic homily. But since next Sunday also treats of this theme, I’m inclined to focus today on the aims and ideals proposed in that splendid second reading: the Christian call, according to Paul, prisoner for Christ.
1.Freedom is as much “for” as “from”: Personal freedom is something we rightly treasure. As a vital part in the pursuit of happiness, it is increasingly taken for granted, at least in our developed countries, as a basic human right. We resent any excessive and unwarranted intrusions on our liberty, whether by our neighbours, or by officials such as police, bureaucrats, revenue collectors, or even by the leaders of our Church. We want to be free to do as we please with our lives, our energy and our income. This is a good desire, on just one condition, that what we desire is itself good. It’s not enough to be free from pressures and interference. Freedom must also be for something. It is not complete until we put it to work, using it for something worthwhile.
2. St Paul was a positive person. We all know some people who seem to have an unusual level of freedom and initiative, in deciding what to do with their energy and their time. They get things done, while others would still be anxiously fretting and wondering whether to do anything! Paul of Tarsus was a great “Doer,” a man who believed in his mission in life, which was to share Christ with as many people as possible. Among the apostles, he was the supreme activist, spreading the Gospel “in season and out of season.” While the conservative Jewish-Christians in Jerusalem worried about what conditions would need to be imposed before letting Greek converts into the Church, Paul was already out on his mission-field, winning those Greeks for Christ. What made Paul so sure that his way was right? He was deeply convinced that it was God’s way, that his vocation came to him direct from the living God.
3. Paul reminds each one of our own vocation. He wrote this letter not just to the leaders, nor even to the whole community in Ephesus, but to every one of his converts. It is meant as an “encyclical,” a final word for all his mission parishes. And his message holds good today, for each adult Christian who is willing to listen to God’s call. The whole basis for our faith, says Paul, is that the good God has blessed us, and made us his children by grace: there is one God, the Father of us all. He is the God of mercy, who “opens wide his hand” to bless, and is “loving in all his deeds.” Once we realise this, we also understand how much is asked of us in response. We need to love others as God loves them, “with unselfishness, gentleness and patience.” This is the truly “good” life, the proper life-style for a Christian. Of course, such perfect love and unity with others is not an easy vocation, and indeed is never quite within our power to achieve. Still, it is there as a guiding ideal, calling us onward and upward. Any worth-while vocation is like that; it calls us beyond ourselves.
4. Making a Start. All too often, our response to such high idealism is to shrug and say, “Be realistic! Don’t expect much from me! I’m no hero, just an ordinary person.” Paul would not let us cop out of the love ideal so easily. With a nice sense of balance, he advises, “do what you can to achieve and preserve it.” The problem often lies in getting started. What you or I can actually do, here and now, to help our neighbours, may seem woefully small. But it’s all that’s required of us just at this point in time. Elisha’s servant felt that his twenty small loaves were nowhere near enough to feed a hundred hungry men. Still, once distributed, those loaves made all the difference.
5. Cooperating with Christ The Christian vocation to love others, whether it comes to us as married or as single, as lay-person, religious or priest, is always part of our personal relationship with Our Lord. It is only fulfilled in co-operation with him. Each of us can be like those disciples, who took the bread that Jesus blessed, and then distributed it to the crowds. Some of us, like Philip, may feel reluctant at first to get involved in a problem that looks too big to solve. Others, like Andrew, are a bit more optimistic, and begin to notice whatever glimmerings of hope are there in the situation. But if Jesus has the willing co-operation of all his friends, something great will be done for the people in need.
The needs are still all round us. We just need to open our eyes, to see them. Problems to be faced; people to be loved, respected and listened to. To be involved in helping others, with our talents, our energy and our love, is the best and proper use of our freedom. And it will, please God, add up to “a life worthy of our vocation.”
That’s how the light gets in
(by Pat Donnellan; from The Furrow, July 2012)
In Mayo this Sunday is called ‘Reek Sunday’. At our Taoiseach’s invitation (he’s from this parish) I met Giovanni Trapattoni the Irish soccer manager at Croagh Patrick. I presented both of them with something that cost very little but is priceless – a little blessed medal from Knock shrine. Giving out religious objects or climbing The Reek is something that we Christians do often. A pilgrim, as distinct from a tourist, is one who goes on pilgrimage with an open heart without complaining. We travel outside our comfort zone and we meet new people. New friends are made on pilgrimage and old hurts healed. Some go in the full knowledge that miracles like the one in today’s Gospel are rare. One of the disciples said: ‘There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many ? Jesus blessed the loaves and fish and five thousand people were fed.
As they clutch a medal or rosary beads or relic people don’t always receive the miracle they hope for. Sometimes the miracle is one of acceptance and often it is when we are most fragile that we meet God. Leonard Cohen reflects a lot on life and religion and I’ll go to see him soon again in Dublin at his ‘Old Ideas’ concert. He is almost seventy eight years old now. Forty years ago he had songs like ‘Sisters of Mercy, Suzanne, Bird on the Wire’. Five years ago he wrote ‘Anthem’ with those hauntingly true words: ‘There is a crack in everything; That’s how the light gets in’.
We all have our breaking point and any of us can ‘crack’ under pressure. But sometimes, when we are at our most vulnerable and ready to throw in the towel, a little bit of ‘light’ might creep in. That is the miracle. It could simply be a text or a phone call or a visit. Maybe someone to ask ‘Are you ok !’. A gentle word can soothe a sleepless night. The charity, gentleness and patience, mentioned in the second reading, can create small miracles every day. Bringing a bit of light into other people’s lives should not be put on the long finger.
‘It would be a pity to leave everything until the eleventh hour and then to die at half ten !’
First Reading: Second Book of Kings 4:42-44
A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack.
Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.'” He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.
Second Reading: Epistle to the Ephesians 4:1-6
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Gospel: John 6:1-15
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.
When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”
Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.
When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.