Monday, August 1, 2011

The multiplication of loaves: It wasn't sharing, because we can't feed ourselves. Sermon of July 31st

This homily was given at my Catholic high school reunion Mass (to my fellow alumni)

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
July 31st, 2011
Matthew 14:13-21

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.

I’m sure that we have all heard it said that this event of the multiplications of the loaves is not really a miracle; or, rather, that the true miracle was that Jesus got the people to share. The idea would be that Jesus’ example of sharing (or the example of the child) would have inspired others to share as well, such that all ate and were satisfied.
Now, we could show that this idea of “sharing” is not at all faithful to the plain meaning of the Biblical text, how it is simply ridiculous to think that 5,000 men (not counting women and children) could be fed on the “sack lunches” of a few, and how Jesus himself latter expressly states that he fed five thousand with only five loaves – we could do all of this, and it would be good, but instead it will be better to consider what the deeper meaning of the miraculous event really was, and how this meaning would change if the miracle were only about sharing.

The multiplication of the loaves, a true historical event, also contains a mystical meaning which touches on the present day. When Christ fed the five thousand, he tells us that he will always provide for his faithful people. No matter how difficult life gets (either individually, or for the Church as a whole), the Savior will be with us to guide and strengthen us. Even when we seem to be in a deserted place and on the verge of exhaustion, the Lord will support his Church with the true bread of Faith and the Sacraments.
Now, let’s think about what it would mean for us today, if Jesus didn’t really feed the five thousand through miraculously multiplying the loaves.

First, the Apostles say to our Savior, “We can’t feed them, let’s tell them to go and get food from the towns and villages!” This would mean that our Lord would send the faithful away, as though he would say, “I can’t feed you, I can’t sustain you, I can’t console you; go to the towns, that is, go into the world and seek whatever comforts you can find there!
Jesus would never say this! No, rather, the good Lord tells us, “There is no true joy in the world, there is no consolation there for you; only I can save you, only I can strengthen you. Come to me and find peace and refreshment! For I alone am your God!”

And so, we might examine our own lives: Where do we seek our comfort and our joy? Where do we find meaning for our lives? Is my joy more in Christ or more in my job, in my success, in riches, and in all the vain pleasures of this life?
Do I seek my fill on the bread of the world, or do I receive the true bread from Christ Jesus? There is no consolation in the world, riches are here today and gone tomorrow; all things pass away, only God remains.

Secondly, we might consider what it would have meant if the people simply shared amongst themselves, as if Jesus had not multiplied the loaves miraculously. I ask you, Who was feeding whom? If the people simply shared their own bread amongst themselves, Who was feeding whom?
Would anyone have been fed by Jesus? No! This would mean that our Savior was nothing more than a moral example that led the crowd to take care of themselves. Why, this would mean that, for us today, the good Lord would be nothing more than a memory from the past, a good example who inspires us, but not a Savior who actually redeems us!
Christ did not say, “Well, let them feed themselves; there’s nothing I can do.” Rather, he said, “Bring me the five loaves, I will feed the crowd.” It was Jesus who fed the people 2000 years ago; and it is Jesus who feeds the Church today.

But, far too often, we try to simply “share” our little morsels amongst ourselves, rather than to receive the true bread from Christ and through his Church. We “share” and feed ourselves whenever we look to popular opinion rather than to the teaching of Christ and his Church.
To where do I look when I want to know how to raise a family? Do I look to the Gospel, or do I only share in the vain falsehoods of the world.
Or, even more, when I form my beliefs about the Church – Do I look to the Church herself and let her teach me who she is and what she believes, or do I rather “share” in all the false notions and errant opinions of the media.
No! We cannot feed ourselves! Only Jesus is the Savior, we cannot simply “share”, but we need him to give us the true bread, the true Faith.

And now, there is one last detail which we ought to point out: Christ does not give the bread directly to the people, but rather he gives it to the Apostles and tells them to distribute it. This also has a mystical meaning – for the bread is a figure also for the Eucharist.
The Lord is teaching us that the Eucharist is not something which he gives directly and immediately to individuals, but it is a sacrament which he has entrusted to his Church. The Eucharist is the great treasure of the Church and is meant only for those who are united to the Church.

Now, I know that this can seem to be a bit controversial – but, it is good to recognize why the Church teaches that only Catholics who are practicing their faith are to receive communion. It’s not about being exclusive or rejecting others, but we have to admit that Christ gave the Eucharist to the disciples rather than to the crowds in general. Just so, the Eucharist is not to be shared among all people generally, nor even among all Christians, but only among those who are united to the successors of the Apostles, those who are practicing Catholics.
If we are not Catholic or if we are no longer practicing our Catholic faith, we simply cannot receive Holy Communion – it would be a falsehood to receive the sacrament of unity when we are not truly united.

My friends, it has been 10 years since we graduated from high school – it is time to make a little examination of conscience. Where have we gone and where are we now? Are we finding our joy and consolation in the Lord, or have we begun to seek after all the shallow pleasures of the world? Does our own self-worth rely on our relationship with our Savior, or are we more concerned about our job, our house, our social standing?
Now is probably a good time to get back to confession. We have reached a mile-marker, and all of us could probably use confession more often anyway. It is time to return in earnest to our life of faith.