Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Welcome to this feast which celebrates Christ’s presence among us and his desire to nourish us especially when we are in dark moments.
The apostles had just come back from going two by two to announce the gospel and cure the sick. They had given Jesus an account of what happened to them and he was taking them to a place where they could be by themselves and get a bit of a rest, a place like the Jersey shore. They went out without money or extra clothes and it must have been a beautiful but tiring experience. Their plans for a rest were changed when the crowds followed. Jesus welcomed them, talked to them of the Kingdom and healed the sick (Luke 9: 11-17).
I just came back from a three day conference with the Cardinal where he spoke of his difficulties and weaknesses as a priest and this helped the four hundred priests who were there to see him in a different way and to be open to him. Imagine what it must have been like to spend a day with the Lord and experience this communion among the apostles and with Jesus Christ. You also can experience this communion with Christ and with one another tonight if you are open to this message.
So the apostles were tired from their going out two by two and hungry so no wonder they wanted to send the crowds away. What Jesus does is recorded in every gospel which tells us how important this miracle is for the early Church. This miracle gives us a central image of the Church: out of compassion for their neediness the Son comes to us, as one like us, to feed us. And the disciples despite their lack of understanding have their part to play in this miracle.
Christ knows of the people’s inability to help themselves. In a way we face the same struggle today in the Church. There are so many people who need to be fed, many who do not come to church, and so few hands to feed them. We interpret this often only in a material way. We think that people only need cereal or sandwiches but their spiritual needs are always greater than their material ones. What is more important to give them a sandwich or to give them Christ? Just a simple act of charity like visiting or calling someone can help the person to heal and experience peace.
What did Christ tell the people? He told them only to sit down in groups of fifty and be open to receive help. What does this mean for us today? I think he is saying be in a group or a community, rather than being alone, and then you can be nourished more completely. When you are in a community it is easier to be open to receive something from God. First of all, you are more likely to see that you need help from God.
Jesus looks to the Father, who is the source of all that is good, said the blessing, and this food becomes full of divine life. The same thing happens at each Mass. Christ is present in the priest and makes himself present in the host and wine to feed us.
The bread has to be broken for the multiplication to take place. Also the breaking of the bread in each Eucharist enables us to feed twenty five or fifty people from one large host. When we are broken then it is possible to be multiplied and for the bread to become more abundant.
After he broke the bread he handed it to the disciples and they kept distributing it. They did not run back and forth to Christ. From the gospel reading it does not appear that they do this. The bread grew as it was being given out; the more that is given, the more there is. It is the same with us. If we give of ourselves and have a large family or generous with our time God will multiply us. God always acts through men. He does so only if they give their cooperation. This miracle is done only through the apostles who had no idea of the role they would play.
How does the gospel end? You see it more clearly in Matthew’s version where Christ puts the disciples back in the boat and goes to a secluded place to pray. He goes to be in communion with his Father before and after his miracle and only the neediness of the people interrupts him. His compassion and saving actions are always rooted in his union with the Father and the Spirit, as we heard last week in the feast of the Holy Trinity. This same union is possible for us when we are close to Christ in the Eucharist, then we will be in communion with one another.