Monday, July 30, 2012

17th Sunday - homily

The multiplication of the loaves and fish.  At my first parish assignment, I addressed a big problem we were having when preaching on this Gospel story.  Like many parishes, we had the problem of being coming late to Mass.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that when I processed in to start Mass, the Church was about a third full; when I faced the congregation for the Gospel or homily, the Church was full! The multiplication of the Catholics! Poof! They were all of a sudden there.

A couple of things about that, folks: first, it's a venial sin to come to Mass late without a good reason.  Second, if we are not here in time for the Gospel, then we need to find another Mass to fulfill the Sunday obligation. In order for us to have attended Mass, we need to be present for the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  If we miss the Gospel, we have missed Sunday Mass.

Both the first reading and the Gospel have the theme of taking a small amount of food and feeding a big group of people, although the Gospel's crowd dwarfs the first reading's. The human reaction to the coming miracle in each appears the same: how is this going to happen? How in the world are we going to feed thousands of people with only five loaves and two fish? The answer, of course, is the power of God.  And, it happens when people put their small amounts of five loaves and two fish into God's hands.

We've seen this miraculous scenario play out throughout the history of the Church in different ways.  Look at the Church herself: her five loaves and two fish were the twelve Apostles. How in the world did the Church grow from 12 Catholics to now over a billion? The power of God.  He took what the Church put in His hands and has multiplied it. In general terms, Mary tells us in her Magnificat that this is the way it has been with God.  He “has lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things”.

St. Peter is another example.  Knowledge of the mysteries of God was his five loaves and two fish.  In the Gospel, he appears to have very little knowledge of God. He was a simple fisherman. But, he put his knowledge into God's hands and God multiplied Peter’s  knowledge. In his letter in the New Testament, we see how much knowledge that St. Peter has… it's incredible!

Along the lines of knowledge, another example is St. John Vianney, a priest in France a couple hundred years ago.  He did not have a lot of intelligence when he first entered seminary.  Because he struggled so much with Latin and moral theology, he was asked to leave the seminary twice.  His formators didn’t think he would ever be able to hear confessions or teach because of his lack of intelligence.  But, he stayed with it, put his five loaves and two fish (his intelligence) into God’s hands, and God multiplied his intelligence.  He was ordained a priest and was sent to a parish smaller than St. Stephen’s.  He became an excellent teacher and confessor.  Towards the end of his priesthood, over one hundred thousand people a year came to him for Confession!

A town in France, Lourdes, has seen the power of God in ways similar to the multiplication of the loaves and fish.  With St. Bernadette leading the charge in 1858, Lourdes put its faith in God through Mary in the Lord’s hands.  The Lord has multiplied the faith of this small town and worked many miracles through the healing water of Lourdes.  Thousands of people visit Lourdes every day and participate in a nightly procession to Our Lady.  If you’ve never been to Lourdes, please go!  A group of GW students and I went to Europe last year; Lourdes was their favorite place by far!

St. Augustine’s five loaves and two fish was his virtue, particularly chastity.  When he first met the Lord, he was a pagan and a playboy.  His famous line reveals how little chastity he had: “Lord, give me chastity, but not right now”.  The Lord grew his chastity and his virtue and he became one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church. 

One final example in an area I’m sure would interest all of you: money.  Friends of mine have been married fifty years.  When they were first married, they were poor, but still gave 20% to God / the Church / the poor.  They knew they were called to only give 10%, but they wanted to give all they had.  The 20% was their loaves and fish.  Once they put it into God’s hands, as they put it, “the money started pouring in”.  They are very capable professionals, but God multiplied their money.  Fifty years later, they are very, very wealthy (and still give 20%).

Whatever your five loaves and two fish are, put them into God’s hands.  Believe in His power.  Believe that He will multiply it – no matter how small it is.  Whether it’s knowledge, faith, trust, virtue, or even money, God will take it and give back to you in abundance.  When God gives, He gives abundantly!

Finally, we will experience something similar to (and even greater than) this Gospel story  in a few minutes.  We will give God a small gift of bread and wine and literally put it in His hands on the altar.  He will multiply our gift and feed us with His Body and Blood…with Himself!  He fills us with his grace and life.  May the grace of the Eucharist help each of us to give our five loaves and two fish to the Lord.  May it help us to trust that He will multiply them and provide abundantly for us as He always has.

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