Miraculous Signs

tabgha loaves fishes multiplication mosaic

They all ate and were satisfied. (Matthew 14:20)

This verse, perhaps more than any other, has given rise to the widespread misconception that Jesus Christ was Italian.

But let’s rejoice in the wonderful God-incidence that sees us reading about the Feeding of the 5,000 at Holy Mass today. We would have read this passage at Mass yesterday, had not August 6, and the Feast of the Transfiguration, come along and supplanted the readings for the 18th Sunday of Year A. Which might have proven vaguely awkward for us this coming Sunday, when we will read the sequel, Matthew 14:22-33.

…Why did the Lord Jesus work miracles, like multiplying the five loaves and two fish?

To show us that the Father had sent Him as the promised Messiah. To inspire us to believe in Him, and in the Kingdom of Heaven that he has brought to the earth.

In other words, Christ did not work magic tricks; he made miraculous signs. Signs of the greatest miracle of all, namely that we mortal and sinful lumps of clay can look forward to eternal bliss.

The particular miracle of the multiplication of the loaves signified something in particular. We read: “He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves, He said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples.”

He said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to His disciples. Sounds familiar. Sounds like…Holy Mass/the Eucharist/the Bread that does not, cannot, and never will run out.

Advertisements

Four Feeding 5,000s

Your unworthy servant at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves on the Sea of Galilee
Your unworthy servant at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves on the Sea of Galilee (back in ’08)

…Speaking of the idiosyncratic ancient manuscripts that make up our beloved Bible…

Reading St. John’s account of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, like we do at Holy Mass today, gives us particular satisfaction.

All four holy gospels recount this miracle, and only this one. Yes, all four gospels tell us about Jesus healing blind people. But in each instance, it’s different blind people. And, yes, of course all four gospels tell us that Jesus rose from the dead. But they recount different appearances of Christ after He rose.

So the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 binds the four gospels together. This miracle is like a strand of golden twine that ties the four books into a single bundle. Must be uniquely important, then, this miracle.

God fed the wandering Israelites with manna from heaven, as Moses led them through the desert to the Promised Land. And, of course, God continues to feed us wanderers with the Bread of sincerity and truth, which we receive from the holy altar of Christ’s sacrifice.

So maybe we can say: The miraculous feeding of the 5,000 offers us the best-possible image of God providing for His beloved people. The moment gives us the singularly vivid picture of Divine Providence. If we can imagine and meditate on the miraculous feeding, then we can begin to grasp how we fit as individuals into the grand divine design.

In his account, St. John tells us what time of year it was. Passover was near. Early spring.

The grand divine design involves our having a springtime picnic together, a picnic that will last forever. He provides the food.

The Bumblers Who Console Christ

“There is no need for them to go away.” Matthew 14:16

The Lord mourned the cruel martyrdom of His cousin, John the Baptist. Jesus lamented the injustice that crushed the life of the greatest of Israel’s prophets. The man who had awoken the hope of the people–hope for a pure and wholesome life, hope for a future worthy of the chosen children of God. The man who welcomed people to this fresh start in the bracing Jordan water. The man who had the courage to accuse the powerful of hypocrisy and selfishness, inviting them, too, to repentance and an honest new beginning… This man had been brutally and arbitrarily murdered. Because the king did not want to go back on his drunken oaths. Herod liked to watch pretty dancing girls. And he had a mean, hard-hearted wife.

head-platterJesus mourned all this. So He sought solitude, as He often did at such times, to pray to the Father.

We can relate to the Lord’s human emotions. I have five cousins, whom I love, and with whom I share tender childhood memories. If I learned that one of them had died, I wouldn’t want to talk to anyone for a while. I would find myself very sad.

Add to that the hope for the nation that John represented. He had brought the simple, beautiful message of the Old Covenant, the heritage of Israel, to the people of Jesus’ generation. John had brought together in himself the holiness of Abraham, Moses, and Elijah, all rolled into one. Then add the fact that this burning light of truth and hope had been killed for no good reason at all, in a dark dungeon, during a drunken revel, with his head brought into the dining room on a platter, as if it were just another roast pig coming out of the oppressive royal kitchens.

Continue reading “The Bumblers Who Console Christ”

Surfing the Divine Will

chasing-mavericks-movie-image

Off and running, reading Mark 6 at Mass…

The Lord Jesus has grown up in a hurry. He has chosen His Apostles. They had already accomplished enough together that the Lord had in mind for them to make a quiet retreat and get some rest.

But the confused and hungry multitude followed them across the sea. Christ’s heart, of course, brimmed over with compassion, and He taught the people many things.

The sun began to set. Supper time arrived. 5,000 men and their families found themselves in a desolate place with nothing to eat.

mothertheresaWe learn that the Apostles had already started thinking ahead. They considered the well-being of the people and tried to exercise practical judgment.

‘Master, we have got to send these people on their way, so they can get back to town and order a falafel sandwich or something. Otherwise, we will have a humanitarian crisis on our hands.’

Okay. Good point. The people must eat. But, the Lord appeared to think: We have a golden opportunity here. This is no time for fretting. We can’t send them away. We came here to pray and commune with each other. We will do that, indeed. And these people, too, will join us. We will bless God and break bread together! Give them something to eat yourselves.

I think we can safely say that this was the moment when the Apostles showed their hardness of heart. If they really knew their Master; if they really knew what He can do, they would have smiled and started handing out bread. But, hard-hearted, they resisted. They feared that their Master did not know what He was doing.

Now, let’s analyze. Let’s consider the various approaches to be taken in trying to fulfill the will of Jesus Christ.

dont-worry-be-happy-bobby-mcferrin-cd-cover-artOn the one hand, we have the glib Bobby-McFerrin-Don’t-Worry-Be-Happy approach. This approach does not befit a reasonable human being. The Lord gave us minds to use, to observe and to confront problems. We cannot jigger-jagger blindly through life, without contingency plans for worst-case scenarios. If we do, unforeseen disaster will of course befall us, and we will have only ourselves to blame.

On the other hand, Blessed Mother Theresa built an enormous and successful international health-care enterprise. She never worried for ten seconds about rubber gloves, professional certifications, or universal precautions. She considered the hospital regulators of the world to be God’s problem, not hers. And she was right: He—God, the Lord, Jesus—He did have it all under control.

But then there’s also the famous story about the shipwrecked man waiting for God to rescue him, who refused a lifeboat and a helicopter. God will rescue me! At the pearly gates, he asks, Why didn’t You rescue me? And Lord says, What do you mean? I sent you a lifeboat and a helicopter.

January 2013, and things are different than they were in January 2012—though the differences may not be exactly what we might have imagined a year ago. God has done His work. But nothing has changed for good without its being someone’s idea and generous initiative, and nothing has changed for the worse without its being someone’s blameworthy neglect or bad decision.

Another year will see more change, very little of which we can distinctly anticipate now. May it all be for the good! We cannot know the plan of God ahead of time. But may He give us eyes to see and ears to hear, so that we can do our part with confidence, make good decisions, and leave in His hands the things that only He can control.

You want to know my favorite metaphor? Doing God’s will is like surfing. The surfer has to stay in shape, take care of the board, and listen faithfully to the weather radio. God provides the ocean and controls how it moves.

The Sacred Liturgy: Local Yokels and Jesus Christ

Okay. Let’s see who has been paying attention. On Sundays so far this year, we have been reading from the Gospel according to Saint …? Mark. Amen.

True or false: The gospel of Mark is the lengthiest, wordiest, most long-winded gospel.

Amen! False. St. Mark wrote the briefest, tersest, most to-the-point gospel. So brief that it does not take an entire year of Sundays to read it. It doesn’t even take a full eleven months of Sundays.

We have an extra month to work with here. We have the golden opportunity to read one of the most pivotal, one of the most fascinating, one of the most illuminating chapters of the entire Bible. This particular chapter also happens to be wicked long—69 verses.

So today we start reading… John 6! Amen.

All four evangelists recount the Baptism of Christ, and all four narrate Holy Week and Easter. Other than that, there is only one episode in the Lord’s life that all four gospels recount, namely…The Feeding of the 5,000!

Not a co-incidence. The Lord revealed His divine intentions on the hillside that evening. God became man in order miraculously to feed the hungry of every time and place, including us. He did some things which have produced the stunningly wonderful effect of providing us with nourishment for immortality. Let us pause to consider what He did, as the Fathers gathered at the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago paused to consider it:

Continue reading “The Sacred Liturgy: Local Yokels and Jesus Christ”