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FIRST IMPRESSIONS - 18th SUNDAY (A) - August 3, 2014

Isaiah 55: 1-3; Psalm 145; Rom. 8: 35,37-39; Matthew 14: 13-21

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

PRE-NOTE: I am on retreat and vacation and so I am drawing on past reflections for a few weeks. But the Justice Notes below are brand new! While on retreat I will include you, the readers of "First Impressions," in my prayer.



The Isaiah reading names the dissatisfactions we feel when we look for fulfillment in places that are not of God. We deceive and drain ourselves in a search for what can only be satisfied by God. God holds out a lavish food for us, free of charge, a food that will not run out when life tests us. We are being offered a food that assures us that, when the testing of the desert comes, we will find the sustenance for the life we need. God fed the Israelites in the desert and the Gospel reminds us that through Christ we are nourished in sustaining ways.

The gestures and words of Jesus in the Gospel bring to mind the Last Supper. The Gospel writer is making clear references in this miracle story to the Eucharist. How can we read this story today and not see a gracious God (the God of Isaiah) saying to us too, "come receive grain and eat"?

This is a crowd that realized that Jesus had something to offer them in their "deserted places." Jesus wasn’t just filling their stomachs. They were a deserted people, life had passed them by. They were not the rich, the famous, the educated or the powerful; they were the afflicted and the marginated. Life may have passed them by, but Jesus didn't. He took note of them, and they in turn saw in him a place to be nourished, a place where deep hungers and longings would be fulfilled. Why else would they have stayed so long listening to him in that deserted place? They were not disappointed, for at the end of the day they were filled. He had seen their many hungers and had fed them, " all ate and were satisfied." The miracle recalls God’s feeding of the Israelites in the desert. The God of the Promise has not abandoned the chosen ones in the desert, but continues, day by day, to nourish us with food that does not disappoint.

Are we turning for nourishment to places that will eventually disappoint us? What and who will sustain us when we are in distress, in our own private "deserted place?" We need nourishment that will be there for us in the desert. And we all must pass through a desert of some type, at some time. The gospel shows that Christ can offer us a food that will really fill and satisfy us. This miracle is also a reassuring sign to us that when that "desert day" comes, God will see us in our need, as Jesus does in the Gospel, and have a heart "moved with pity" for us. We will not be alone in these deserted place, there will be an abundance of daily bread to sustain and give us our fill. This is not a story of "just enough to get by on." This is a story of "more than enough." After everyone has had their fill there are lots of leftovers. In God’s place no one need go hungry, all experience abundance. Where else and what else can satisfy in this way? Remember Isaiah’s probing question, "Why spend your money for what is not bread?"

The physical bread of the miracle story was of temporary value. It could not satisfy deeper hungers, but it was a sign that Jesus can and that his heart is moved with pity for us. Notice how he handled the food with reverence, the same reverence he felt for the crowd whom he knew were the beloved of God. The miracle is a sign to us that we too are the beloved of God and we will not be left hungry.

The disciples are overwhelmed by what they see and the seeming insufficient resources they have. In this version of the story, there is no boy to provide the loaves and fishes for this miracle. The disciples have the food. Was it their own food for the trip? Is Jesus asking them to share out of their supplies? Is he asking them to risk it all, to take a chance at extravagant generosity? And they do—maybe this too is the miracle; the change in the disciples who now have learned that whatever they have, it will be more than enough in collaboration with Christ. They are learning to cast their lots with him, to risk what they have in his service. As we heard last week, the person who discovers the treasure in the field goes out and sells everything to buy the field and have the treasure. The disciples too are being invited to invest their all in Christ. Are we? Sell it all. Invest yourself in the One who will not disappoint.

We have Eucharistic ministers in our parishes who take the bread of communion beyond our assembly to those in "deserted places." That's often how the sick, dying, imprisoned, and elderly feel in our society – deserted. They feel on the fringe of life, less than appreciated, less than valued. We send our Eucharistic ministers out to them with communion to tell them that they are part of us, part of the people being fed by God. They are not forgotten in their difficult places. The bread from our altar extends Christ's presence to them, but also extends our presence as well. We invite the Eucharistic ministers today to share this gospel story with the sick and to tell them that the community has prayed for them and shares with them our life and hope sustaining bread.

Many of us have sat besides the bedsides of the sick and dying. We have seen them with tubes in their nostrils and with needles in their arms. We feel useless and fragile before the enormity of their suffering and fears. We feel we should step aside and let the professional medical experts do their specialties; what can we do after all? The disciples in the Gospel experience that same helplessness; so many hungry and so little to give them. Yet, Jesus urges, "give them something to eat yourselves." Give them what you can. We feel we have nothing to offer in the enormity of their need. Yet we do have something to give, the gift of our presence, as meager as that feels. And so we make the offering of ourselves. But Christ takes what we have to offer, blesses it, breaks it and gives more than enough nourishment to the hungry in deserted place. And in giving ourselves, we become the "true presence" of Christ to others. Aren't we being challenged to look into our own resources, as insignificant as they may seem, and take the risk for "the crowd"?

I know a nurse in a terminal ward in a nearby hospital. While on duty, she tries to find as much time as possible to be with the dying in their last moments. She works the night shift, when the ward is quiet and she can take some free moments. It is when the dying are most alone, and all one can hear is their labored breathing. She may hold their hand, maybe just sit there with them. Her spiritual practice is the Jesus Prayer, which she prays quietly to herself throughout the day. While tending the dying, she prays the prayer over and over again. "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner." She says it is a privileged place to be, with someone as he or she lets go of this life. She hopes her presence can help. For those who are afraid to die, she prays and calms their fears, stroking their forehead. At this moment in a dying person’s life, what else is wanted or needed? What about all the things we saved up to buy, all our ambitions, professional achievements, all our "stuff"? What good are they at this moment? The prophet speaks a sobering reminder to us today, "Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy?" This nurse offers what will satisfy, and gives a strength no other thing can, her calming presence, a person of faith being there for another. It may feel like just five loaves and two fish in the presence of the powerful force of death, but her prayer is a reminder that Someone else is there, multiplying the offerings of the disciple so that they are more than enough. Can the preacher think of other ways people’s simple offerings are multiplied for those in need?

The Eucharist is like Isaiah’s call from God to turn away from that which is not satisfying and will only disappoint. We have this liturgical celebration today to examine what we search and strive after and whether or not we are really being filled. We need then to rethink our unhealthy or abusive relationships; false priorities; value on achievements; obsessions with our careers – any misplaced energies and investments of ourselves. We need to have confidence as well, that no deserted place we may find ourselves is outside the compassionate gaze of Christ at this Eucharist. "...he saw the vast crowd and his heart was moved with pity for them...."

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/080314.cfm

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

The Lord is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.

Psalm 145:9

In ancient times the poor were subjected to insult, blamed for their poverty, and lived without hope. When you think of the poor, what thoughts come to your mind? What things influence your attitude to the poor? How does this passage from Psalms, as seen through the lens of Jesus’ life, affirm or challenge your attitude? What should you do?

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops write: "Catholic disciples are called to put Two Feet of Love in Action! This foundational tool describes two distinct, but complementary, ways we can put the Gospel in action in response to God's love: social justice (addressing systemic, root causes of problems that affect many people) and charitable works (short-term, emergency assistance for individuals).

Charitable Works are our ‘response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison, etc.’ (Deus Caritas Est, no. 31). We step with the Charitable Works foot when we work to aid or assist others both locally and globally to meet their immediate, short-term needs. Examples include engaging in direct service or providing food, clothing, shelter, or monetary assistance to help those in need.

Social Justice ‘concerns the social, political, and economic aspects and, above all, the structural dimension of problems and their respective solutions’ (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 201). We step with this foot when we work to address the root causes of problems facing our communities by advocating for just public policies and helping to change the social structures that contribute to suffering and injustice at home and around the world."

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Coordinator of Social Justice Ministries

Sacred Heart Cathedral--Raleigh, N.C.

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

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

Reflection:

Jesus saw the hungry crowd and with the loaves and fish his disciples offered, he fed them. While we might receive comfort knowing that our inner hungers are fed at our eucharistic meal, let’s not just "spiritualize" today’s gospel.

Let’s remember that Jesus’ pity extended to the crowd’s physical needs which he saw when he disembarked from the boat. Matthew tells us, "he was moved with pity for them and he cured their sick" and, with the disciples’ help, he fed their hunger.

So we ask ourselves:

  • What hunger do I bring to this Eucharist today that I turn to Jesus to feed?
  • In my world, what hunger am I hearing Jesus invite me to feed—with his help?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"The use of the death penalty cannot really be mended. It should be ended."
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Leroy Mann #0255136 (On death row since 7/15/97)
  • Phillip Davis #0585797 (8/22/97)
  • Christopher Roseboro #0352024 (8/29/97)

----Central Prison 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh 27699-4285

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the webpage of the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://www.catholicsmobilizing.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory 3150 Vince Hagan Drive Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://preacherexchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."
  • If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

    You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.preacherexchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

    (These CDs have been updated twice in the last five years.)

    2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org or jboll@preacherexchange.org.

    3. Our webpage: http://www.preacherexchange.com

    Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

    4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


    Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

    fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

    St. Albert Priory

    3150 Vince Hagan Drive

    Irving, Texas 75062-4736

    frjude@judeop.org

    972-438-1626

     


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