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
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
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...."
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.
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
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."
Coordinator of Social
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.
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?
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:
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