Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter 

Today’s readings 

When God made the human person, he put into him and her a hunger and a thirst that could only be filled up with God. God made us for himself, because he is Love itself and Love must always have an object of that love. As Saint Augustine said well, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The Psalmist also says that today in his words:

As the hind longs for the running waters,

so my soul longs for you, O God.

Athirst is my soul for God, the living God.

When shall I go and behold the face of God?

Given that all people are created with this spiritual hunger, it should not have come as a huge shock to the circumcised believers that many Gentiles were turning to follow Christ. Christ showed us the most perfect way to the Father, the only One who can fill up all the longings of the human heart. Every conversion story is a return of the soul to our God; a filling up of the heart with what it really lacks.

We try to fill up our lives with all kinds of things. We turn on the television to drown out the silence. We seek refuge in food and drink and career and even darker things. But all of this is nothing more than a misguided attempt to fill up our lives with things that do not matter. We can only fill ourselves up with what we truly long for: God himself.

The Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Bread of Life Discourse II

Today’s readings

My niece Molly used to say that she wanted to open a restaurant when she grows up. She even had a name all picked out for it: “Hungry.” That makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Where are you going to go when you’re hungry? Well, to Hungry, of course! I thought about that this week because today’s Liturgy of the Word speaks to those of us who are hungry – which is to say, all of us.

There’s a lot of hunger in the readings today. First we have the Israelites, fresh from their escape from slavery in Egypt, finding that they are hungry as they wander through the desert. I think we can understand their hunger. But what is hard to understand is the content of their grumbling about it. They say that they would rather be back in Egypt, eating bread and the meat of the “fleshpots.” Why on earth did God have to drag them out into the desert only to kill them by hunger and let them die there? They would rather be in slavery in Egypt than be in the situation in which they find themselves. Please understand how serious this grumbling is: it is a complete rejection of God, God who has done everything miraculous to save them from abject slavery.

Not so different is the clamoring of the people in today’s Gospel reading. Today we pick back up our reflection on the “Bread of Life Discourse,” the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. Because Mark’s Gospel, which we are hearing from this liturgical year, is a little shorter than the others, we get five wonderful weeks to take a little journey into John’s Eucharistic theology during these summer days. We began last week, with the famous story of Jesus feeding the multitudes. Today’s story picks up where last week’s left off: the people were so impressed by Jesus feeding so many with so little that they pursue him across the sea to Capernaum.

Why do they follow him? Well, they want more food, of course. But the real feeding he intends is not just barley loaves, but instead something a little more enduring. So Jesus tells them that the best way they can do God’s will is to believe in him – the one God sent. So they have the audacity to ask him what kind of sign he can do so that they can believe in him. Can you believe that? He just finished feeding thousands of people with five loaves and two fish, and they want to see a sign? Instead, Jesus gives them a spiritual sign, a challenge really. He tells them to believe in him because “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Jesus wants to get to the root cause of their hunger … and ours too, by the way. So I think the starting point is that we have to be clear about what it is we hunger for. And that question is very pressing on all of us today. Every one of us comes here hungering for something. Our hungers may be very physical: some here may be unemployed or underemployed, or perhaps our hunger is for physical healing of some kind. But perhaps our hungers are a bit deeper too: a relationship that is going badly, or a sense that we aren’t doing what we should be or want to be doing with our lives. Our hunger very well may be very spiritual as well: perhaps our relationship with God is not very developed or our prayer life has become stale. Whatever the hunger is, we need to be honest and name it right now, in the stillness of our hearts.

Naming that hunger, we then have to do what Jesus encouraged the crowds to do: believe. Believe that God can feed our deepest hungers, heal our deepest wounds, bind up our brokenness and calm our restless hearts. Believe that Jesus is, in fact, the Bread of Life, the bread that will never go stale or perish, the bread that will never run out, or disappear like manna in the heat of the day. Jesus is the Bread that can feed more than our stomachs but also our hearts and souls. The Psalmist sings, “The Lord gave them bread from heaven.” And we know that bread is the most wonderful food of all, because it is the Body of Christ. Amen!

Saturday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So what was at stake here?  Was it the Sabbath?  Not really.

For Jesus, there wasn’t such a thing as a Sabbath breath from healing, and teaching, and bringing people to salvation.  So as he walked along with his disciples, it didn’t bother him that they were “working” by picking heads of grain to eat.  They were hungry.  And Jesus was all about feeding peoples’ hunger, no matter what kind of hunger it was, and no matter what day it was – Sabbath or not.

He would be widely criticized for teaching on the Sabbath, but people were hungry for news of salvation.  He would be called blasphemous for calling God his Father on the Sabbath, but people were hungry for relationship with their God.  He would receive death threats for healing on the Sabbath, but people were hungry for wholeness.

Jesus’ point here is that the Sabbath is never important just for itself.  The Sabbath was an opportunity for people to rest in God, and it was God, not the Law, that could decide how that happened.  The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.

Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time [ Cycle B]

Today’s readings

When I was growing up, sometimes we would ask Mom what was for dinner, and she would often reply, “I don’t know; it’s not three o’clock yet!”  We were blessed, though.  We could count on the fact that there would always be something for dinner and that it would be good.  We just had to be a little bit patient and wait to find out what it was.

It seems like the Israelites might have benefitted from that lesson.  They are out wandering in the desert and of course, they are hungry.  I think we can understand that.  But what is hard to understand is the content of their grumbling about it.  They say that they would rather be back in Egypt, eating bread and the meat of the “fleshpots.”  Why on earth did God have to drag them out into the desert only to kill them by hunger and let them die there?  They would rather be in slavery in Egypt than be in the situation in which they find themselves.  This is a complete rejection of God.

And it’s a shocking rejection, to be quite frank.  The slavery they were subject to was not some kind of minor inconvenience.  It’s not just that they were a little underpaid for their labor.  No, they were beaten if they didn’t meet outrageous quotas, any kind of discontent would have cost them their lives.  They lived in fear all the time, not knowing what new cruel joke their oppressors would subject them to.  And so they cried out to God, who heard them, and delivered them.

And the deliverance wasn’t some tiny little act of mercy.  God basically made a laughing stock of the pharaoh, who had made a laughing stock of the people Israel.  He gave pharaoh a dose of what he had given the people.  God made the plight of the Egyptians so bad that they were glad to be rid of the Israelites and basically helped them pack for the journey, giving them all of their gold and silver valuables to take with them.  When the Israelites could not figure out the way they should go, God provided a column of cloud by day and fire by night so that they could see the right path.  When the Egyptians pursued them and gained on them, God opened up the Red Sea for the Israelites to pass through, and then closed it back up over the Egyptians, swallowing up their armies, their horses and their chariots.

But now they’re a little hungry, so they’d like to return the gift, thank you.  And when you think about it, this is really illogical.  Is God, who was powerful enough to overthrow the Egyptians, and to deliver his people through the Red Sea, not powerful enough to feed them besides?  Of course he is, and God will certainly feed his people when it’s time, and will not let them die of hunger and thirst in the desert.

Today’s Gospel provides a similar situation.  The people have enjoyed the food that Jesus provided in last week’s Gospel, and they are looking for more of the same.  He has retreated with his disciples, fearing they will try to make him a king, and they pursue him.  When they catch up with him, Jesus engages them in dialogue.  This dialogue is important for us to hear, because it unpacks the meaning of last week’s miracle.  Jesus, of course, recognizes that they have pursued him not for any religious or spiritual reason, but because he fed them and they are looking for more of the same.  But the real feeding he intends is not just barley loaves, but instead something a little more enduring.

They ask him how they can accomplish the works of God, which is a fair enough question.  That’s really the purpose of our lives too.  But they probably mean that they want to know how they can live the law, which is not nearly as deep as Jesus wishes to go.  He tells them that the best way they can do God’s will is to believe in him – the one God sent.  So they have the audacity to ask him what kind of sign he can do so that they can believe in him.  Can you believe that ?  He just finished feeding thousands of people with five loaves and two fish, and they want to see a sign?  I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to think they wouldn’t recognize a sign from God if it came up and bit them in the nose!

Jesus, instead, would redefine hunger.  Like I said, he wanted to go much deeper.  Barley loaves and manna are nice, but they are nothing compared to what Jesus really longs to give them – and us, by the way.  He makes a very bold claim at the end of today’s Gospel that tells us just exactly what he has in mind: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  They may have to toil very hard for physical bread, bread that will perish, bread that doesn’t last more than a day or so.  But Jesus would have them work for bread that lasts for eternity, the bread of life.  And all they have to do to work for it is to believe.

The question is not whether Jesus will feed them, the question is whether they can accept it.  And in the next few weeks, we will explore that more closely.  But what I think we see in today’s Liturgy of the Word is that we have to be clear about what it is we hunger for.  And that question is very pressing on all of us today.  Every one of us comes here hungering for something.  Our hungers may be very physical: some here may be unemployed or underemployed, or perhaps our hunger is for physical healing of some kind.  But perhaps our hungers are a bit deeper too: a relationship that is going badly, or a sense that we aren’t doing what we should be or want to be doing with our lives.  Our hunger very well may be very spiritual as well: perhaps our relationship with God is not very developed or our prayer life has become stale.  Whatever the hunger is, we need to be honest and name it right now, in the stillness of our hearts.

Naming that hunger, we then have to do what Jesus encouraged the crowds to do: believe.  That is the work of God that we are called upon to do.  Believe that God can feed our deepest hungers, heal our deepest wounds, bind up our brokenness and calm our restless hearts.  Believe that Jesus is, in fact, the Bread of Life, the bread that will never go stale or perish, the bread that will never run out, or disappear like manna in the heat of the day.  Jesus is the Bread that can feed more than our stomachs but also our hearts and souls.  The Psalmist sings, “The Lord gave them bread from heaven.”  And we know that bread is the most wonderful food of all, because it is the Body of Christ.  Amen!

Invocation for Loaves and Fishes

This prayer was for the opening breakfast for the Loaves and Fishes “One Day Without Hunger” event.

The story about Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes, from which this wonderful organization takes its name, is present in all four of the Gospel narratives that we have. The early church obviously talked about that event quite a bit, and for them it was one of the most important events in the whole Jesus story. I think it’s an important story on many theological levels, but at its most basic, it tells us of Jesus’ concern for the people who followed him.

These people had been amazed at his mighty deeds and convincing words and couldn’t tear themselves away even to eat something. So they all arrived in one place hungry, and without anyplace to go find something to eat. All they can scrounge up is five loaves and two fish which is hardly anything for so many people. But in Jesus’ hands it is enough, and the line that leapt out at me as I was reflecting on this story the other day was this: “They all ate and were satisfied.”

That’s what this day is about. One day without hunger. One day without hunger in one small place on the earth seems like hardly anything in the face of such great hunger for so many people. But maybe in the hands of God, it is enough. Enough to raise awareness, enough to increase donations, enough to provide a resource for people who had no idea they could receive it. In the hands of God, may this day be a great blessing to so many and accomplish the needs that seem so great. This day, may all eat and be satisfied.

And so we pray, loving God, God who knows the needs of your people, be with us on this day and bless this community. May our taking part in the events of this day make us ever more aware of the needs of those who hunger. Bless, dear God, this time together and this meal. Bless those who have prepared it and provided for it, and bless all of us who partake of it. May we all eat and be satisfied, this day and every day. Amen.

Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

As you may know, I kind of like to cook. I learned to cook back when I was about eleven or twelve, when my mom started a part time job working in the evenings. My Dad, God rest his soul, wasn’t much of a cook. We used to say he used the smoke alarm to time when things were done cooking. So, in defense of myself and my two sisters, I learned to cook. And Dad wasn’t real unhappy about that, as you might guess. Anyway, as I was learning to cook, sometimes I’d come across a recipe for which we didn’t have the exact right ingredients. Sometimes it was a spice we didn’t have, or maybe it called for butter and all we had was margarine. But whatever the case, there were a few times when I just adapted and took a chance. Sometimes it worked out okay, and sometimes not, but I always learned from the experience.

I was reminded about that experience when I was reading today’s Gospel. Jesus has been attracting people to come to him. They have heard his words and seen what he’s done and want to be around him. But the disciples have no idea what to do with these people now that it’s getting late and nobody’s eaten yet. If they could, they might provide a rich feast that the author of our first reading hints at. A buffet flowing with wine and milk and rich fare. But they have nothing like that to give all these people. So they approach Jesus with a different idea: “dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus won’t hear of such a thing: “Give them some food yourselves.”

And to the disciples ear, that’s easier said than done. “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” But for Jesus, that’s good enough. Those might not have been the exact ingredients for a rich banquet for well over five thousand people, but they’d be good enough in the hands of Jesus. The drama unfolds over four very specific verbs: take, bless, break, give. Jesus takes the bread, says the blessing, breaks the bread, and gives it to the disciples to give to the crowds. And everyone has more than enough to eat.

Jesus does that same thing for us today. He takes the meager gifts we bring: bread and wine, our underdeveloped talents, our tentative faith life. They might not be the ingredients one would hope for, but for Jesus they are plenty. Because he doesn’t just stand off at a distance and see what it is we’ll do with our lacking giftedness, instead he gets right in there with us and supplies everything that what we bring lacks.

Then he says the blessing. In that blessing he gives our meager gifts the power to be a scrumptious banquet. And so our bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ himself, a banquet that in itself gives eloquence to our underdeveloped talents and power to our tentative faith.

Then he breaks the bread. Our gifts taken and blessed are now divided up to provide for the need that is the experience of our world. Because it’s not just us who need to be fed, but it is a hungry, waiting world, that numbers far beyond the shocking five thousand men, to include the billions of men, women and children from every time and place. These are people who are perhaps physically hungry, lacking food and money and clothing and shelter. They are also people who are spiritually hungry, needing something they can believe in, something that can deliver them from the limits of their sadness and pain. This broken bread has to feed all of them, and it will.

Finally he gives the bread to the disciples to give to the people. The disciples are the Church, bringing that blessed bread to all the hungry people. The crowds eat and are satisfied, but more important than that, they are nourished and strengthened for the task that lies ahead. That task is bringing all those hungry people of every time and place to the Church so that they too can be fed, so that their broken lives can be bound up and healed, so that their sadness and pain can be transformed in the healing power of the Cross and Resurrection. The Church’s mission to feed the hungry will never end until that great day when Christ gathers us all to himself.

Just like my culinary experimentation most often led to an edible dish, so the disciples had to throw in whatever they had and came out with an amazing meal. We must continue to do that, continue bringing our bread and wine, our gifts and talents, our faith – such as it is, and giving them to our Lord who takes it all, blesses it and breaks it, giving it all for the life of the world. But it all starts with us. We have to take a chance and give whatever we have. Because if we don’t, dinner will never be served.