Sunday, July 24, 2011
The 6th Sunday after Pentecost
My dear faithful:
Two weeks ago our Gospel for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost told the story of the fishermen who fished all night and caught nothing, only to let down their nets again at Our Lord’s command, upon which they landed more fish than they knew what to do with. It was a tale of caution and of hope: caution lest we lose hope. For just as the darkest hour precedes the dawn, so too do our trials come before our glory. Just as the sorrowful mysteries precede the glorious mysteries, we must learn the lesson that we must suffer before we are rewarded. We must sew before we can reap. We must work before we are paid. And, like Christ before us, we must die before we rise again into the glory promised us by Him, for them that love Him.
This is perhaps a bitter lesson for some. But it should not be so. Not if we shrug off the bad part, ever mindful of the good which is to follow. The lesson here is to accept the Crosses that befall us in this life, because it is through the Cross that comes our salvation, and it is after our Cross that comes our Resurrection.
Now why am I dwelling on a lesson we learned two weeks ago? Because in today’s Gospel, we find another example of this same lesson. And it comes to us, in the form of a few little fishes, perhaps some of those same fish that those fishermen brought on to their boat that morning in that other Gospel story. For now we are no longer by the side of Lake Genesareth, with its teeming waters full of fish. In today’s Gospel we find ourselves out in the wilderness miles from anywhere, following Our Lord to hear him preach, and in the company of 4,000 other men, women and children who have come for the same purpose.
Remember, this is the desert. It’s hot and we are hungry. There is nowhere to buy food. And we have been out here three days. If we brought food with us, we have eaten it long ago, and now we are not just hungry, we are literally weak with hunger. Perhaps some of the children and the elderly amongst us have already started to faint and drop by the wayside. It’s a long way back home, we have no food for the journey, and things are not looking good…
Perhaps we remember our ancestors of long ago, who once also passed through a desert and were hungry. We remember that God gave them manna from heaven, and maybe we look into the skies to see if food will drop down upon us like the bread of angels. But if we do, it is because we have not yet realized that we do not need to look into the heavens to find God. God is here with us in the form of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is He who will feed us.
Three days we have spent following Our Lord in the desert. Three days without bread, just as in a few months from now Our Lord’s disciples would experience an even worse three days of darkness during which the Bread of Life lay dead in the sepulcher. But again, this is our lesson, the darkest hour before the dawn. For now, just as our children and grandparents faint away before us and we realize our apparent folly in following this Man into the wilderness to die, He stops and asks them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven.
This would not exactly have inspired us with renewed confidence. Seven loaves of bread, and four thousand people. That would mean that 571 people would have to share each loaf. In other words you’d be lucky to get a single crumb of this bread.
But Our Lord simply tells us to sit down, and then he blesses the bread and those few little fishes that someone had brought along and which had probably dried out in the hot sun. And he broke the bread and divided it up among the people and wonder of wonders, we all eat and are filled. Not only that, but the leftovers fill seven baskets afterwards. That’s as many baskets as there were loaves in the first place. Even the 7 entire loaves would not have filled these 7 baskets.
Our lesson is very clear. When we are in the most need it is then that God will help us. As our need increases, thus our help approaches. Never despair, because God shall surely make speed to save us and will make haste to help us. Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who hath made heaven and earth.
The people in the wilderness first heard the Word of God preached to them by Christ, and no doubt confessed, at least in their heart, their love and trust of him, and then were fed miraculously with the 7 loaves and fishes. Today, we, in our own great wilderness of this apostate world, confess our love and trust of God, and we in our turn are fed miraculously with the 7 Sacraments. We first confess our sins, and then are fed by the Bread of Angels, with that greatest miracle of all which is the Holy Eucharist. In the words of the great Sequence of the Feast of Corpus Christi composed by St. Thomas Aquinas, Sumit unus, sumunt mille: quantum isti, tantum ille: nec sumptus consúmitur. (Whether one or thousands eat, all receive the selfsame meat, nor the less for others leave.)
The days in which we live are dark days indeed. Our ship, our barque of Peter, has foundered on the rocks, and we few remnants gallantly try to row our little lifeboats through the storm which gets worse and worse. But remember that time that St. Peter and the Apostles themselves were in peril on the sea, fighting the storm through the three watches of the night. It was not until the fourth watch of the night, that darkest hour that precedes the dawn, that Our Lord approached their boat: And lo! Christ walking on the water! Let us renew our prayers to Our blessed Lady, Star of the Sea, to help us persevere through the darkness and on into the ever-increasing struggle with the deep. For the worse it gets, the greater shall be our reward.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.