Eighteenth Sunday in
A Homily - Cycle A - 2010-2011
by Fr. Luke Dundon
First Reading - Isaiah 55:1-3
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18
Second Reading - Romans 8:35, 37-39
Gospel - Matthew 14:13-21
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, "This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves." (Jesus) said to them, "There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves." But they said to him, "Five loaves and two fish are all we have here." Then he said, "Bring them here to me," and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over - twelve wicker baskets full. Those who are were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.
I apologize. . . I am about to offend at least a few Italians in the congregation. . . I speak of pasta. . . and lots of it. . . two times a day in our seminary dining hall, lunch and dinner, seven days a week, four weeks a month, every month of the year. . . for four years. Spaghetti, Fettuccini, Ravioli, Rigatoni, Penne, Taglietelle, farfalle, and lasagna... all great foods, but when folks ask me now, "you must really like pasta!!!" I have to admit. . . well. . . yes. . . once a month. . . maybe every other month. . . I might have gotten tired of it just a little bit. . .
But such wasn't the case for our regular Friday evening crowd, as the St. Vincent de Paul van would pull into the parking lot. . . the crowd would quickly swell, people coming out of nooks and crannies, in tattered clothes but with eager eyes and hungry bellies. . . they were getting food, warm food, warm pasta, a Friday evening treat, especially in the cool and damp Roman winter night!
Every Friday evening, I worked with this group, who ministered to the poor of the city through a community van that brought hot spaghetti and hot tea to three different locations, one of which was right under the shadow of St. Peter's Basilica. As soon as the van would pull into the little street side, they would line right up. . . the group leader, a little old Italian man with a loud voice and big heart, would call everyone for prayer, and then the food would be distributed. It was amazing to see, the very food I had gotten kind of tired with, became the meal of kings for these people, every Friday of the year. . .
Eventually, the food would run out, the van would have to move on, until its return the next week. . . I remember thinking to myself, wow! I've never seen so much gratitude for a hot cup of tea, or a warm bowl of spaghetti. . . especially the spaghetti. . . but then, I had never been in such need before. These people had, and so they could experience something I could not - - - the pleasure of penne pasta, warm food that was hard to come by, and the excitement to see others interested in caring for them. . .
Physical needs were provided. . . and providing for the poor was probably more of a gift for me than for them, as my own heart was moved with compassion for them, perhaps similar to how Christ reacted in the Gospel today. He sees the thousands before him, out in the wilderness, where it's hard to find a way to get food. . . so He instructs His twelve, and He provided for their hunger. . . through His Apostles and through prayer.
Through prayer. . . a reminder, that the poor are physical, but also spiritual, and so spiritual need is there as well. Who are these poor? Who is in need? They, we, all men and women have spiritual needs, perhaps even more deeply than physical needs. Mother Theresa, in the book Come Be My Light, spent forty years in a state unbeknownst to almost all people. She lived in a state of desolate dryness, total aridity, questioning at times whether God was still watching over her! At the end of her life, in reward for her perseverance, the Lord showed her that she was given this dryness to reveal the greatest poverty of the poor in India. . . it wasn't physical. . . but spiritual. . . and it came in the form of loneliness.
Loneliness was the greatest suffering by far. Mother Theresa was connected and united with them in their need. She had no idea how close she was to them, as she give them bread, as she gave them a hug. . . yet experienced the same loneliness as they did.
And so, moved with compassion and eager to satisfy our deepest needs, our greatest suffering, Christ himself still takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it, saying This is my body, given up for you. . . and then, he takes the cup, and says This is my blood, shed for you and for all. . .
In a few months, the New Translation will be changing the text, "it will be poured out for you and for many" - - - this is a cause of great debate! Christ died for all, didn't he? Yes, he did. . . however, besides the fact that the new text is more faithful to two of the Gospel accounts and the ancient Greek language it was written in, it also has a beautiful reference in our own English language. "All" refers to a generic entirety, yes, but it usually refers to a crowd or a large quantity of something. The word "Many" more often refers to numerous individuals, and this makes sense, for Christ gives Himself not to feed a generic multitude, but to feed each individual, in their deepest need for love, for union with another - - - why would anyone want to turn away from this invitation? Our Lord's heart is moved with compassion - - - not for a multitude, but for individual persons. . .
Loneliness has been conquered in the Eucharist - He has given us His Church to remind us constantly of His Presence with us, His Body and Blood shed for us, first for the Twelve, and then so many more, for the ministers through whom He instructs to distribute the bread, and for us here. Our Church is united by this taking, this blessing, this breaking, and this giving. . . we are united with each other by receiving Him in the Eucharist, and so the worst forms of poverty are conquered by Him, who is the cure to all forms of loneliness. . . I enjoyed giving food to the people in Rome. . . but I think I enjoyed spending time with them even more. Christ certainly does provide for us, yes, most especially in our hunger to be with Him. May we never forget that. . . We hunger for Him, because He first hungered for us, there, on the cross. . .