18th Sunday in Ordinary
A Homily - A Cycle - 2004-2005
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.
At long last, we priests finally have an opportunity to preach on the Eucharist in this Year of the Eucharist, which began last October and concludes in a few months. Between Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter and the Papal Funeral and Papal Election, it's been difficult to find time preach specifically on this topic, one of such great importance.
The account from St. Matthew that we just heard affords us the opportunity to learn about the nature of the Eucharist through the lens of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We learn today that Jesus attempts to withdraw to a deserted place upon learning of the death of His close associate and second cousin, John the Baptist. Our Lord loved this great saint so much that he once said that no one born of woman is greater that John the Baptist - high praise, coming from the Savior Himself! Our Lord and the Baptist were kindred spirits - they totally understood what it meant to do God's will. Understandably, Jesus wants to take time away to pray. Why? Because His Sacred Heart knows pain and suffering and it knows loss. In this way, Christ's heart is much like our own.
Of course, we learn that once Jesus tries to get away to be alone, the crowds follow Him. Rather than become annoyed at their incessant demands upon Him, Matthew tells us that Jesus' heart is moved with pity for them. Rather than try to escape the crowds, He heals their sick. This sets the stage for the feeding of the 5,000. The lesson here should be clear. When we are "down" we have a tendency to turn inward and start what some call a "Pity party." Jesus shows us the more excellent way. Rather than allow suffering to cause us to become insular, suffering can be a catalyst for us to turn outward and to transcend the suffering into something beautiful for Jesus. For example: ask persons who volunteer their time and talents. One of the great benefits of volunteering, especially when you work with the poor and disadvantaged, is that their problems put your problems in perspective. If you think your life is hard, you can always find another person who has worse problems.
Therefore, Jesus' pain and suffering lead Him to love and He loves the multitudes so much that rather than send them away, He employs the Apostles to help Him feed them. And so the miracle begins. In this Year of the Eucharist, we should more deeply appreciate the great miracle of the Eucharist, which this feeding of the 5,000 foreshadows. So great is this miracle of the Eucharist, that pilgrims will travel far and wide in order to visit Eucharistic miracles. You are perhaps familiar with some of them. For example, in 1730, in Sienna, Italy, thieves broke into the church of San Francesco and broke open the tabernacle so as to use the ciborium for its gold They dumped the consecrated hosts into the church poor box. The next morning, the parish priest, upon discovering the vandalism, saw the hosts in the poor box and transferred them to an altar upon which the sun shone so as to allow the desecrated hosts to deteriorate, according to Church regulations when handling such matters. Will you believe that not a single one of those hosts has deteriorated? In fact, tests run as recently as the 1970s show that the hosts are as fresh today as the day they were baked in 1730! You can go and pray in front of this Eucharistic miracle in Sienna today.
There are dozens more of Eucharistic miracles, but we must never forget that a Eucharistic miracle occurs every time Mass is offered! At the consecration, there is a two-fold miracle. First, ordinary bread and wine are changed into the body, blood, soul and divinity, so that even though the species appear as bread and wine, nothing of bread and nothing of wine remain.
The second miracle is just that - even though the substance changes, the appearances remain the same so that we can consume the species. Ordinarily, when you apply an agent of change to a piece of paper by burning it down to ashes, you no longer have paper, you have ashes and the appearance of ashes are different than that of paper. So, a change in appearance denotes a change in substance. In the Eucharist, things work differently - you have a change of substance but the appearances remain the same. Therein lies this second miracle.
And yet, we can take the Eucharist so much for granted. When people receive our Lord irreverently or without much devotion or care; when those who can attend daily Mass don't; when people no longer confess their sins because they believe that one need not be free of mortal sin to receive worthily; and when people insist that they can pick and chose only those Church teachings they want to follow, we tell Jesus that we don't love Him as much as we can and ought. We tell Jesus by these actions and attitudes that He needs to come down to our terms and accommodate us, rather than us obey Him.
To close, I want to share a story about an experience that a priest-friend of mine had with a Muslim in regards to the Eucharist. This priest brought a Muslim into his parish church so that the Muslim could see what it looks like. The Muslim asked why the priest genuflected at the gold box next to the red sanctuary lamp. The priest took a minute to explain what we believe about the Eucharist. The Muslim said, "That's incredible! So, you really believe that that's God?! "Yes," the priest replied. "Why do you think that is so incredible?" The Muslim replied, "If Muslims believed that like you believe it, we would be totally prostate on the ground right now, because we couldn't even look up at God!"
And yet, my friends, that's how close Christ draws to us. Let us never take Him for granted. As we learn in our Gospel today, the Eucharist is the fruit of the Sacred Heart, which burns for love of you and me. The Eucharist is not just an idea - it is an invitation to a real, personal encounter with God in body and in soul.
Praised be to Jesus Christ! Now and forever!
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