Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Lenten Mercy ~ Meditation: More Than Enough And For Everyone!

Giovanni Lanfranco ~ Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes

There was another occasion about this time when a huge crowd had collected, and, as they had no food, Jesus called his disciples and said to them, "I feel sorry for all these people; they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home unfed, they will turn faint on the way; some of them have come from a distance." The disciples answered, "How can anyone provide all these people with bread in this lonely place?" "How many loaves have you?" he asked; and they answered, "Seven." So he ordered the people to sit down on the ground; then he took the seven loaves, and, after giving thanks to God, he broke the bread and gave it to his disciples to distribute; and they served it out to the people. They had also a few small fishes, which he blessed and ordered them to distribute. They all ate to their hearts' content, and seven baskets were filled with scraps that were left. The people numbered about four thousand. Then he dismissed them; and, without delay, got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. Mark 8:1-10

Seems like we just read this account of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes in Mark 6:35-44. There Jesus fed 5000 people with five little loaves of bread and two fish and twelve baskets left over. Here he feeds 4000 people with seven loaves and a few fish and seven baskets left over. Is it just the same story retold with confused details?  Perhaps the first verse suggests the miracle happened twice: There was another occasion about this time. 

Or maybe the miracle happened only once and Mark is repeating it with a second version because, like children, we learn best by repetition. One meaning we need to hear again and again is: No one is left out. How pleased the mother is on the left of Lanfranco's painting above, that there is food for her child. Maybe that's her elderly father or father-in-law with whom she's sharing her relief.

We notice too that in this account, Jesus is still in non-Jewish territory. And we remember the bantering conversation he had with the Gentile woman a few verses ago (Mark 7:24-30), who told Jesus that she and her "dog" people would be glad for the crumbs that fall from the Jewish table. Well here, those crumbs become a feast for her people. 

There's enough for everyone! For all! That's why the number seven (symbolizing utter fullness) is emphasized, whether in the previous feeding miracle (5 loaves plus 2 fish) or in this telling: 7 loaves and 7 baskets of left overs. It's akin to the water-to-wine miracle of Cana, where 6 large water jars, plus Jesus himself, adds up to 7. What does it mean? That in Christ there is more than enough to satisfy the human person spiritually. 

There's lots of complaining these days about the increase in the number of self-proclaimed atheists or the young people who say, I'm not religious, but spiritual. And Pope Francis has said these numbers are increasing because the Church has not satisfied the hunger people have for God, and so they go elsewhere.

Some years ago, when the Feast of the Lord's Transfiguration fell on a Sunday, I sat through a sermon where the young priest made no mention of the Transfiguration but harangued everyone for twenty minutes about the "Sins of Hollywood." And recently a young husband and wife told me they have decided to stop going to Mass because they can no longer bear the on-going sermons demonizing trans-gendered people. Something's not right with this picture, they say.

Then Jesus dismissed them. This huge crowd had been with Jesus for a three day retreat: the soul-feast of his teaching. Then, so solicitous for their well-being, he fed them physically to their complete satisfaction. Can you imagine the joy!



15 comments:

  1. In this account, there are 4000 people, not men only as in the first telling of this miracle. And here Jesus notices that the people need to be fed. I wonder if there is meaning in these differences. But of course Jesus knows we are hungry and he would deny no one to be fed. That is the true joy in believing in Jesus.

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    1. In the telling of the Loaves and Fishes story where only men are mentioned, scholars suggest that these men had followed Jesus out into the wilderness because they were hoping Jesus would be organizing an uprising...forming an army to get the Romans back on a boat to Italy. But that's not what Jesus came to do.

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  2. Jesus still feeds us all today. The continuing miracle that nourishes us on our path to salvation.

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  3. Father, If people are leaving the Catholic Church because their hunger is not being satisfied, then why aren't they turning toward a different religious affiliation? This trend towards religious apathy is on the rise in most religions, not just Catholicism. When the going gets tough,or people disagree with the teaching of the Church, they bail out. There must be some other reason for it than lack of satisfaction.

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  4. It doesn't follow that those who leave the Church should find their home in another religion as such. Huge numbers of people simply speak of themselves as "searchers". That may lead in any number of places. I don't think people bail out because the RC Church is too tough. We've relaxed most of the rules and expectations I grew up with in the 1950's. It is said of some North East Dioceses that Catholics are hemorrhaging out f the Church. In my own diocese little communities of bible orientation spring up like mushrooms. A bible oriented community isn't footloose by any means. People want to hear the Word of God reflected upon. When I was chaplain to a residential school for young people in trouble, formal bible study was a very popular evening activity. And it wasn't because there was nothing else to do.

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  5. I look at my fellow churchgoers and wonder who is there purely out of a sense of obligation and habit and who is really getting something out of it. Even if I don't really relate to the homily, I still try to be wholly into the Eucharist. That is a gift that should not be overlooked and forgotten. People who leave the Church are leaving this nourishment behind.

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  6. It's too easy to blame "them" - whoever that might be. The first thing the Church must do is look within. AA says, "take your own inventory." Young people flock to the ecumenical monastic community of Taize, France in enormous numbers. The message there is the Gospel, community, sung prayer, silence, simplicity, hospitality and global awareness. They are doing something right that gets the attention of young people.

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    1. How come you make so much sense when other priests do not? You address the issues that matter most. unity There is unity here. I am one of those searchers, seeking a way to keep my Catholic faith intact and you help me to do it Father. I know I will feel renewal on Easter morning as you have led us through lent teaching us mercy as it should be taught. You're a blessing to us Father Stephen.

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  7. And I'm blessed too: that this venue exists to explore our life in Christ - that I have friends who help me with the techno bit - that God has brought me to today through many varied experiences of ministry over the years, especially working with young people who have steered off course, and that there are folks like yourself who are searching and struggling. Who could ask for more? God bless you as we approach Holy Week and Easter.

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    1. God bless you Father, GOD BLESS YOU!

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    2. And you and your family. "Keep the faith" my old Irish father would say.

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  8. I remember when you were in our parish, father, your sermons were so popular. People came from other parishes to hear you talk. You made everything about our faith exciting and sensible.

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    1. I sincerely agree with this statement about your sermons. Even young children listened as you spoke predominantly becasue you paid attention to them. There was a young altar boy who served mass for you seemingly every week without fail. I remember how he watched and earnestly paid attention to your every move and how pious he looked as if it was the most important thing he could be doing at the moment. It is a number of years later and he still stands with his hands clasped in prayer while serving faithfully and I wonder if you realize the impact you must have had on him and the other children whose lives you touched. They are blessed to have known you.

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    2. And how blessed am I to have met young people like this - souls so awake to spiritual things. I know this young fellow: I could have looked over at him at any point in the Mass and we'd make eye contact. Never missed a bell or the little bows after the handing off of cruets. Thanks for your own observing and remembering.

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  9. Thank you; you're kind. When we stick to the things that really matter - Jesus and his Gospel - our faith IS exciting and sensible. We lose our Gospel-joy when we get bogged down in so much else. Bless you in these last week's of Lent!

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