— Words of THE WORD —
Ordinary Time Week 18: Sunday

O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me! You are my rescuer, my help; O Lord, do not delay. (Psalm 69:2, 6)

Gospel excerpt
“Taking (λαβὼν, labon) the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing (εὐλόγησεν, eulogesen), broke (κλάσας, klasas) the loaves, and gave (ἔδωκεν, edoken) them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds (Matthew 14:19).”

A professor colleague and her family are members of an area Reformed Jewish Congregation. On her side of the family, many relatives are devout and observant. The Covenant and Synagogue are most important for family and proper living. On her husband's side of the family, a number of relatives are devout Catholics. Throughout the course of a year, each side of the family graces the insides of Synagogue and Church alike.

This colleagues and I met some time ago and she had a question: “First Holy Communion - that is a ‘big thing’ for Catholics, correct?” Knowing how this event has become so commercialized over the years I said with caution, “Yes ... and that is an interesting question.” She went on to explain that her family had been invited to a relative’s First Communion. “We went to the Church and the party afterward. I could not help thinking how ‘passive’ the whole event appeared.” “Passive?” I inquired. “Well, compared to a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in our Congregation, First Communion seemed to me to involve so little.”

The «Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes,» as the event has come to be known, has a singular distinction among the four Gospels. This is the only event in Jesus’ Public Ministry that all four Evangelists narrate. Mark and Matthew take the event a step further by recording it twice in their respective Gospels. All of this suggests the importance the early Christians saw in this event as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ total Gift of Himself in the sacrificial meal of the Most Holy Eucharist. Yet here is where things unfortunately get ‘dicey’ in the history of biblical interpretation and homiletic creativity. Many attempt, once again, ‘to figure out’ what exactly happened. Some, sadly, go so far as to say that the ‘miracle’ is not multiplication but sharing (anyone who has spent time in hot, humid Galilee knows that food stored in the fold of one's woolen garment is not suitable even for animals!). Even more tragic is that such an approach misses key actions that eventually help us to experience the Most Holy Eucharist as anything but passive.

When the Gospels present this event, when Saint Paul speaks of the Lord’s Supper and when the Eucharistic Prayer is voiced, 4 actions are central: taking, blessing, breaking and giving. These are central to the event proclaimed this Sunday because they are central actions in the life of Jesus Himself. He gives Himself to be taken by His Father for the mission of healing love. Jesus is pronounced blessed by His Father as the “Beloved” and then broken in death that He might be given to all for our salvation as the quintessential model of love. The focus is not what ‘little we give to the Lord’ but first and foremost what Jesus has done for us in love that blows the limits of our psyche.

In this sense, the Most Holy Eucharist is quite an active event, especially when we grow more conscious of allowing ourselves to be taken, blessed, broken and given to others in the service of His Father's Kingdom. Pope-Emeritus Benedict summed it well: “the Eucharist can never be merely a kind of community builder. To receive, to eat of the tree of life thus means to receive the crucified Lord and consequently to accept the parameters of His life, His obedience, His yes, the standard of our creatureliness. It means to accept the love of God, which is our truth - that dependence on God which is no more an imposition from without than is the Son's Sonship. It is precisely this dependence that is freedom, because it is truth and love.” (In the Beginning, page 76)

Indirectly, my Jewish colleague stumbled upon a profound insight in terms of Jesus and the Gift of Himself in the Most Holy Eucharist. He is Gift: we do nothing and can do nothing to earn His presence and His love. Such may seem ‘seem’ passive as each of us does nothing to cause His presence and love to be showered upon us. Yet as He permits Himself to be taken, blessed, broken and given - these actions are far from passive. And in light of what He has graciously done for us, we act in the mode of response by consciously letting our lives be taken, blessed, broken and given in service to the building of His Body and the coming of His Father’s Kingdom. Thus in the end, our energies are directed not to ‘figuring out the miracle,’ but living the miracle as a response to the love Jesus has demonstrated for us in His passion, death and resurrection.

So ... how passive is this?

Draw near to Your servants, O Lord,
and answer their prayers with unceasing kindness,
that, for those who glory in You
as their Creator and guide,
You may restore what You have created
and keep safe what You have restored.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen