“Good morning,” said the woman at the marble lectern before the beginning of Sunday Mass at St. Therese. “Today and for the next four weeks, we will hear about Jesus Christ as our bread of life. Indeed, the miracle that we hear in today’s Gospel is the same one that we celebrate on the altar today: the feeding of God’s people.”
But there is feeding and there is feeding. I once heard a preacher say that a full stomach makes for an empty heart — that if all our physical needs are satisfied, our sense of emotional and spiritual hunger will go unnoticed. He said this during a sermon on the importance of fasting, the sort so common among Old Testament penitents, the sort Jesus Himself endured before entering into public life.
And yet...the God of Scripture is forever feeding His people — manna in the desert, anyone? (Though, the Jews were facing starvation.) The first reading related how Elisha the prophet commanded that the first fruits be given to the people to eat. The sacrifice intended for God returned to the people, even though 20 barley loaves could never feed 100 mouths. And yet, as Elisha prophesied, “there was some left over.”
“The hand of the Lord feeds us,” proclaimed the responsorial psalm, “He answers all our needs.... You open your hand/ and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” A bold statement, especially since Father Henry Rodriguez acknowledged in his sermon that “six percent of the world goes to bed hungry every night,” but one echoed in the folksy (bass and flute) music of the choir. “Come to the feast of heaven and earth, come to the table of plenty/ God will provide for all that you need, here at the table of plenty.” Safer, perhaps, to shift the imagery to the realm of the spiritual, where the lack may be less obvious.
But, no. The feast of heaven and earth. Body and soul. Again and again, that theme was struck. “Lord Jesus,” prayed Rodriguez at the outset, “You feed Your people with the finest wheat. Lord, have mercy.” The plea for the spiritual good of mercy makes it sound like “finest wheat” is referring to the “Bread of life come down from heaven” — to Jesus Himself. That sounded like what Rodriguez was getting at during the Liturgy of the Eucharist when he prayed, “Your gift of the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is the foretaste and promise of the Paschal Feast in heaven.”
And yet...the Gospel told the follow-up to that story about Elisha, the one where Jesus feeds 5000 men with five loaves and a couple of fish. They came to Him for teaching, and He filled their bellies. His teaching He saved for His disciples. “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He asked, though “He Himself knew what He was going to do.” The disciples had no answer.
“He tested the disciples,” said Rodriguez. “He knew that they did not have enough food, yet in the miracle of the loaves and fishes, we find that God gives all that is necessary for His people to eat....” He mentioned feeding the hungry in our community but was quick to turn back to the spiritual. “God gives you and me our loves of bread and our fishes through our baptism. We gather this morning to be nourished by the bread of God’s word, and in a few moments, we’re going to be nourished by the Eucharist. This is all you and I need, despite our weaknesses, to believe that God will continue to do great things.... We have the opportunity to bring God’s hope to one another.... I have mentioned many times when Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, ‘You are the wealthiest country in the world; yet in many ways, you are one of the poorest countries in the world,’ because people thirst for God’s compassion and hope.... People dealing with depression. People dealing with broken relationships. People who no longer feel part of our community. We can be the loaves and fishes.”
The first and last prayers of the faithful hammered it home. First, the physical. “That the Church will continue to care for the needs of the hungry and the poorest of the world and will call others to do the same, we pray to the Lord.” And then the spiritual. “That we will be more attentive to our spiritual lives and grow daily in prayerfulness and devotion to the will of God, we pray to the Lord.”
“Blest are they who hunger and thirst,” ran the song at the Presentation of Gifts. “They shall have their fill.”
What happens when we die?
“I believe we come into the presence of the Lord,” said Rodriguez, “awaiting our ultimate judgment, based on the way we lived.” — Matthew Lickona
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Address: 6016 Camino Rico, Del Cerro, 619-582-3716
Founded locally: 1956
Senior pastor: Monsignor Frederick Florek
Congregation size: n/a
Staff size: 18
Sunday school enrollment: n/a
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: no
Dress: casual to formal
Diversity: majority Caucasian, but diverse
Sunday worship: 7 a.m., 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., noon, 5 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 55 minutes