A Large Crowd Followed Him

(Homily for Seventeenth Ordinary Sunday, Year B)

A rabbi, a Catholic priest and an Anglican died and stood together at the entrance of heaven. All three felt pretty confident, but St. Peter looked over their records and said first to the rabbi, “Sorry. You ate pork. Down you go.”

The priest thought to himself, “Thank God, the Old Law doesn’t apply to us.” But St. Peter said, “Sorry. You ate meat on a Friday of Lent. Down you go.”

The Anglican was happy that his church had gotten away from all that legalism. But St. Peter said, “Sorry. You ate your dinner with a salad fork…”

That of course is a caricature of Anglicanism. Still some denominations – and let’s face it, some groups within the Catholic Church – desire to treat religion like belonging to a club.

Now, Jesus did spend a great amount of time forming a group of apostles who would act as a spearhead. Yet, he never lost sight of the masses. Today we hear that “a large crowd followed him.”

In The Church and I, Frank Sheed writes: “There are ‘spiritual’ types who find the idea revolting that Christ would be sanctifying them in and through the ragtag and bobtail that in so many times and places the Church looks like: but this is to mistake refinement for spirituality. The hot smell of humanity is too strong for them.”

I have not been accused of refinement, but I admit that I sometimes find the crowds overwhelming. I can identify with the old woman who lived in a shoe.* Here at Holy Family we have a weekend Mass attendance of about three thousand which in itself is great. However, at any given time fifteen or twenty have a need which requires attention. Sometimes I (or the parish) will have a way of responding, sometimes not. Beyond those attending Sunday Mass are many more who turn to the parish. Once I kept a record of requests for some service (funeral, illness, personal or family crisis, a letter or document, etc.). Only about a third were on the parish list.

A friend of mine – a very good pastor – keeps the parish list by his phone. He does not provide services, even funerals, to those not registered. I see his point – and plan to challenge people more regarding their involvement. Still, in conscience, I cannot make membership the focus when someone contacts me, for example, for baptism or marriage. We have lost many people because instead of receiving a welcome, they faced a bureaucratic hurdle.

Jesus ministered to the crowd. According to the Gospel, each one “had their fill.” But the meal itself was plain: barley bread and dried fish. We do have something wonderful for everyone, but fussy eaters risk going hungry.** A man once surprised a Catholic audience by saying, “Expect of the Church nothing but sacraments and you will not be disappointed.”

Like Jesus, the Church uses the ordinary substances - unleavened bread, oil, water. But through such elements we receive the greatest gift. To quote again from Sheed, “In membership of the Church I find a luxury. I do not mean some hyper-spiritual joy known to a mystic. I mean pleasure as the plainest and bluntest can experience it if they will give themselves the trouble, pleasure comparable to that of food, of color, or health.”


*But I feel no envy for childless neighbors who live in condos. The PBS program Affluenza noted that the average American home is more than twice as large as it was in the 1950s, yet the average family is smaller. We work longer, have less time for families, and are more stressed out. See Twice as Many Things, Twice as Unhappy

**More about them in the next four weeks as we continue with John, chapter 6.

Versión Castellana

General Intercessions for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (from Priests for Life)

From Archives (17th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2015: Dimensions of the Eucharist Week 1: Food
2012: Love Languages
2009: Think of All the Souls
2006: Some Left Over
2003: A Large Crowd Followed Him
2000: But I Wasn't Fed

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