Bottom line: The multiplication of the loaves reminds us to ask Jesus for our daily bread. In doing so we express solidarity with the poor and a desire to receive Christ in the Eucharist.
In his book Jesus of Nazareth Pope Benedict has a beautiful reflection on the Lord's Prayer. I was particularly struck by his analysis of the fourth petition, "Give us this day our daily bread." What the Holy Father says very much ties in with today's Gospel about the multiplication of the loaves. Pope Benedict observes that the petition, "Give us this day our daily bread," presupposes poverty. The first thing a poor person asks for is bread, something to supply energy and strength. When people come to the rectory asking for help, I never give money. Instead I explain about our St. Vincent de Paul Society and offer something to eat, maybe a sandwich or (if they are lucky) lumpia. A truly poor person receives the food with gratitude. Now, you and I probably do not worry about where our next meal will come from. We have an abundance of food at hand, perhaps too much.* Nevertheless we can say, "Give us this day our daily bread." Pope Benedict emphasizes the pronoun "our." We do not ask for my daily bread, but for "our" daily bread. We pray in solidarity with those who are genuinely poor, who more than anything else want some nourishing food today.
In that light it is interesting that Jesus performed the multiplication of the loaves for an enormous throng. We hear about Jesus healing individual people, but we never hear about him giving food to a lone individual. Perhaps he did, but the Gospels only show him feeding groups. Like those hungry people we pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." What a wonderful thing if all people had nutritious meals every day! Most of us would feel good if we could help feed one hungry child. For that reason you respond generously to collections such as Rice Bowl and the Annual Catholic Appeal. When you help the poor, you become part of the answer to the prayer "Give us this day our daily bread."
It's no coincidence that besides bread, Jesus also multiplied fish. Fish, as you know, is a very healthful food. The heart and cancer societies urge us to eat fish three times a week. Jesus wants to give us food which not only fills, but also nourishes. Hippocrates, the founder of medicine, said: "Let food be your medicine and let your medicine be food." The healing power of food hints at a deeper meaning of today's miracle.
How do we discover the hidden meaning of Jesus' feeding the crowd? We need to turn first to the Old Testament. In our reading from the book of Genesis we hear about a mysterious figure called Melchizedek. He is both a priest and a king. But what is most interesting is what he offers: not a sacrificial lamb or any other animal. What Melchizedek offers is bread and wine.
Those elements, bread and wine, come up again - in the second reading. Like Melchisedec, St. Paul makes an offering of bread and wine. Paul describes a tradition he received from the apostles and in turn handed on to the Christians at Corinth: Namely, that Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to the disciples, saying, "This is my body." If you were listening carefully, you notice that St. Paul uses the same verbs as today's Gospel: took, blessed, broke and gave. After organizing the enormous crowd, Jesus took the loaves, said a blessing, broke them and gave them to the disciples. The disciples then distributed the loaves to the people. They were the first "Eucharistic ministers." At the Last Supper, however, Jesus would make them priests: Do this in memory of me.
The multiplication of the loaves is a Eucharistic miracle. In light of that, I would like to return to the pope's commentary on, "Give us this day our daily bread." He notes that early Christian writers understood the fourth petition of the Our Father as a Eucharistic petition. Like us, the early Christians prayed the Our Father before Communion. They realized that the true daily bread is the Eucharist, Jesus' Body. Pope Benedict has a wonderful quote from a third century Church Father named Cyprian (died 258). The quote sums up our greatest hope - and also our deepest fear - as we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Here is what Cyprian said:
"We who are privileged to receive the Eucharist as our bread must nevertheless pray that none of us be permanently cut off and severed from the body of Christ. 'On this account we pray that our bread, Christ, be given to us every day; that we, who remain and live in Christ, may not depart from his healing power and from his body.'" (De dominica oratione 18)
St. Cyprian points out the only thing we should fear: separation from Christ. Not that he would ever abandon us, but we sometimes distance ourselves from him. Just like we need food every day to maintain health, so we need Christ every day. He is our daily bread. If possible, come to daily Mass. But at the minimum, live each day so that you can receive the Lord worthily on Sunday.
I'd like to sum up what I am trying to say to you in this homily: When Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish, he obviously wanted to alleviate physical hunger - and he wants us to continue that work. For that reason we pray for our daily bread, not my daily bread. But the multiplication of the loaves foreshadows an even greater miracle: the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ. It is when we come to Mass that we receive the most profound answer to our prayer: Give us this day our daily bread.
*An abundance of food is not something we should take for granted. Certainly climate change will challenge our farmers and fishermen. The biggest threat, however, comes from our ongoing societal breakdown. On one hand, we cannot agree on basic matters such as what protection we should give innocent life and what constitutes a family. On the other hand, our public discourse keeps growing more discourteous - and incoherent. It is not pleasant to imagine what would happen if some crisis disrupted the food supply. Grocery stores in cities like Seattle have only enough food to feed the population for a few days. The scene at food stores would be horrific and it would not be better at places where people had stockpiled groceries. Our food supply depends not just on the three percent who work in agriculture, but on an intricate social web, which seems to be getting more and more stretched. Another reason to pray that God will give us our daily bread. Do not allow our society to fall into chaos (as has happened with others societies in human history). Help us, Lord, to build a just and respectful society.
From Archives (Corpus Christiy - Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Fr. Ramon's surprise, Archbishop to address priests, Latin Mass by new priest Fr. Mel Stazicich)
A Chaldean priest and three deacons killed in Mosul (Martyrdom of Christians seems so common today that the mainstream media hardly notice. Or is it a deliberate choice?)
Ambulance Takes Planned Parenthood Victim to Hospital (Olympia, WA)
Letter to Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur:
As difficult as it is, we need to be honest about what really happened here. Choice is a perfectly fine word, but it carries no real meaning until we define what is being chosen. If we are to argue for or against some choice we must be clear on what it is, especially in a matter of this gravity. Instead of a natural death mitigated by whatever palliative care medical science could offer to ease it, their child was instead destroyed while still alive in Diane's womb, and likely experienced, however briefly, excruciating pain, having already developed to 24 weeks. Horrible is an insufficient word for the "choice" they felt compelled to make.
My bulletin column
St. Mary of the Valley Album
Succint ecclesiology from Archbishop Chaput: Pope Is Not CEO And Bishops Are Not His Employees
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
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