While I am on vacation this month, I offer this Reflection for your consideration. —Msgr. Richard
“God feeds us and answers all our needs.” This we proclaim over and over in today’s Responsorial Psalm. But if God feeds us and answers all our needs, why are people starving in East Africa? Where is the bread of life for them? If God satisfies the desires of every living thing, why are so many going hungry on the streets of our own country? What is screwing things up in the world as God intends it?
Over and over Scripture reassures us that God gives bread in abundance. Elisa commands his servant to feed one hundred people with twenty barley loaves. The servant obeys and gives what he has. Not only is it enough, but “there was some left over.” God provided manna for Moses and the Israelites in the desert during their exodus out of Egypt. God is not stingy; God gives in abundance. Jesus in today’s Gospel feeds 5,000 with five barley loaves and two fish, providing with such generosity that not only did everyone have enough but the apostles “filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the loaves” (John 6:13).
Denise Levertov was an outstanding poet whose work reveals how she savored life in all its particulars and wrestled, as do others, to give voice to the human vocation to forge peace and justice in a violent world. When we are awake, alert, and receptive we often know the goodness of God in the warmth of a safe room, a loving embrace, a beautiful flower, or a lyrical voice. The abundant goodness of God, providing for all our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, comes through our own experiences of love, friendship, and beauty. Yet there are many who are in agony, malnourished, suffering, and dying.
With the prophets and apostles, we hold in our bodies and spirits the two poles of our experience: God’s unconditional love and constant desire to give us all that we need and our own human shortcomings and sin that keep us from fully receiving and giving that love.
“See,” God is saying in Genesis, “I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food.” This is a description of Paradise. This is the world the way God intends it to be; an abundance of food, material, and spirituality for the human family. In this Eucharist, we surrender ourselves, our world, all our human sisters and brothers, and all of creation into the transforming depths of Jesus, the Bread of Life, so that being one with him in suffering and death, we may rise in him as Bread of Life, abundant gifts for and with one another. Only through his transforming love can we do our part in creating that Paradise, the fullness of God’s reign.
Katherine Howard, OSB, is a member of Saint Benedict’s Monastery, Saint Joseph, Minnesota, where she works as a spiritual director and writer.
TREASURES FROM OUR TRADITION
The feeding of the five thousand by the seaside is certainly the most famous of picnics. The miracle of the loaves reminds us of the earlier miracle of the wine at Cana. Like the Cana miracle, this one begins with human initiative as the small child responds to the hunger of the crowd by offering a seemingly meager gift. What could be more appropriate for summer than a Gospel account of a joyful picnic with Jesus and the generosity of a child at the center?
The coming month of August has always been a time for picnics by the sea, under the stars, for porch and rooftop, for parks and beaches, and enjoying the best of local crops: corn, tomatoes, melons, berries, bowls of fresh fruit. Picnics are a sign of the welcome table of God: always room for one more, always plenty to share, always a place of laughter and story-telling and always speaking to us of our deepest longings. Don’t let August pass by without a picnic!