Pastoral Column, Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: August 5, 2018

Pastoral Column, Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: August 5, 2018

Msgr. Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish 

In a certain small town, drivers kept going through the borough’s only stop sign. They all said it was not big enough. The frustrated chief of police constructed an enormous billboard with the word STOP! In flashing letters and blinking lights around the perimeter. Then the police chief waited … and waited. A car approached from a distance and went straight through as usual. When stopped, the driver said “What stop sign?”  Sometimes no matter what you do to communicate, some people just won’t get it.

In the gospel today, the crowd of people who addressed Jesus were the same people who had recently witnessed Jesus feeding 5,000 with five barley loaves and two pieces of dried fish. But despite the generosity of Jesus’ act of multiplication, many in the multitude became lost in the sign and came to Him looking for more. Similarly, in the selection from Exodus in the first reading, the Israelites were being called to accept the manna and the quail as gifts and to see beyond them to the God who had brought them into being and who was guiding them to freedom and a new way of life. Moses interpreted the sign for them: it was bread from the Lord for the journey. The crowd gathered with Jesus that day recalled that desert event and talked of Moses and manna. But the Lord redirected their attention to the true bread from heaven. That bread is His very self, who can satisfy every human hunger. Jesus challenged them to look beyond the bread and see beyond their stomachs so as to be able to be fed from the real food He has to offer, the bread of life. Jesus could see beyond the bread He took, blessed, broke, and gave, aware that He Himself would be taken and broken when He gave His life for the salvation of sinners. Jesus could also see beyond the crucifixion to the Eucharistic celebration, where He would be remembered and truly be present to His disciples.

You and I are encouraged by this Gospel to move from one level to another: to see beyond and behind, to see as Jesus did. Our Lord could see beyond the demands of the crowds for another free lunch and recognize the deeper hungers of which the people had yet to become aware. He could see beyond the beggar to the blessedness God bestowed on every human being. He could look beyond the adultery and acknowledge the repentant sinner. Jesus could see beyond skin color, gender, politics and social standing and recognize His brothers and sisters.

If we are to accept the bread that God gives to us in Jesus, it is essential to look beyond and to see where the sign in pointing. Some of the saints in our tradition had the ability to see beyond. St. Teresa of Calcutta, for example, could look beyond the wretchedness of India’s poor and recognize in them the face of Jesus. St. John Paul II could look into the eyes of his would-be assassin and recognize a brother whom he could forgive. As this lengthy Bread of Life discourse goes on over the next 4 – 5 Sundays, Jesus will continue to challenge our way of seeing and believing. We are invited to listen behind the words and look beyond the bread so as to perceive the mystery of the sign that is the very bread of life, the only life that matters: Jesus’ life.

Pastor Column, Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 29, 2018

Pastor Column, Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 29, 2018

Msgr. Joseph Tracey, St. Stanislaus Parish

If you had to provide a detailed job description of what your duties and responsibilities of being a disciple of Jesus, what would you include? Some might describe their role as one of administration or leadership, with God’s grace enhancing all our talents and abilities. Attention to the day-to-day details and the ability to organize and delegate responsibilities to others might be some people’s main role. Perhaps others see themselves as a fundraiser, helping to finance the buildings and business systems that can help a church operate successfully. Still others might see themselves as a representative of the parish at various organizational and committee meetings.

While all of these duties are necessary in their own way, they may not have been the duties Jesus had uppermost in his mind when he sent His disciples out on ministry. To be renewed as disciples ourselves, we must turn again to he sacred texts where – for this Sunday and the following five Sundays of August – our teacher and mentor in ministry will be Jesus as portrayed by John the Evangelist.

For the next six weeks, Jesus will teach by example that the proper role and responsibility of every disciple of Jesus is to feed the hungers of God’s people. Responding to the hunger and starvation of others is a “square-one” obligation, not something like the icing on the Christian-life cake. Today in the Gospel it is the physical hunger of a very large crowd of people that merits Jesus’ full attention. He is compassionate toward their need. He undertook prophetic action, in a manner similar to God’s representatives in the Jewish tradition associated with miraculous feedings. His offer of bread for the many echoes similar action by Elisha the prophet, recalled in today’s first reading. The prophet’s power as a man of God and his authority to speak God’s truth were affirmed by his feeding of one hundred people. Jesus’ actions affirmed his power and authority as well. At the same time, his providing of food for the many cast Jesus in the light as God who provided manna for the Israelites during their desert wandering. Jesus fed all who would be nourished by Him. His willingness to feed humankind’s physical hungers is told no less than six times in the four Gospels; this fact affirms the significance of his actions and serves as a guide for those seeking to identify themselves as Jesus’ disciples.

Our Lord satisfied people’s hunger in other ways as well. He fed those hungry for the truth of His teaching; His compassion fed the sorrowing; His mercy fed the marginalized, His caring fed the sick, ding and the lonely. His love fed the hunger of the sinner yearning to be loved, to belong, to be forgiven and redeemed. But it was Jesus’ willingness to feed humanity’s endless physical hunger that stands out today and challenges our claim to discipleship.

The Food Cupboard at St. Stanislaus is a direct response to feed the physically hungry. The shelf donations in that simple room alleviate the hungers of scores of persons from our little postage-stamp piece of the world. Looking around, the needs are great and unrelenting. But our supporters of the Food Cupboard do not allow themselves to feel small, frustrated or inept. Our efforts are not overwhelmed by the sense of great need. Perhaps at times the sense of being overwhelmed may slow down our efforts at tending to the needs of so many. In spite of this, organizers have taken the few resources they have and made a meal of them for the many.

Jesus challenges all of us today with this account of the loaves and fishes. Through His action, He calls those would-be disciples to use the resources at hand and make a beginning. Talk less and do more, Jesus exemplifies. Complain less and trust more. Jesus also challenges his own to understand that what He has done in the feeding of the hungry points to the ultimate sharing of His very self as food for all of us sinners. He gives the Bread of Life … and for that we are immensely grateful.