EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (A)
When we think of Jesus feeding the multitudes we may be tempted to think of Christ as a kind of divine social worker, providing food for poor hungry people who might otherwise starve. And indeed, this is work that Christ praises. Only a few chapters later in Matthew's gospel Jesus tells us that one of the criteria by which we will be judged at the end of time is whether we have fed the hungry. But is that act of corporal mercy in fact what Jesus is doing here?
Matthew tells us that this crowd of people had followed Jesus out into the desert. They must have known there would be no food where they were headed (they don't call it the wilderness for nothing). But they went anyway, to follow the Lord. As the day drew to a close, the disciples suggested to Jesus that he send the crowds away so that they could return to their villages and buy food. In other words, these were people who had the means to feed themselves. Food was available to them, but they would have to leave Jesus' side to go and get it. Jesus did not send them away. Our Lord thought it better that they remain with Him, so He performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes. He fed their bodies so that He might feed their souls.
And isn't this the more important feeding? I don't say this to minimize the plight of those without enough to eat. Certainly food is vitally important to our well being. Food supports our bodies, and we ought to care for our bodies. But our bodies are mortal. Our souls, on the other hand, are immortal. Even with all the nourishment we could ever need our bodies would eventually grow old and die. Our faith tells us we will receive new bodies in the world to come, but the soul we nourish (or fail to) now is the soul we will have forever. Our Catholic faith has many days of feasting, but the Church also makes time for fasting as a reminder that the health of the soul is of higher import than a full belly.
The scriptures of today's Mass are full of references to eating and drinking. In our reading from Isaiah we are invited to "come to the water," to "receive grain and eat," and "drink wine and milk." Our psalm today (Ps 145) praises God by saying, "the hand of the Lord feeds us." Jesus continues to feed us today in the Eucharist. Look at the verbs used to describe what Jesus does with the bread in today's gospel. He "takes," "blesses," "breaks," and "gives." He will perform the same series of actions at the Last Supper. The Eucharist is food for our bodies, yes, but the true nourishment we receive is for our souls. It is spiritual nourishment, bringing us closer to God, the source of our being, and the source of our happiness. Only in union with our Creator, only in spiritual health, will we be satisfied.
Our psalm today also tells us that God will "satisfy the desire of every living thing." The psalmist is not referring merely to the desire of hunger pangs. Once we eat a meal that hunger is sated... for a time. But wait a while and we grow hungry again. Our desire returns. Such is our condition. Elsewhere in the gospels we are told, "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life" (Jn 6:27).
Each desire we have testifies to the means of its fulfillment. Hunger points to the reality of food. Thirst points to the reality of water. If there were no such thing as food or water, we would not have these desires. Our desires kick in when we lack something that we ought to have. We desire love, and that desire is fulfilled when we are loved by another. We desire friendship, and that desire is fulfilled by a friend. We also desire happiness, and we find all manner of things to make us happy -- at least for a while. For like food, water, and even friends, the pleasures of this life that make us happy only fulfill that desire temporarily. Our desire for happiness, however, is constant. It seems like it is never completely fulfilled. God, the psalmist tells us, will satisfy our desires completely. This is how God feeds us.
St. Paul reminds us today in the letter to the Romans that nothing outside of ourselves can separate us from the love of Christ. Not even famine. Not even death. The only way we can be separated from the eternal happiness Christ offers is if we choose to leave Him. The crowd gathered around Jesus that evening did not want to leave Him. So Jesus fed them. He fed their bodies so that He might continue to feed their souls. This is our daily bread -- not bread made from grain but the Bread of Heaven, Jesus Christ, the Word of God. For "man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God" (Mt 4:4).
Not that we've ever fed five thousand people, but we at Catholic Campus Ministry also have a tradition of feeding the body in order that we might feed the soul. Each Wednesday evening during the semester we offer a free home-cooked meal at the Catholic Student Center, followed by a program or discussion. These programs are usually student led and cover a wide variety of topics related to the Catholic faith. Sometimes we simply enjoy each other's company with a game night. Dinner is served each Wednesday at 6:30, with our program beginning around 7:30. Our first "Supper @ the Center" for the Fall semester is Aug. 20, and we hope to see you there!
Of course the primary way we offer to feed your soul is with the Eucharist. We are very fortunate to have Mass available on campus in our chapel Sunday afternoons at 4:00pm. After Mass we host a catechetical discussion called "Credo" that takes a systematic look at Catholic theology, morality, liturgy & prayer over the course of the year. It's a perfect opportunity to deepen your understanding and appreciation of our beautiful Catholic faith. The first Mass on campus will be Sunday, Aug. 17.
If you are a new WCU student and have not been to our center please locate us on the campus map and come find us during the Week of Welcome. We are excited for the start of the new year and look forward to meeting all of you!