Sunday, 4 August 2002

Week 18 Sunday (Year A) - 4 August 2002

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-3; Psalm 144; Romans 8:35,37-39; Matthew 14:13-21

I would like to thank Father Jerzy for kindly inviting me to concelebrate Mass with him this evening and for inviting me to speak with you. I am sorry that I cannot speak to you in Polish. We do, however, share a common faith. Faith is a gift from God and this Sunday's readings remind us that God is generous with his gifts. He attends to the needs of his people and, indeed, to the needs of all his creatures.

The Psalm says that 'the eyes of all creatures look to him' and 'he gives them their food in due time, opening wide his hand, to grant the desires of all that lives'. The prophet Isaiah speaks of this too: freely and generously, 'without money', God offers water, corn, wine, milk and bread - all good things so that his people might live in the joy of their relationship with him.

The Gospel reading teaches us that these promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the life, teaching and activities of Jesus Christ. He is Emmanuel, God-with-us, and he attends to the needs of his people even when he wants to be alone. He feeds them super-abundantly: they all ate as much as they wanted and there was more left over than they had at the beginning. The scraps remaining filled twelves baskets, we are told.

We see Christ, then, responding to the physical, material needs of the people. But he always attends to them as human beings who need not only physical things but spiritual gifts also. We remember what Jesus said when he was tempted by Satan: 'the human being does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God' (Matthew 4).

What does this mean? It means that as well as food and shelter and health we need spiritual things: wisdom and understanding, faith and prayer, forgiveness and friendship and love. Without these things we are not fully alive as human beings. If we do not find these things - truth and goodness and beauty - it is a kind of starvation. Our spirits die even if our bodies remain alive.

Of course there are difficulties and we must not become romantic and unrealistic. This feeding of the people took place after Jesus had received the news of John the Baptist's death. The context of this event is the news of a death and no doubt Jesus is thinking about the possibility of his own death. The shadow of the cross is never far away in the Gospels. Nor is it ever far away in our lives.

More than anything else it is the death and resurrection of Jesus which makes the generous love of God visible in the world and in its history. We are called to follow his way and to share in the mystery of his death and resurrection. The greatest of God's gifts is his Son who lived among us, who died so that sins might be forgiven and who rose from the dead so that we might have life in all its fulness.

Saint Paul gives us great encouragement in the second reading. Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ, he says. Nothing from within ourselves, nothing from other people, nothing from spiritual forces, nothing in the past, nothing in the future, no absence and no power - 'can ever come between us and the love of God made visibl in Christ Jesus our Lord'.

This homily was preached at Sunday evening Mass in a church in northern Poland

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