17 Sunday in Ordinary Time
JN 6:1-15
July 29, 2018

The woman reporting the international news gave the warning that often issues these days when we are trying to fool ourselves into thinking that we can protect our children. The more “sensitive” folks take note, however, when they hear: “Warning: We are about to air images you may find disturbing.”

I usually don’t count myself among the “sensitive,” but she was absolutely right. The images were beyond “disturbing.” They were heartbreaking. As was the narrative, delivered with grim voice by the reporter on the scene as the horrific video of an infant, barely recognizable as being human, was recorded. The reporter described the circumstances leading up to the ultimate starvation death of the infant in one of the many war-torn, impoverished third world countries…I can’t even recall which…there are so many places where this could have occurred.

I was struck by the irony of warning children against watching something inappropriate on television when they “see it all” on their iPads or smart phones, even as other children are literally starving to death. I wondered how many people found the horrific image of a starving infant too much for their “sensitivities” and reached for the remote, dismissing the tragedy from their minds as quickly and easily as changing channels. I personally watched the entire report. It was hard. And the memory lingers and I’ve replayed the image in my mind over and over again. It’s a difficult picture to shake off. But, in my mind, the grim voice of the reporter is now replaced by the challenging voice of The Lord: YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT!

Now I need to switch channels. I had another experience I want to share.

Late one evening last week, just before I turned out the lights, I received the following urgent text from a friend of mine who is the pastoral administrator of a parish. I know it’s rather late (it was VERY late) and I am not sure you are even up. (Technically I wasn’t) I have been trying to get cover for tomorrow’s Mass since early evening when I found out I needed a priest for tomorrow (weekday morning Mass)… just got the latest response from someone who is also not available. I should just figure 3 strikes and you’re out, but I am trying one last time (In other words, I was 4th fiddle!)

When I replied that I would be there, she sent a brief “sigh of relief” with the words “THANK YOU” in capital letters. I arrived the next morning, and she was waiting for me in the sacristy, and again expressed her gratitude. (I didn’t say anything about being 4th fiddle!) In truth, I am always thrilled to preside at Eucharist. The Church teaches, and I firmly believe, that Eucharist is the “source and summit of our Faith.” We are at our very best when we come together around the Table of the Word and The Communion Table. We are doing as Jesus commanded. All of this is absolutely true. Still, my friend is a solid theologian, a gifted teacher, and a very fine preacher. So I asked: Why did you get so upset? You could have done a Word Service. To which she replied: It was in the bulletin that we were having Mass and that is what the people expected.

Again, I get it! As a lay adult, I was a daily Communicant. As a pastor, I made a point of providing morning Mass each weekday. But, at least right now, the numbers of priests have declined and it isn’t always possible. HOWEVER, THE FAITHFUL WILL NOT STARVE. Jesus also assured us that: Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them. And, when two or more gather at the Table of the Word in a Church…or at the kitchen table of their home… there is nourishment to be had…especially when there is a gifted teacher or fine preacher there to “break open the Word” and pass it to hungry hearts.

So, while I fully understand the urgency my friend felt, once again, I heard Jesus’s voice saying: YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT!

Hit the remote again…and go back to the first…tragic story.

This Sunday, and for each Sunday in August, we step out of the Gospel of Mark and hear passages from John, often referred to as “The Bread of Life Discourse.” At this point in the Liturgical year, we are called to reflect in a special way on the gift of the Eucharist. Our work begins with the great feeding miracle reported in each of the four Gospels with varying detail. While John does not include the direction: YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT, nevertheless, all four descriptions of this miraculous event explain that the disciples were the instruments of distribution. Jesus did not personally hand a loaf or a fish to the starving people. The disciples did the work.

So, as I “rewind” the two experiences of this past week in the light of our Gospel, I wonder if we are being reminded that Eucharist is more than Communion. True, that when we Break the Living Bread and pass the Cup of our Salvation, we are doing as Jesus commanded, but, from the Table of the Word, we also hear The Lord command His disciples: YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT! These are not contradictory instructions.

Maybe it boils down to this: If we do more than celebrate Eucharist…if we do our best to LIVE IT…then just possibly, no infant would starve to death…and none of the faithful would go hungry even if it happened that there was no Mass one morning.