Bottom line: In the multiplication of loaves, we see God's pattern - abundance, followed by a call to intimacy.
When Mount St. Helens erupted twenty-six years ago, it scorched 240 square miles, an area almost three times that of Seattle. The Forest Service decided not to replant trees, but simply observe how long it would take for life to return. Since the volcanic blast had virtually sterilized the area, some scientists considered it would take years, possibly decades for significant life to return. In spite of those pessimistic predictions, biologists were amazed at how fast life came back. Within a short time, that once barren area was teaming with plants and animals.
God has put a marvelous fertility into nature. We see that in the Book of Genesis. To each living group - vegetables, trees, insects, fish, birds, land animals and finally man - God gave the command to be fruitful and multiply. Nature itself reflects God's exuberance. His abundance stands out even more when we look beyond the earth: a staggering number of galaxies, each one with not only an incredible number, but an unexpected diversity of stars and other bodies.
Out of his abundance God then narrows down his focus. Locating the earth within the cosmos would be like searching for a grain of pepper in the Pacific Ocean. The universe is an enormous frame for our planet - yet we know no other place with a similar ability to sustain life. On this relatively tiny globe an astonishing variety of life forms have emerged. Scientists estimate we currently have anywhere from two million, up to a hundred million species - and even that enormous quantity represents less than a single percent of the species in earth's history. Out of all those varieties, only one is capable of art, stories and jokes* - the kind of intelligence which makes possible a freely chosen relationship. Every created thing reflects God in its own way, but God particularly focuses his attention on us humans.
In today's Gospel we see this pattern of abundance, followed by a deeper focus. Jesus stands before an enormous crowd, at least ten or twenty thousand people, if you figure that most of the 5,000 men were accompanied by a wife and a few children. Jesus provides an abundant meal for them - more than they could possibly eat. Not wishing anything to go to waste, they gathered twelve wicket baskets full of the substantial barley bread.
After this miracle of abundance, Jesus then focuses on the True Bread. We will hear about it during subsequent Sundays. He will speak about bread becoming his very Flesh. As we shall see, the word "flesh" evokes a profound meaning in the Bible. For now I only wish to allude to the abundance and the depth which Jesus makes possible.
The Old Testament prophet Elisha performed a miracle which foreshadows the Lord's abundance. When Elisha offered to God the twenty barley loaves, it fed a hundred people "with some left over." Being left over did not mean lack of value.** In the case of Jesus, even the smallest portion of bread has the greatest imaginable potential: it can become his very flesh. Out of God's great abundance, Jesus focuses on a single portion which he will use to give us Living Bread - his very Self.
*I find my dog endlessly entertaining, but - like Queen Victoria - he is not amused. Nor does he take offense or hold grudges (even if I step on his tail or forget to feed him on time). That agreeable quality makes Samwise more attractive than many humans, but it also illustrates the disproportion and division between us and animals. I can share many things with Sam, but I can't get him to appreciate a joke, a story or a picture.
**The phrase "left over" has taken on a sinister meaning in our national debate over embryonic stem cell research. Many argue that human embryos are fair game to dismember for experiments because they are "left over." During the last twenty-five years, our society has generated thousands of human embryos and frozen them in liquid nitrogen. Each one has a mom and dad - and a genetic make-up which connects them to the first people God created. Each one has a potential for that freedom and intelligence which is unique to humans. In some cases, however, their parents have abandoned them. Rather than question the manner in which these tiny humans were brought into existence, many want to use them for research (and force the rest of us to participate by allocating tax dollars for these dubious experiments). Because the nascent humans are "left over" people assume they have little or no value in themselves. That is not the way God looks at it - nor should we.
From Archives (Homilies for 17th Sunday, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin [Campaign Progress, Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Gay Marriage (sic)]
U.S. Bishops Conference Letter to Senators & Representives regarding Middle East Conflict
Statement of Pope Benedict XVI
Dostoevsky on hell:
They talk of hell fire in the material sense. I don't go into that mystery and I shun it. But I think if there were fire in material sense, they would be glad of it, for I imagine that in material agony, their still greater spiritual agony would be forgotten for a moment.
Did Pope Boniface VII ban the practice of cadaver dissection in the 1200s as Senator Arlen Specter asserted during the debate over funding research utilizing human embryos?
Theocracy, Theocracy, Theocracy
Modesty in Dress at Sunday Mass (Spanish Version)
With former Holy Family School teachers, Sisters Rose & Philomena, current principal, Mr. Glen Lutz:
Electrician working on new bathrooms at Holy Family School:
Area of new parish hall, frames for walls of new classrooms & bathrooms:
Holy Family Young Adults Group on way to weekend retreat in Pasco:
Friday morning prayer vigil at Planned Parenthood: