On the Feast of Corpus Christi, we do well to mediate on the desire of the Lord to feed His people and the shocking indifference many have to this fact. This indifference is not just on the part of those who do not come to Mass; it is also found among those in the pews, many of whom don’t seem to care that so many people no longer attend. We should recognize the passionate concern the Lord has to feed all His people—yes even your wayward spouse or child.
Let’s consider today’s Gospel in three ways.
I. Desire that is Discerned – Jesus has been teaching the crowds all day by the lake. The text says, As the day was drawing to a close, the Twelve approached him and said, “Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and farms and find lodging and provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.”
The diagnosis here is that the crowd is hungry. And this is a diagnosis of the human condition in general: we are hungry.
How are we hungry? Let us count the ways. We are a veritable sea of desires. We desire food, drink, life, health, honor, respect, popularity, intimacy, family, security, goodness, beauty, truth, serenity, justice, and so much more. Yes, we have so many desires; we are hungry. And herein lies an insight for evangelization. For Somehow amidst all this hunger, God is calling us. We are like the woman at the well, who came thirsty for the water of this world but was shown by the Lord that she actually desired Him, and that it was only He who could satisfy her.
It is sad that while every advertiser on Madison Avenue knows how to tap into people’s desire and draw forth loyalty, we Christians have so little insight. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light (Lk 16:8).
And thus we are like the Apostles, irritated and clueless that people have needs. In effect we say, “You are needy. Go away,” rather than “You are needy. Wow, have I got an answer for you! You want what is good, true, and beautiful? You want what satisfies? Wow, have I got a meal for you!”
So the diagnosis is clear: the crowd is hungry. Sadly, though, the Apostles in that moment were “out to lunch.” They were out of ideas. This could describe us today as well.
II. Directive for the Disciples – Note that the Lord has a deep desire to feed these people. He said to them, “Give them some food yourselves.” The Apostles, of course, can only protest the impracticality of such a thing. They are staring right in the face of Jesus Christ yet think it impossible to feed this crowd. They see only five loaves and two fishes; they can’t see Jesus. They don’t know Jesus! Do you see their lack of faith? What about yours?
Yes, this is also a picture of many in the Church today, who think that nothing can possibly be done to reverse the cultural decline or bring people back to the Church. They see only our meager five loaves and two fishes and forget that we have Jesus, who is still in the business of working miracles.
Jesus will not allow all their negativity crush His desire. Yes, the Lord insists; He has a deep desire to feed them. All this foolishness about being unable to do so does not impress Him. Jesus says,
“Have them sit down in groups of about fifty.”They did so and made them all sit down. In effect, the Lord says, “Enough of all this negativity! I’m in charge here. Let’s get to work now.”
What is this about “groups of fifty”? The answer is debatable, but I believe it points to what we have come to call the “parish system.” That is, the whole world is divided up into small, manageable units (parishes) in which a pastor and his flock are responsible for ensuring that all people in that territory are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb. The Lord desires to feed every person in every parish. He says to me and my parish, “Give them something to eat yourselves.” In other words, “Draw them to the Eucharistic table! Draw them to me!”
Yes, the Lord has a deep desire to feed us. Consider the following: What loving parents, noticing that their child had stopped eating, would not move Heaven and Earth to find out why and to get them back to eating saving food? Yes, they would go emergency rooms and doctors’ offices until their child began eating again.
Why is this not so with our Eucharistic food? Clearly the Lord deeply wants to feed us. So then why aren’t we as desirous to be sure that others, especially our children and family, are receiving the Lord?
To all this the Lords says, “Give them something to eat.” He is not talking to the person next to you; He is talking to you: “Bring them to me; give them something to eat.”
And it is so easy for us to reply, “But I have so little, just five loaves and two fishes. I’m not eloquent. I haven’t studied the faith enough. I don’t have an answer to everyone’s questions!” Still, the Lord says, “Give me what you have and then have them sit down. Work on the fifty I have assigned to you and your parish.”
III. Determination to Deliver – The text says the following of the disciples: They did so and made them all sit down. Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied. And when the leftover fragments were picked up, they filled twelve wicker baskets.
Note well that the Lord is determined to feed these people; and He insists that His disciples help him to do it. They are expected to gather the faithful and make them sit down in groups of fifty. Then the Lord—the Lord Himself—blesses and multiplies the food. But once again, He has the disciples help. He gives the food to His apostles, but they set it before the crowd.
And this is the Church. Jesus is the Great High Priest of every Liturgy. It is He who takes our meager offerings and then multiples and transubstantiates them. But He works this ministry through His priests, and in an extended sense, through the whole Church. The Lord feeds His people, but He does so through others. It is the role of the Church to take what Jesus sets before us and then see that it is distributed to others in due season.
On the Feast of Corpus Christi, we acknowledge that the Lord feeds us through His Body and Blood, but does so through the ministry of His priests and through His Church. Do we see this as central to our mission? Is the Liturgy really at the heart of our parish life or are liturgies hurried so that we can get to our next activity on time? What is our highest priority? Is it the same priority of Jesus rooted in the deep desire he has to feed his people?
The Gospel today says that they all ate and were satisfied. Does this describe the Liturgy at your parish? Are people fed? Do they experience an abundance at the Lord’s Banquet? Or is Mass merely something to be endured, something more akin to a flu shot, which is hoped to be as quick and painless as possible?
Of course the Liturgy should be satisfying to God’s people. During the Liturgy, people should be instructed in God’s Word and then have that Word cause their hearts to catch fire with joy, inspiration, and, yes, conviction on the need for repentance. The faithful should expect and experience a great transformation on account of the Eucharist. How can someone fruitfully receive the Body of Christ and not experience great change and be satisfied?
Yet, sadly, most people put more faith in Tylenol than they do in the Eucharist. When they take Tylenol, they expect something to happen: the pain to go away or the swelling to go down. Do people expect this of the Eucharist? If not, why not?
On this Feast of Corpus Christi, please understand that the Lord wants to feed you and your loved ones. He wants to do this in order to save you and to satisfy you. Do you care about this? Is this a reality or just a ritual? Why not ask the Lord to engender within you the same desire that He has to feed others, and to make you a magnet to draw people to Him? Who are the “fifty” the Lord has put in your charge? Gather them and have them seated at Mass next Sunday.