Fr. Michael McGourty is the pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Toronto.
In this Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew, we hear the miraculous story of the feeding of the five thousand. As we hear of this incredible miracle, we might be tempted to ask ourselves why five thousand? Why did Jesus only feed five thousand?
Well, I think the readings hint at the answer to this question. Jesus only fed five thousand because only five thousand were there to receive what He offered. In fact, the Scriptures indicate that He fed more than five thousand, as the Gospel actually says: “And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.”
Jesus fed everyone who came to Him to be fed. He still does this today.
We can and should be amazed at the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. However, each and every Sunday, there is a far more amazing miracle that takes place around the world as Jesus feeds hundreds of millions of people with His Body and Blood in the miracle of the Eucharist. Through the gift of the Eucharist, Christ desires to feed each and every human being with the very gift of His Body and Blood. This miracle of love that everyone is invited to partake in freely is beyond comprehension.
One of the incredible realities about the Eucharist is the extent to which Jesus has gone to make himself accessible to all people. As today’s first reading from Isaiah states, this invitation is made for all “without money and without price.”
If you or I were going to plan a meal to celebrate and remember someone special, I think we would plan for a very fancy meal or celebration. The menu might include some very expensive food and drink. The problem with this kind of a celebration or memorial is that it might exclude those who could not afford such an expensive meal. It could also prevent the celebration from taking place with great frequency. We only celebrate the way we do at Christmas and Easter because of the time and money required for such elaborate celebrations.
This is something that I have often thought about: Why does Jesus come to us in a simple piece of bread? Jesus has left of us the simplicity of the Eucharist in order that there might be no barriers to our celebration or preventing all from receiving His love and the gift of salvation.
When we want to impress people, or show them the significance of something, we usually choose to do so by expressing it with something costly or impressive. Jesus has chosen the simplest form of food to come to us. He gives us the gift of His Body and Blood in a simple piece of bread and a drop of wine.
He desires to be available to everyone. Christ desires there be no obstacle to Him being received by all who come to Him. In Him the invitation made in this Sunday’s first reading from the Prophet Isaiah is fulfilled: “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” In the Eucharist, Christ invites everyone to come freely to receive the gift of His love and salvation, without cost.
This same invitation is given to every human being around the world as the doors of every parish church are opened and all are invited to the Eucharist. In the simplicity of the Eucharist, Jesus desires to show His love for every human being and offers all of us the free gift of salvation.
A few weeks ago, on July 20, 2020, the Congregation of the Clergy issued an instruction titled, “The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community in the Service of the Evangelizing Mission of the Church.” In this instruction, the parish is viewed as that location from which all of the baptized are invited to be fed with the Eucharist in order that they might invite all to come and know the love of Christ. In the parish, those who are invited to know Christ are catechized and are prepared for Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. The parish is the place where all are invited to encounter freely Christ’s offer of salvation. From the parishes of the world, the Good News of Christ’s free offer of salvation is to be announced.
Just as Christ fed all who came to Him, so too the parishes of the world are intended to feed all who come to them. The free gift of the Eucharist means that all who come and accept Christ as their saviour can eat freely.
In the past few months, the COVID-19 virus has impacted the way all of us live. The restrictions put in place to limit the virus’ spread has made it difficult for our parish communities to be as open we once were. Yet as Paul tells us in today’s second reading, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ — not “hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword.”
Through these past few months, many of us have found different resources to sustain us and help us to bridge past the necessary church closures. As our parish communities re-open, the safety measures that we have been called to observe are allowing us once again to celebrate the Eucharist in our communities.
All of the safety measures that we have been asked to put in place to keep our communities safe must be seen as acts of charity that allow Christ’s gift of the bread of life to be given to all who are invited to come and receive Him freely. These safety measures and cleaning protocols allow us to open the doors for those who feel safe to come to Church and worship on Sundays or weekdays. A great thanks is owed to those who are volunteering to help implement these cleaning protocols and safety practices. Their charity makes it possible for our communities to open safely and receive the gift that Christ offers us all in the Eucharist. We must keep working to maintain this safety and allow Christ’s gift of Himself to be received freely by as many who can come to be fed.
In the coming months we are going to have to find some creative ways of helping people access the offer of salvation that Christ makes to all people. This could mean inviting parents to take a more active role in the sacramental preparation of their children for First Confession, First Communion and Confirmation. For our elderly and shut-in, it will be necessary to train more Eucharistic ministers who can bring the Eucharist to those in their “family bubble” who may feel it is not safe to come to Church. The preparation of Adults who wish to become Catholic may require the assistance of more at home catechists who can work with friends and family on a one-to-one basis, perhaps aided by some kind of “ZOOM” parish support. We will need to work to explore ways to discover how everyone can be invited to come to know Christ’s offer of free love, and that none will be separated on account of “hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword.” Or, as in the case today, by COVID-19.
The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand that we hear about in this Sunday’s Gospel is intended to help us appreciate the incredible miracle that happens in all of our parish churches every Sunday. In the gift of the Eucharist, Christ feeds all who come to Him to have their hunger satisfied. His invitation is to all, “without money and without price.” There is nothing that ought to stand in the way of our experiencing this love that He offers us in the Eucharist; not ““hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” — not COVID-19. The challenge before all of our communities is to keep our parishes safe for this to happen and to find new and creative ways to reach those who may not be able to come freely at this time.
The disciples were challenged by the fact that they only had five loaves and two fish to feed those who came to them. We are challenged by COVID-19. Let us do as the disciples did in their need and turn to the Lord who feeds all who are hungry “without money and without price.” As the Psalm this Sunday reminds, when we turn the Lord in our time of need, He will open His hand to feed us and satisfy our needs.
I wish to offer my profound thanks to all of our volunteers who are working so diligently to keep our parishes safe and clean. It would be impossible for our parishes to open without your generous work. I also want to thank all who are following and cooperating with these safety protocols and measures. This support makes it possible for our parishes to open and make available to all the Bread of Life.
This reflections is based on the readings for the Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Isaiah 55. 1-3; Psalm 145; Romans 8.35, 37-39; Matthew 4.4.