Tobernalt Holy Well in Carraroe, Co Sligo
“The Generosity of God”
“Just as the disciples gathered up what was left over, we as a community are called to gather in such a way that nobody is lost. This is a challenge for the Church today” – Bishop Doran
The Generosity of God
Celebrating Mass out here under the trees, gathered around the Holy Well, puts us in a good position to imagine the atmosphere in the wilderness, when Jesus fed 5,000 people. Like the people in the Gospel, some of you may have walked out here this morning to hear the words of Jesus. Ok, it’s not exactly the wilderness, but we are probably at least one kilometre away from the nearest shop. In a modern consumer society, that surely qualifies.
Anyone looking at the crowd could see that five loaves and two fish would not be enough. But everyone was fed. A lot depends on attitude. The disciples looked at the bread and the fish, and all they saw were the limitations of the situation. The small boy looked at the same bread and fish, then he looked at Jesus, and he saw the possibilities.
St. John’s Gospel begins by telling us that Jesus is the only Son of God, and that his mission is to make God known to us. Everything Jesus says and does during his earthly ministry has to be looked at against that background.
The feeding of the five thousand is like the miraculous catch of fish which happened after Peter, James and John had spent the whole night fishing and had caught nothing. Both events reveal something to us about the generosity of God, and the abundance of his gifts. In today’s Gospel the point is quite clearly made that, not only did everyone have enough to eat, but there was plenty left over. The psalm praises this open-handed generosity of God:
The eyes of all creatures look to you,
and you give them their food in due time.
You open wide your hand,
grant the desires of all who live.
A student came to see me one time, and told me she was a bit worried because she thought she might be getting the faith. She had been brought up in a home where God was never mentioned. She didn’t know what to do about it. We met a few times and began to explore what was for her a new experience; the experience of being touched by God. It was 1984. Only a few weeks later the BBC broadcast the first terrible pictures of the Ethiopian Famine. Anna’s fragile faith was undermined. She could not bring herself to believe in a God who would allow little children to starve.
Anna was quite genuine, but she was also a creature of her culture. Isn’t it amazing how often we miss the point! We always seem to come up with the same conclusion; there are too many people, and not enough food. In his recent encyclical letter on the environment, however, Pope Francis totally rejects the suggestion that environmental problems, including world hunger, can be simply attributed to population. This, he says, would be “an attempt to legitimise the present model of distribution” according to which a relatively small proportion of the world’s population consumes the vast bulk of the world’s resources. (cf. Laudato Si #50) It is not God’s generosity that is lacking!
Special appeals at times of humanitarian crisis are very important and they are usually very well supported here in Ireland. But the people of Asia and Africa will never know the extent of God’s generosity until we manage to change the structures and the conditions that cause hunger. This means more investment in third world agriculture, and less in the weapons of war. It means less exploitation of third-world land, for cash-crops, by multinational corporations. The European Union must devote more of its resources to partnership development with third-world countries, because much of its profit comes from trade with the third world. The good news of God’s generosity must influence our politics and our economics, just as it must influence our private lives.
In years gone by, when there was less wealth around, there was also less waste. Now we throw things out just because something newer or more fashionable has become available. Recycling is second-nature to the poor. Having fed everybody, Jesus tells the disciples “Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.” He seems to be reminding us that abundance is no justification for waste. The resources of the earth are adequate to our needs, but they are not unlimited. They are given to us in trust, but not for our exclusive use. Of this Pope Francis says: “Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations”.(Laudato Si #67)
The account of the feeding of the five thousand is placed by St. John at the beginning of Jesus’ teaching about the bread of life which we will hear in the coming weeks. This whole section of St. John’s Gospel invites us into a deeper appreciation of the gift of himself that Jesus gives us, in his life and in his death. We are invited to reflect on what it means to be a Eucharistic community.
One aspect of this is that, as we receive the Body of Christ, we ourselves become the body of Christ. Like the five barley loaves, and like the bread of the Eucharist, we must be prepared to be broken and given, so that all may be nourished.
Another aspect is that, just as the disciples gathered up what was left over, we as a community are called to gather in such a way that nobody is lost. This is a challenge for the Church today, just as it was in the early Christian period. What are we doing to ensure that nobody is lost, or excluded from our gatherings? Are we becoming what Pope Francis describes as “missionary disciples” or are we simply consumers of Eucharist.
We celebrate the Eucharist with greater integrity when we take on board these challenges posed by our vocation to communion with one another.
· Bishop Kevin Doran is Bishop of Elphin
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