Here is a great homily our priest friend, Fr. Matthew, preached on today’s Gospel (John 6:1-15):
I am sure that you have all heard the story of the man who for years prayed to God asking that he might win the lottery, and, when nothing came of it, he complained bitterly, only to hear a voice from Heaven say ‘John, you have to meet me half way, at least buy a ticket.’ While fictional, it does demonstrate the theme of today’s readings: God works, God loves, God performs miracles, but, we have to do our part for that to happen. As a saint once said ‘pray as though it all depends on God, but work as though it all depends on you.’ Although we might be tempted to think that this is strange or wrong, it is actually quite beautiful. There has always been in the Church this tension between grace and free will. There have always been errors on both sides. In the early Church we had Pelagianism, which held that we could save ourselves through our own efforts, and then, as time went by, we had the opposite view in many different forms, culminating in the many forms of Protestantism, namely that we were so corrupted by original sin that absolutely no good whatsoever could come from us. Both of these views are tempting, and both are wrong. We cannot save ourselves, but, neither are we so corrupt as to be incapable of doing good. As St. Augustine said ‘God who created you without you will not save you without you.’
Our Gospel is amazing because it shows us the way in which Jesus’ love and concern is for the whole of the person, not only the soul. Of course he wants to save us, that is the whole reason that he came and lived amongst us; however, in taking on our human nature, really and truly, not merely as a costume that an actor might wear, he experiences in his own person, the limitations of humanity. Jesus knew what it was like to feel hunger, thirst and exhaustion. That is how he understood that the crowds who had journeyed so far to meet him were starving, not only starving for the Word of God, but also for bodily food. Then we have the next beautiful element of the Gospel: Jesus does not just go ahead and feed them, he asks for co-operation from the Apostles and from the crowd. Even though they are clueless and lacking in faith, remarking that they have not enough money to buy food for all, Jesus still works a miracle, because, the little they are able to do, they in fact do. This is always the way with Jesus: what we have is nothing compared to what he has, and yet, he expects us to do our part, in order that he might do his part.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has proclaimed an extraordinary Jubilee Year, the Year of Mercy, which will begin on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, who also happens to be the Patroness of these United States. We should all be grateful to our Holy Father, who is so concerned for our salvation, just like Jesus, whose representative he is, and do all that we can to prepare for this. The Pope has won hearts with his simplicity and his care and concern for the poor and the outcasts, like Jesus, he knows that salvation involves the whole person, not only the soul, but he is just as concerned for the spiritual health and well-being as he is the material well-being, even though, if you limit your knowledge of Francis to what the media says, you would never know that. The Church has long had a list of 14 Works of Mercy: seven corporal and seven spiritual. They are as follows:
The seven corporal works of mercy:
- To feed the hungry;
- To give drink to the thirsty;
- To clothe the naked;
- To shelter the homeless;
- To visit the sick;
- To ransom the captive;
- To bury the dead.
The seven spiritual works of mercy:
- To instruct the ignorant;
- To counsel the doubtful;
- To admonish sinners;
- To bear wrongs patiently;
- To forgive offences willingly;
- To comfort the afflicted;
- To pray for the living and the dead.
Both of these lists are important, because, as an Italian Bishop who was formerly the Superior General of his religious order that took care of the orphaned and the sick once said to me, remarking on today’s Gospel ‘Matthew, you cannot save a soul with an empty stomach, even Jesus feeds the crowds before he preaches to them.’ The corporal works of mercy are like the role of John the Baptist: they remove the obstacles to receiving Jesus, they prepare the way of the Lord. Here and now, on Beaver Island, there are those who are hungry and those who thirst, those who have not got the proper clothes, or shelter, those who are sick and have so many more needs. I ask you in the name of Jesus, please do not turn your backs on those who are less fortunate than you are, sometimes God has the face of a beggar. Remember that we are all sons and daughters of God the Father, but some of us have to live in conditions that are unworthy of our Royal status. Do not be afraid to deny yourself a bit so that someone else can have more.
While you are thinking about the way in which salvation embraces the whole human person, even the basic bodily needs, never forget that we are not only our bodies, we are also our souls, and so, as Pope Francis has so often stated ‘the Church is not a Non-Governmental Organization, or a Charity, it is so much more.’ Do look after the material needs of those around you, because they are important, but don’t stop there. There are plenty of people and organizations that minister to the body, as Catholics we have a particular calling to minister to the soul as well. The spiritual works of mercy are in many ways tougher than the corporal, because you could be a bad person and still do charitable things, but, unless your faith is strong, and you are well-formed, you cannot instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, or admonish sinners in a way that is not harsh and judgmental. Also, unless you are very united to Jesus, you cannot possibly bear wrongs patiently or forgive offenses willingly. Fear not, you don’t have to do this alone. Jesus himself will feed you with the bread of life, his flesh and blood, which we will be reflecting on over the next several weeks.