Monday, August 4, 2008

PRAYER SERVICE at ST. PAUL'S CATHOLIC CHURCH, August 3, 2008, Hualien City, Taiwan ROC


I delivered this homily on August 3, 2008 during the prayer service at St. Paul's Catholic Church (34 Min Guo Rd., Hualien City, Taiwan ROC). This homily is based on the Sunday readings: First Reading, Isaiah 55-1-3; Second Reading, Romans 8:35, 37-39; Gospel, Matthew 14:13-21) . Fr. Richard is still in France and Fr. Vedrenne is in Vietnam for a short visit. Therefore, in the absence of priest to lead the mass, we hold prayer service instead which I lead.

I will always remember the first Sunday mass that I attended here in St. Paul’s Catholic Church on September 16, 2007. I was still then a student at the Center For Language Studies of Tzu Chi University. My classmate from Peru named Kamuy told me about St. Paul’s Catholic Church where Filipinos attend mass, and after the mass, they gather and together they eat lunch being offered by the church for free. “That's cool...amazing,” I told Kamuy, “this is the first time that I heard of a church where after the congregation have received spiritual food during the eucharistic celebration, another gathering immediately follows, and this time, to eat food for physical nourishment. This church offers the congregation a perfectly balanced diet---food for the physical body and food for the soul. That is so cool.”

I searched for that church to try their so-called free lunch, and to attend mass, of course. To my amazement, the food indeed tasted so good so I came back the next Sunday, to attend mass of course. Then I discovered that St. Paul’s Catholic Church also offers free supper; and that most of the food come as donations; and that the Filipino community of this church thrives, lives and eats together through sharing of resources, time and talents. Then, I decided to work as a volunteer to do my share both for the church and for the community. It has transformed my life since then, until I decided to stay here to serve. Hence, my physical body and my soul have become healthier than ever. Thanks for the physical and spiritual food that God so faithfully provides us in this church. You may not be aware of it but the hands of God is working in the midst of us here, and the feeding miracle of God is happening in our lives.

Todays gospel tells of another feeding miracle of God. It is a favorite story about Jesus, his disciples, and the hungry crowd that was told over and over again. It is not told merely once, not twice, not three times, but four times in its variations. It is the only Gospel miracle which is told in its fullness in all four Gospels.In the story, Jesus Christ looked on the massive crowd with compassion, like they were sheep without a shepherd, like people who were in need of spiritual feeding for their spiritual hungers inside. And so he taught them and he healed them. They only had five loves of bread and two fish and yet Jesus invited everyone to be seated on the green grass. Jesus took the bread…looked up into heaven...gave thanks...broke it…gave it to his disciples...who gave it to the crowds. And they all ate and were all satisfied ...and… there were twelve baskets of bread left over. The number who ate were five thousand men, plus women and children.
Now, why is this story told over and over again? It was told over and over again because I believe this story captures the very truth and the very essence of Jesus as the wondrous Son of God. It captures the very essence of God, His generosity, His abundant grace and extravagant gifts to us. It captures the very essence of God as our great provider and and sustainer. It also captures the essence of our lives, who having seen the miracles of God day by day, all around us, we still doubt and ask, “where is Gods action in my life?”

Sometimes, people ask about this story: “How did Jesus Christ do it? How did he feed all those people with so litte food, with merely five loaves and two fish.”

There is a thinking among some biblical scholars who explain that the real miracle in the story is the success of Jesus Christ in persuading the people to share the food that they have at that moment. According to them, when the people saw that Jesus really cared for the crowd, the people suddenly felt generous and started sharing what they have brought. Therefore, the real miracle is not the multiplication of bread and fish but the multiplication of generous hearts. The selfish hearts of the people were transformed into generous hearts and were inspired to look inside their coats and share the food that they brought with them, food that had been hidden inside their clothing. But no matter how laudable or plausible this explanation of sharing may be, this is not the message of Matthew who points to Jesus as the source of bread, like God who fed the Israelites in the desert. Moreover, in the story, the disciple see that the people do not have food and suggest to Jesus to dismiss the crowd so that they can buy food. But Jesus replies that there is no need for them to go away. He Himself will feed the people.

Jesus really multiplied the loaves and fish, because He had compassion on those who were going without, and because He wanted to meet a much deeper and more eternally significant need: the need of the human heart for God, for divine healing, forgiveness, and joy.
The multiplication of bread and fish is not just an actual feeding miracle but also a sign about Jesus and of his mission. A sign, as we all know, points to something else and it gives directions. Thus, the miracle of the feeding of the crowd by Jesus is a sign that points beyond the miracle of multiplying the bread and fish---it is a sign that points to The Eucharist. It is a sign that points and foreshadows the continuing and real miracle which is the Eucharist.

Our Lord Jesus Christ uses the feeding of the crowd to prepare the people for His teaching on the Holy Eucharist. It shows us God’s power to transcend the physical to meet our needs, physical or more importantly spiritual. It points to the continuing miracle of the Holy Eucharist in which there is always enough, more than enough, to feed the souls of all who believe. Just as the miracle of the multiplication caused the crowd to believe that Jesus was the messiah, so the reality of the continuing miracle of the Holy Eucharist must inspire in us faith in Jesus, true God and true Man, who gives us His Flesh and Blood to eat and drink that nourishes our soul and gives us happiness as well as physical well-being.

There are deeper needs of the human soul that food and material things can not satisfy. Once there was an American millionaire by the name of Jay Gould who had a lot of money to buy all that he wanted to buy. Before he died, his fortune amounted to $72,000,000, a lot of money to buy loaves of bread and fish. But when he was dying, he said, “I suppose I am the most miserable man on earth.” He failed to understand that “Life is not in the things we possess,” and “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

A saying tells, “We are what we eat.” In this church, we will continue to eat together the fruits and produce of our generous sharing and loving concern for each other. This feeding in our church shall continue to foster unity and camaraderie among us and to build a stronger and more authentic Christian community. And in our regular and faithful attendance in Holy Mass and partaking in the Eucharistic celebration, we eat one bread and drink in one cup which makes us one body in One Lord Jesus Christ; and we though many throughout the earth, we shall forever remain one body in this One Lord. AMEN