Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, Manhattan
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Extraordinary Form
July 5, 2015
Rom 6:3-11, Mark 8:1-9
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided today’s homily:
Jesus’ Five-Fold Mercy
We are now preparing in the Church for the Jubilee of Mercy, which will begin on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. And in today’s Gospel, we see the mercy of Jesus in action. It’s important for us to examine and encounter the depth of Jesus’ mercy in such a way that it may transform us to become as merciful as he is merciful, as compassionate as the Father who sent Him is compassionate, as moved with pity as the Holy Spirit wants to inflame us to become.
Seeing the multitude of about 4,000 who had been with him for three days and no longer had anything to eat, Jesus said to the disciples surrounding him, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd.” That English translation, and the Latin “misereor” we heard earlier at Mass, both soften the original Greek verb “esplangchnisthe” that St. Mark uses, which is a compound of the word splanchna, which means “viscera” or “guts” or “womb.” A more literal translation would be that Jesus was “sick to his stomach” with compassion as he saw the crowds. An even more accurate one is that his “guts were exploding” with pity. He didn’t just “feel bad” for the people who were hungry; Jesus’ compassion was like a volcanic eruption in his innards.
In the Gospels, this expression — esplangchnisthe, thisexplosion within Jesus’ insides — is used several times and it describes five things that Jesus, in response to these intense inner cramps of mercy, did.
- On one occasion the Gospel tells us, “When he saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity or them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mk 6:34).
- The Evangelists tell us in several places that his heart was moved with pity for the multitudes “and he cured their sick.” (Mt 14:14; Mt 9:27; Mt 20:34, Mk 1:41; Lk 7:13).
- In today’s feeding of the 4,000, Jesus says in the first person “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd,” and in response he fed them (see also Mt 15:32).
- On multiple occasions, the Evangelists tell us his heart was moved with pity, like with the paralyzed man on the stretcher, and he forgave their sins. (Lk 7:13; Lk 15).
- And when Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for the crowds because they were “mangled and abandoned like sheep without a shepherd,” he told his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few, so pray the Master of the Harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:36) a prayer that would be answered immediately when Jesus would from among those praying disciples call 12.
Jesus’ visceral compassion led him to teach, to heal, to feed, to forgive, and to pray for, call and send out laborers with the same compassion on the crowds.
Together with him, he wants us to see how many wander without direction in life and instruct them how to live by following Jesus the Way. He wants us to see how many are suffering physically, psychologically and spiritually and seek to become nurses of the Divine Physician. He wants us to notice the multitudes starving physically or spiritually and to give them the nourishment he provides through us to meet that need. He wants us to see how many are carrying around the wounds of unexpiated guilt or severed relationships and to bring them God’s mercy and to God’s mercy. In all of this, he wants us to become hard workers, not just bodies, in his fields and to pray insistently for other diligent laborers to join us in becoming the compassionate upset stomach of the Mystical Body. He wants us to share in this work.
Our Cooperation in Jesus’ Mission of Mercy
In today’s Gospel, we see that when the disciples asked Jesus in seeming helplessness, “Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them here in this deserted place?,” he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” In the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 elsewhere, Jesus would simply tell them, “You give them something to eat.” In both miracles Jesus began with what the people around him could contribute. Today, he started with the seven loaves the apostles had — you can see how poorly they lived, that all the food they had were seven basic buns for at least 13 people — and in the feeding of the 5,000, when the apostles had nothing, they began with the five panini and two tiny fish that a young boy had. But both episodes illustrate that Jesus wants us to share in his mercy. He wants our innards bursting with compassion for others. He wants our cooperation in the exercise of his merciful response.
It goes almost without saying that Jesus could have worked the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves from scratch. When he saw the infamished crowds, he through whom the heavens and the earth were created ex nihilo, who fed the Israelites in the desert with miraculous manna and quails from heaven (Ex 16:13,31), could easily have satiated the hungry multitude all by himself. He didn’t need human assistance. But that isn’t the way he wanted to act. He chose to start with his disciples’ cooperation and involve them in his miracle. with the best and the most they had, and bring that generosity to completion. We see that he had the same method of acting in the Wedding Feast of Cana. He who had created all of the bodies of water in the universe could have easily filled up the six 30 gallon water jars by himself, but he allowed the servants to go repeatedly to the well in the town center to fill up stone jars. If they had two-gallon containers and there were five servants, it still would have taken them 18 trips back and forth to the town well, but they enthusiastically filled the 180 gallons to the brim. And only then did Jesus work the miracle.
Just as much as he wanted their contribution in Cana, just as much as he wanted the apostles seven loaves and the young boys five loaves and two fish, so Jesus wants our contribution and generosity. He wants it with regard to feeding the hungry multitudes, and we know how many people here in New York go hungry on the streets, not to mention the 800 million people, one out of seven human beings, that is undernourished and hungry each day. Jesus wants our cooperation with regard to teaching: How many people are like lost sheep, mangled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd, seeking the truth but not grasping that the Truth has a proper name, longing like the Ethiopian eunuch in the Acts of the Apostles for someone to teach them and help them to find the narrow road that leads to life? Jesus wants our assistance with regard to caring for the sick and participating in his ministry of healing, forming us to become true Good Samaritans sacrificing and inconveniencing ourselves for those who many in the world would just discard. Jesus wants our participation with regard to receiving the gift of his mercy and becoming ambassadors of that love, bringing many others to receive it and be restored to the graces of their baptism. And Jesus wants our collaboration in praying insistently to the Harvest Master for laborers in his fields and in saying yes when the Lord, in responding to that prayer, summons us to share more intimately in his merciful mission for the redemption of the world.
The Newness of Christian Life through God’s Mercy
This is what the Christian life is about. It’s a new type of existence in which, having received Jesus’ mercy, having entered into Jesus’ heart, our heart is in turn transformed to be more like his. In today’s epistle, St. Paul reminds the first Christians in Rome and Roman Catholics today that when we were baptized, we were baptized into Christ’s death and risen life so that “we, too, might live in newness of life,” so that we, like Jesus, might live “united with [Christ] in his resurrection.” He says that our old self — the parts of us that are selfish, hardened, merciless, fallen — was “crucified” with Christ so that “we might no longer be in slavery to sin” and be able to “live with” Christ. He finishes by saying in summary, “You, too” — and that includes each one of us! — “must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.” To live for God in this way is to love God and love like God, to enter into his mercy for us and into his mercy for others. This is the redeemed life of a Christian and it’s the one that Jesus makes possible for us through baptism and through the life of prayer, the sacraments, the communion of the Church, and the vocation to charity to which baptism leads.
Our Eucharistic Cooperation and Missionary Fruit
And the greatest means Jesus gives us to enter into this “newness of life” is through the most sublime form of all of our compassionate collaboration with Jesus’ miracle, something that happened not in Cana or on the grassy mountainsides of Galilee, but happens right here in the celebration of the Eucharist. The raw material for this sacred synaxis is not grain and grapes but bread and wine, which is a combination of God’s gift of the fruit of the earth and vine and our gift, the “work of human hands.” In the offertory, the priest prays, “Orate Fratres, ut meum et vestrum sacrificium,” “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father.” The Eucharist is the union between Christ’s sacrifice of his whole life culminating on Calvary and our sacrifice, the offering of our bodies as a living oblation, holy and pleasing to God, our spiritual worship (Rom 12:1-12). It’s to this sacrifice that Jesus draws us with his eyes, heart and guts full of loving compassion, to teach us, heal us, shower us with mercy, feed us and strengthen us. This is where he seeks to unite us to his compassion and send us forth to carry his mercy to the world. This is where we bring ourselves and all our efforts, even if it seems only a few bread crumbs, placing them into his hands so that he can take them in his hands, look up to heaven, bless and break them, and then give those gifts back transformed so that they can be multiplied — seven wicker baskets full — in caring for the immense crowds. Jesus never stops looking at us and at the world with compassion, and his heart is bursting to give us the greatest gift of all, himself, and through that gift help us to look on the world as he does. We ask Jesus so to transform us here today at this Mass so that, filled with this divine nourishment, we may return to the world as the erupting compassion of his mystical body, and, in holy communion with him, begin to remedy their deepest God-made hungers in such a way that we and they both might come to the eternal nuptial feast to which the multiplication of the loaves and the Eucharist we celebrate both point. This is the newness of life to which Christ calls us!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
From the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans
Rom. 6:3 Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. 5 For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. 7 For a dead person has been absolved from sin. 8 If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. 10 As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. 11 Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.
Psa. 90:1 Lord, you have been our refuge through all generations. … 13 Relent, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants!
The Continuation of the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark
Mark 8:1 In those days when there again was a great crowd without anything to eat, he summoned the disciples and said, 2 “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will collapse on the way, and some of them have come a great distance.” 4 His disciples answered him, “Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them here in this deserted place?” 5 Still he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” “Seven,” they replied. 6 He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then, taking the seven loaves he gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to distribute, and they distributed them to the crowd. 7 They also had a few fish. He said the blessing over them and ordered them distributed also. 8 They ate and were satisfied. They picked up the fragments left over — seven baskets. 9 There were about four thousand people. He dismissed them.