Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Votive Mass for Vocations to Religious Life
August 3, 2015
Num 11:4-15, Ps 81, Mt 14:13-21
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- We are now in the midst of Jesus’ triennial five-week catechesis on how we are Christians are called to draw our life from Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse in the Capernaum Synagogue all flows as a follow-up to the miracle of the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish which we have today in St. Matthew’s version. There’s no need to ponder the basic elements of Jesus’ Eucharistic catechesis that the Church will have us ponder on these important Sundays, but I would like to focus on one element that is revealed today by St. Matthew that we need to ponder in order to live truly Eucharistic lives.
- “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,” St. Matthew tells us, Jesus, “said the blessing.” That blessing was a prayer of Thanksgiving to God. In St. John’s recollection, he wrote, “Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.” An essential element of our living truly Eucharistic lives is that we are constantly thanking God for all that he gives and does for us. The very word Eucharist flows from the Greek word for Thanksgiving.
- The need for this Thanksgiving stands out when contrasted with the attitude of the Israelites in the desert. They weren’t really grateful for the all that the Lord had done to liberate them, showing them how dear they were to him. They weren’t grateful that, in the middle of the desert, he was raining down from heaven for them each day the manna that they could make into loaves so that they wouldn’t starve to death. No. They weren’t grateful for all of these signs of God’s providential love. Instead, they complained, they grumbled, they murmured, they moaned saying, “Would that we had meat for food! We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt, and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now we are famished; we see nothing before us but this manna.”
- In their grumbling they were succumbing to the same temptation we find at the archetypical root of sin. Adam and Eve had access to all the food in the garden except the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but rather than rejoicing in what they did have, they began to focus on what they didn’t have. They gave into the temptation of the serpent to dwell on how the fruit of the forbidden tree was “good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen 3:6). And that’s where their downfall began. It’s also where ours begins.
- To live a Eucharistic life means to live one of blessing and thanksgiving, rather than complaint and envy. It’s one in which we count our blessings, not what we exaggerate to be our deprivations. And it’s through Thanksgiving, we know, that we are opened up by God to receive greater blessings. That’s what we see in the story of the ten lepers: God wanted to give them all a gift far greater than their physical cure, but it was only the one grateful leper who received salvation by faith through coming back to express his profound appreciation.
- For us it’s important to get practical about becoming people of thanksgiving, rather than complaint, and to learn how to thank the Lord precisely when the devil wants to tempt us to complain. For example, when we go without something we might desire, the evil one wants to tempt us to grumble, whereas it’s a tremendous opportunity to thank the Lord for the opportunity to grow in the virtue of poverty to which we unite ourselves to the poor Christ. When we’re asked by a superior to do something we don’t want to do, we could complain that we’re getting singled out or dwell on the other things we might be doing or the way we think we could accomplish something better, whereas God is giving us a chance to unite ourselves to him in obedience. When we get frustrated, disappointed and are tempted to squawk about how our acts of love, of sacrifice, go unappreciated and unrequited, we could rather use them as a great opportunity to unite ourselves through that experience to Jesus’ self-giving chaste love. God cares about us and will provide us many opportunities to grow in humility, to grow in patience, to grow in the capacity to forgive precisely through difficult circumstances, but the key for us is to advert with gratitude to how the Lord might be using that circumstance to help us grow in faith. One of the things that the Israelites in the desert did not grasp was that through the daily dependence on his generosity, he was opening them up to daily gratitude. It was better for them to grow in faith and gratitude than to have cucumbers, fish, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. Likewise, the Lord doesn’t allow us to wallow in our favorite foods, in all the material luxuries that some mistakenly think constitute the good life, precisely in order to give us something far greater. We just have to be mature to realize that the Cross is far more valuable to us than comfort.
- There’s another aspect of today’s readings that I would like to ponder in this Year of Consecrated Life as we celebrate today a Votive Mass for Vocations to Religious Life, both those who have already discerned and been following their vocations as well as those who will have that calling revealed to them. It’s how destructive complaining can be not only to one’s individual vocation, but to community life, and often to the spiritual life of superiors. The complaints of the Israelites in the desert had gotten to the point that Moses almost couldn’t take it any more. Their complaints had led him to begin to complain. ““Why do you treat your servant so badly?,” he asked the Lord. “Why are you so displeased with me that you burden me with all this people?” Later he would say, “I cannot carry all this people by myself,
for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you will deal with me, then please do me the favor of killing me at once, so that I need no longer face this distress.” He got to the point that he was basically asking for death, so much had the complaints and his incapacity to satisfy the people worn him down.
- Complaints can really impact every superior in the way it did Moses. During my ten years as a pastor, I had many beautiful experiences of grateful people, but also a great deal of people who basically would have complained about the menu at the Last Supper. The Church was simultaneously too hot and too cold. Masses were too long and too short at the same time. At times it felt like what Jesus himself noted about the fickleness of the crowds, “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners'” (Mt 11:16-19). He was criticized no matter what he did, no matter how hard he was working, no matter that was bringing them salvation. And these complaints can wear people down. For me I often sought to take refuge in the chapel where at least I knew that the Lord loved me and was grateful for what I was at least attempting to do. And I also, frankly, was happy to respond to requests to preach retreats and give talks because these people would often be more receptive and appreciative of what you were doing than those who had become one’s “native place.”
- But I have gotten to know many religious superiors in various communities, not to mention pastors and bishops, who have struggled with the deluge of complaints. They’re very conscious of their limitations, but sometimes it seems that some of those they serve see only those limitations. Some people aren’t satisfied with anything and have expectations for their superiors that not only Jesus or the Blessed Mother could meet. I once asked one of my classmates who is now a diocesan bishop whether the pastoral proportion of complaints to compliments — which in many priests’ lives is 10 complaints to every compliment — stayed the same, grew and decreased. And he laughed and said, “Roger, it’s now closer to 100 to one.” Sometimes the Christian people can be worse than the Israelites in the desert. This doesn’t mean that superiors don’t need fraternal correction. They, like all of us, do! This doesn’t mean that some complaints are legitimate and objective. Many are. But it’s important that if we’re going to complain, our complaints are not only justified but kept in check. Some questions would be: Do we say thanks to God and to others much more than we whine? Do we compliment people ten times more than we complain to them or about them? Do we take the plank out of our own eyes before we grouse about speck in others’? Are we grateful for our religious superiors’ virtues as well as for their faults, which can often help us grow far more than their strengths? Do we recognize that our complaints are not innocuous, but can actually harm our superiors far more than hurting their feelings, as we see in how the Israelites’ criticisms led Moses to ask God to take his life?
- Let’s return to the miracle in the Gospel. It would have been easy for one of the disciples to have complained at how little they had, basically just five buns and two sardines. But Jesus didn’t complain. He thanked God. He blessed him. And God multiplied that offering. Today as we come forward, we may have various aches and pains. We may be struggling with the heat and the humidity. We may have too many things on the plate to handle during a busy week. But all of these can be a source of thanksgiving rather than complaining, because each of them can be a source of union with God and gratitude for all the parts of our body that aren’t aching, for all the beautiful days he gives us, for the capacity to serve him and others in so many ways, even if we might not be able to do so as well as we would like. The fundamental Christian attitude is thanksgiving. As we enter into Jesus’ prayer of thanksgiving and blessing at the Mass — thanksgiving and blessing on the night he would be betrayed and on the vigil of his savage execution! — we can learn from him how to unite everything to this source and summit of the Christian life, this mutual thanksgiving of Bride and Groom, of Body and Head. And as we give thanks to the Father for the gift of his Son, we know that Jesus likewise thanks the Father for drawing us to him to receive this gift of love.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 NM 11:4B-15
“Would that we had meat for food!
We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt,
and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks,
the onions, and the garlic.
But now we are famished;
we see nothing before us but this manna.”
When they had gone about and gathered it up,
the people would grind it between millstones or pound it in a mortar,
then cook it in a pot and make it into loaves,
which tasted like cakes made with oil.
At night, when the dew fell upon the camp, the manna also fell.When Moses heard the people, family after family,
crying at the entrance of their tents,
so that the LORD became very angry, he was grieved.
“Why do you treat your servant so badly?” Moses asked the LORD.
“Why are you so displeased with me
that you burden me with all this people?
Was it I who conceived all this people?
Or was it I who gave them birth,
that you tell me to carry them at my bosom,
like a foster father carrying an infant,
to the land you have promised under oath to their fathers?
Where can I get meat to give to all this people?
For they are crying to me,
‘Give us meat for our food.’
I cannot carry all this people by myself,
for they are too heavy for me.
If this is the way you will deal with me,
then please do me the favor of killing me at once,
so that I need no longer face this distress.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 81:12-13, 14-15, 16-17
“My people heard not my voice,
and Israel obeyed me not;
So I gave them up to the hardness of their hearts;
they walked according to their own counsels.”
R. Sing with joy to God our help.
“If only my people would hear me,
and Israel walk in my ways,
Quickly would I humble their enemies;
against their foes I would turn my hand.”
R. Sing with joy to God our help.
“Those who hated the LORD would seek to flatter me,
but their fate would endure forever,
While Israel I would feed with the best of wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would fill them.”
R. Sing with joy to God our help.
Alleluia MT 4:4
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
One does not live on bread alone, but by every
word that comes forth from the mouth of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MT 14:13-21
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.”
He said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”
Then he said, “Bring them here to me,”
and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied,
and they picked up the fragments left over–
twelve wicker baskets full.
Those who ate were about five thousand men,
not counting women and children.