17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
A Homily - B Cycle - 2005-2006

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First Reading - 2 Kings 4:42-44
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18
Second Reading - Ephesians 4:1-6
Gospel - John 6:1-15

John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.

Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee.  A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.  Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.  The Jewish feast of Passover was near.  When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, "Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?"  He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, "Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little."  One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish'; but what good are these for so many?"  Jesus said, "Have the people recline."  Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.  So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.  Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.  When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted."  So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.  When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, "This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world."  Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.


For the next four Sundays we interrupt our readings from St. Mark's Gospel and concentrate our attention to chapter six of St. John's Gospel, which contains Jesus' teaching about himself as "The Bread of Life".  It is abundantly clear that the Eucharist, the "real presence of Christ" in the consecrated species of bread and wine, is the core of our Catholic Faith.  We do not bend our knees or offer prayers of worship and adoration to a piece of bread or a cup of wine.  Worship and adoration belong to God alone.  So central is this truth of faith that if it were not true what we do here, daily, would be tantamount to idolatry!

Today's readings from the Book of Kings and from St. John's Gospel do not delve into Jesus' proclamation that he is "The Bread of Life".  Rather, our attention is focused on the compassion of God, as shown in the actions of Elisha the prophet and of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  It is in respect to the compassion of Christ that it has been repeatedly noted that the Gospel of Jesus has an important and irreplaceable dimension of social action; i.e., of being aware and responsive to the basic human needs of mankind.

The social gospel of Jesus is woven into our liturgies in the many scripture readings from both the old and new testaments.  Anyone who believes that our liturgical celebrations of Christ's presence are strictly personal, solitary communions misses the essential message which concludes each of our celebrations of the Eucharist:  "Ite!, Missa Est". ('Go, You are being sent').  Sent into a world where women, men and children are both spiritually and physically hungry; a world in which so many look hopefully to Christ's representatives, "The People of God" to provide both spiritual and physical sustenance.  Fr. Walter Burghardt, S.J., once pointed out that: "Our gathering together (for liturgy) does not, of itself, change oppressive structures, speak directly to complex issues - (issues of) poverty and ecology, racism and date-rape, war abroad and the war on the (a woman's) womb, child abuse and euthanasia . . .  The Liturgy does not make (Liberal/conservative politicians.  It is not a substitute for sociology, economic or political science" (When Christ Meets Christ, p. 54).

What liturgy does do, he continued,:  "Is to effect change by effecting conversion"; the conversion of mind and heart which "fashion us into sisters and brothers agonizing not only for a church of charity, but for a world of justice" (ibid.)

The social dimension of Christ's gospel is not an option.  It is, rather, an essential ingredient of the Church's mission - apostolate, including the 'Apostolate of the Laity'.  I recall a discussion we once had about the church's missionary activity.  One bishop remarked that he did not send his priests to be social workers, in his mind they were being sent to 'evangelize'; i.e., to preach the Gospel, offer Mass and the sacraments.  A bishop in a mission country, on the other hand, was certain that if the church does not attempt to relieve the physical hungers and needs of the poor, our efforts to evangelize them would bear little fruit.  It is, as Fr. William Maestri said in a homily:  "Only after the noise of hungry stomachs has been silenced can people hear of Jesus speaking about "bread of Life" (Grace Upon Grace, p 186).

There is no question in my mind that most of the parishioners here at St. mark's have a good sense that the celebration of Christ's selfless ministry does not stop at the front doors of Church.  I continue to admire your generosity and compassionate outreach here at home and abroad.  I encourage parents to encourage their children to participate in parish outreach programs and work-camps in other areas.  Such experiences will give our young people a new perspective on life and, perhaps, motivate them to become adults who realistically love their neighbors through some form of social ministry.

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