As we gather to worship and reflect on God’s Word spoken to us we find ourselves with Jesus and His disciples before a hungry crowd. Women, children and men who have traveled to listen to Jesus. We can see in this crowd a people that were hungering for more than the bread and fish. You see people were coming to Jesus because He was speaking and teaching the truth of God’s love and power over their lives in away that they had not experienced. This is at the core of the miracle we here from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John.
Jesus coming into the context of 1st century Palestine encountered great suffering, oppression and depravation. You see we must remove our 21st century rose colored glasses that looks back in time to these beautiful miracles distanced from the context. People were in pain and hurting and were seeking hope in a life that seemed hopeless and without any possibility of relief.
Often when we look at our own lives and our world many experience exclusion, indifference, and rejection in our society. I think of the many homeless and those with mental illness and addiction I see each day, I am called, impelled to respond to this need. There are two ways of addressing the pain and suffering that is occurring around us. Through Ministry of Mercy as well as seeking justice and providing the opportunity through policy, laws and programs to help those who are in need. So often we leave it to someone else. We may think, “someone will help, the police will help, the new mayor will help, the churches will help. It is clear that the responsibility to seeing and responding to the needs of the suffering and disenfranchised belongs to each of us. The only way to bring people from the peripheries of suffering and marginalization is for us to stand with them.
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.”
Jesus challenges the disciples to see in their need an opportunity for something great to come forth. Sharing, responding and providing for others. All seemingly insignificant, a small boy, with a couple loaves and fish presents them to Jesus for his blessing and what happens is a great sharing and feeding of a multitude that provides all present with food even left overs. This great feeding becomes for the people a sign of great hope.
The Church gives us an opportunity to respond to the needs of those on the peripheries by living the corporal works of mercy. Each of us are called to help those who are most in need. This weekend I am preaching a Mission to assist those suffering from the effects of a volcano eruption in Guatemala, through Cross Catholic Outreach.
The initial impact of the disaster was staggering. Approximately 3,000 people were evacuated and 99 confirmed dead (that number is expected to rise, officials fear, perhaps reaching hundreds). More than 200 are reported missing. An entire village was completely destroyed by lava flow. It is the most severe volcanic eruption in Guatemala in more than 100 years.
Fortunately, previously shipped food and medical supplies from Cross were being stored in the area, so when the disaster struck, the ministry’s in-country partner was “ready to go.” Over 178,000 meals were delivered directly to the survivors beginning June 4, along with medicines including 6,000 tubes of burn cream which were vital because burns have been the number one injury of survivors.
I share this that even as we struggle here at St. Joseph in St. Petersburg being the most challenged parish in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, we still seek to find ways to serve those who suffer around the world. Let us see both here locally and around the globe, a call to share the love of Christ in feeding and providing for those who suffer and find themselves in great need.
The question that Jesus offers is one that is meant to solicit a response. ““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.” How do we respond? For some it may mean funding a program such as a food pantry or a youth center, for others it may mean traveling to devastated communities, or it may mean that we become a shelter for hurricane relief for our local community. We are called to find the answers together how to best reach and serve the needs of those most in need. The Cross Catholic Outreach is one of the ways that we work with those who are on the ground helping the suffering. Whatever we can do to help each of us is called by our very baptism to be agents of compassion and hope.
We will continue within our poverty to serve those who find themselves on the peripheries here in St. Petersburg, although small and seemingly insignificant as the small boy and the few loaves of bread and fish, God can take what little we have and bless it and not only do great things, but there will be an abundance left over.
Let me use this as an opportunity to encourage you to take part in our 100th Anniversary Gala and Jubilee Mass. We will honor six parishioners who have been exceptional in their service of both the parish as well as the community, Join us in celebrating 100 years of faith, service and education for “We’ve Come This Far by Faith!”