dumbfounded at the sight of the extraordinary

Not long ago, I found myself in conversation with another Catholic who confessed that she did not regularly attend Sunday Mass, primarily she said, because she saw no compelling reason to do so since one Mass was pretty much the same as another. And, she further added, the rituals it seemed were intended to be nothing more than “symbolic” of Christ’s life and death on the cross. Now I had to give her partial credit for that one although her reasoning was seriously flawed and definitely not in line with either Canon Law[2] or the Catechism of the Catholic Church[3].

Five barley loaves and two fish

Five barley loaves and two fish

And a few years ago, the New York Times and CBS conducted a survey in which nearly two-thirds of American Catholics stated that they believed the consecrated bread and wine were but mere “symbolic reminders” rather than the actual body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Think about that for a moment…a fundamental tenet of our faith believed by not much more than 33% of those who call themselves Catholic.

During a speech given at a Catholic Professional & Business Group breakfast a number of years ago, Catholic apologist John Martignoni quite literally ripped pages from a Catechism to emphasize just how many Catholics and Christians in general take an a la carte approach to their faith: choosing what to believe and what not to believe; keeping what they like or are willing to accept and tossing aside what is inconvenient, uncomfortable, or disagreeable with their own personal views.

We read and hear reports every day it seems, of issues of some controversy, in which there are diametrically opposing views held among Catholics and too often there is little or no consideration or any attempt to learn, to know, or to follow the Church’s teachings on the matter. There is, rather, an almost casual dismissal of Church tenets because they are deemed to be irrelevant, out-of-touch, or inconsistent with one’s own personal beliefs. After all, it is far easier to ignore what you disagree with than to follow what your faith demands.

What each of these reveals is a serious crisis of faith among those who would call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ. Each represents a different facet in the challenges facing contemporary faith. All too many of us have become anesthetized by the secular creed of instant gratification and easy living. All too many of us have subscribed to the notion that we can tailor our faith to our own unique design and still remain a true disciple. Sorry, but it simply does not work that way, no matter how much you might wish it to be so.

Being a Christian, living fully in the faith of Jesus Christ, does not promise or deliver on either. Picking up your cross and carrying it daily is more often than not a very painful, possibly even fatal, and extremely difficult thing to do; seldom is it easy or enjoyable. But isn’t that precisely what Jesus calls us to do as Christians and disciples? Didn’t he tell us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it“?[4]

Along with our unwillingness to live our faith fully and without reservation, we have somehow lost a sense of the miraculous and in our numbness lack a feeling of reverence and awe that is owed to the reality and miracle that occurs within the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Miracles happen every day—every single day—and yet we still insist on expending enormous amounts of time and effort in feeble attempts to disprove their miraculousness rather than being awestruck by God’s almighty provenance.

As Father John Kavanaugh writes, “We naturalists and materialists are ill-fitted for miracles and transcendence. We seem unable to handle much more than appearances and style. Deeper realities are suspect. But if this is so, not only will real presence and transubstantiation seem improbable to us. Creation, redemption, resurrection, sin, and grace will seem so as well.”[5]

The Gospel passage for today recounts the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves as told by John.[6] Of all the miracles which Jesus performed the feeding of the multitudes is the only one recounted in all four Gospels and then not just four times but six times, which should provide some indication of its importance and its authenticity.

The basic story is the same with relatively few minor variations in detail. Matthew writes of the feeding of five thousand not counting women and children, which by some estimates elevates the number to as many as thirty-thousand.[7] One chapter later he writes of the feeding of the four-thousand not counting women and children.[8] Mark tells of the feeding of five-thousand[9] and then a few chapters later of the feeding of four-thousand[10] while Luke[11] and John tell only of feeding five-thousand.

No matter which account you read and no matter the differences in detail, the salient fact is that all were satisfied, no one went away hungry, and there was an abundance left over. Just as God provided manna and quail[12] for the people of Israel to eat on their forty years long exodus, God provided more than enough food for the crowds who followed Jesus.

We tend to forget or often set aside the true divinity of Jesus. We see him somehow as a man or somewhat of a lesser being than the Father, whom we call God. But our faith calls us to know Jesus as truly God, one in being with the Father.

Saint Augustine once said,

The miracles wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ are truly divine works, which lead the human mind through visible things to a perception of the Godhead.God is not the kind of being that can be seen with the eyes, and small account is taken of the miracles by which he rules the entire universe and governs all creation because they recur so regularly. Scarcely anyone bothers to consider God’s marvelous, his amazing artistry in every tiny seed.And so certain works are excluded from the ordinary course of nature, works which God in his mercy has reserved for himself, so as to perform them at appropriate times. People who hold cheap what they see every day are dumbfounded at the sight of extraordinary works even though they are no more wonderful than the others.

Governing the entire universe is a greater miracle than feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread, yet no one marvels at it. People marvel at the feeding of the five thousand not because this miracle is greater, but because it is out of the ordinary.[13]

There is an aching need for us to marvel at the miraculous, to feel the majesty and power of God’s love and magnificence, and yet we find ourselves lost in our own selfish desires, unwilling to sacrifice anything for what we cannot obtain this moment, this now.

At the Eucharist, as you come forward to receive what you do not believe you deceive no one but yourself. If you truly believe that what you are about to receive is the real body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ then you should approach the Eucharist with trembling hands, your knees knocking, your heart pounding, and in your mind saying over and over again, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” And above all else, you should approach the Eucharist with a deep abiding reverence, great humility, a contrite heart, and an unshakeable faith in God. Amen.

 


[1] Reading I 2 Kgs 4:42-44, 39-40; Reading II: Eph 4:1-6; Gospel: Jn 6:1-15.
[2] Code of Canon Law, #1247 – #1248.
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2182 – #2188.
[4] Mt 16:24-25.
[5] John Kavanaugh, S. J., The Word Embodied: The Bread of Life, The Sunday Website of Saint Louis University, July 26, 2015, http://liturgy.slu.edu.
[6] Jn 6:1-15.
[7] Mt 14:13-21.
[8] Mt 15:32-39.
[9] Mk 6:34-44.
[10] Mk 8:1-9.
[11] Lk 9:10-17.
[12] Ex 16:4-15, Num 11:31-34.
[13] Saint Augustine, Homilies on the Gospel of John 24, 1.6.7: CCL 36, 244.247-48.

 

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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