February 17, 2006

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Pooling our loaves and fishes for all God’s people

Once in awhile, I receive letters from parishioners who don’t understand why they should share some of the proceeds of the Legacy For Our Mission: For Our Children and the Future campaign with the larger mission of the archdiocese. A recent letter said that every parish should just take care of itself.

I remembered something I had read in an inspiring book, Bread of the World, by Cardinal Carlo Martini, who is now the retired Jesuit Archbishop of Milan, Italy. I was struck by the cardinal’s description of an episode related to his installation as archbishop.

He wrote that someone who saw him standing at the podium in the piazza in front of the cathedral before he was installed observed, “You looked bewildered in the face of so many people, as if saying to yourself, ‘Where will I find bread enough to feed them all?’ ”

In the face of so many material and spiritual needs in our archdiocese here in central and southern Indiana, I immediately resonated with the cardinal. And I am sure many of you do, too.

The cardinal reflected on the meaning of the miracle Jesus worked with five loaves and two fishes (Mt 14:13-21). Remember the context: It was evening, they were in a deserted place, and the crowd was large and hungry. Jesus felt compassion for them and wanted to feed them. The disciples said, “Send them home. There isn’t enough food.” Five loaves and two fishes were all the disciples had with them. “Bring them to me,” Jesus said.

In so many words, the cardinal remarked that Jesus does not want to start from nothing in building the kingdom; he does not belittle what we have. He doesn’t say to us, “Why have you done so little? Why did you not plan ahead?”

Jesus asks us to bring to him whatever little we have. Like Peter and his friends who worked hard (all night) to catch their fish, we are to be generous with what we earn by our hard work and sweat and anguish. And we are to bring the bread of our suffering or the bitterness that comes our way or, sometimes, even our broken hearts—not to mention our gifts. Jesus uses whatever little we have with us to work miracles for the good of the many. Maybe this is the real miracle of the five loaves and two fishes.

Jesus does something for everyone in that hungry crowd. He has compassion for the many that were hungry, not just the exclusive few who were his friends and disciples. And so he asks us to be part of a Church in which no one keeps the five loaves and two fishes for herself or himself alone. He won’t accept our saying “Send them home. We don’t have enough to feed them.” We are to give of whatever we have for the sake of all his people. Jesus works the miracle and makes it go much farther than we could ever imagine.

The Lord takes our small beginnings and makes great things of them. I’m afraid sometimes when it comes to faith and religion and holiness and prayer, we want to say “Lord, I’m not ready, not yet. I’m just not good enough.” Cardinal Martini wrote, “Jesus insists ‘Bring me what you are, as you are; bring me the little you have so that I may use it for the salvation of a people.’ He asks us to trust him, to believe in his power.”

All of this is another expression of a theme I have struck from the early bewildering days of my own installation as archbishop of Indianapolis. “Together we can serve the Lord. The archdiocese is all of us, not the central office at 1400 N. Meridian St.” The time, talent and treasure we share go to those most in need, not to archdiocesan administration. By the grace of God, by the miracles which the Lord works in our own times, there is so much we can accomplish together that we can not possibly do by our unrelated, individual efforts. If we pool our few loaves and fishes, they go so much farther for the good of so many more people. All of us need to claim our responsibility in the mission of our Church. I know that we agree that we cannot simply be “takers.” We need to be “givers.”

I surely understand that sometimes our own need or the needs of our own parish community seem overwhelming. Yet we are asked to share from our few loaves and fishes. The Lord blesses our sacrifices abundantly. We need to give of our time, talent and treasure, however small and paltry or however large and abundant, for the sake of the many. For “it is evening and they are far from home.” †


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