July 23, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

God heals and transforms us in the Eucharist

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

The Gospel reading for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Jn 6:1-15) tells the familiar story of the miracle of the loaves and fish.

Jesus has compassion on the large crowd of people who have come to listen to his preaching. When he asks the disciples, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” (Jn 6:5), Philip’s response is one of frustration: “Two hundred day’s wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little” (Jn 6:7). Like the social problems we face today—hunger, homelessness, addiction, unemployment, lack of access to health care—the solutions proposed seem totally out of reach.

Jesus solves the problem by taking what is available (five barley loaves and two fish) and using this to feed 5,000 people with 12 wicker baskets left over. This is a miracle of God’s abundance overcoming human scarcity.

As reported by St. John’s Gospel, Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fish is a sign of the Eucharist. The words: “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”

(Jn 6:11), anticipate the Lord’s Supper and the miracle that occurs each time we receive Christ’s Body and Blood.

As with every sacrament, the matter is physical (bread and wine, water, oil) but the form is spiritual (transformation, rebirth, healing and forgiveness). The miracle of the loaves and fish is a dramatic illustration of God’s ability to overcome our weaknesses, and to supply whatever we need to listen attentively to his word and respond generously from the heart.

In his Angelus remarks on Corpus Christi, on June 6, Pope Francis said, “Each time we receive the bread of life, Jesus comes to give new meaning to our fragilities. He reminds us that in his eyes we are more precious than we think. He tells us he is pleased if we share our fragilities with him. He repeats to us that his mercy is not afraid of our miseries.”

What happened when Jesus fed 5,000 people with so few loaves and fish was a demonstration of human fragility being overcome by Divine Mercy. What is impossible for us fragile human beings is no problem for God.

“The mercy of Jesus is not afraid of our miseries,” Pope Francis says. “And above all, he heals us from those fragilities that we cannot heal on our own, with love.”

Love is what fed the 5,000 people reclining on the grass at the foot of the mountain. Jesus’ compassion is always transformative. His love heals the sick, casts out demons and raises Lazarus from the dead. His Body and Blood nourish us and transform us from self-centered individuals to sisters and brothers strongly united, who live not for ourselves but for God and each other.

Pope Francis gives some common examples of the human fragilities that Jesus heals in the Eucharist:

What fragilities? Let’s think. That of feeling resentment toward those who have done us harm—we cannot heal from this on our own; that of distancing ourselves from others and closing off within ourselves—we cannot heal from that on our own; that of feeling sorry for ourselves and complaining without finding peace; from this too, we cannot heal on our own. It is Christ who heals us with his presence, with his bread, with the Eucharist.

In each case, like the disciples confronted with the large crowd of hungry people, our own limited resources are unequal to the challenges we face. Only by relying on the grace of God can we hope to respond effectively.

“The Eucharist heals because it unites with Jesus: it makes us assimilate his way of living, his ability to break himself apart and give himself to brothers and sisters, to respond to evil with good,” the pope says. “He gives us the courage to go outside of ourselves and bend down with love toward the fragility of others. As God does with us.”

Going outside ourselves, and bending down with love, is exactly what Jesus did when he multiplied the bread and fish, sharing them with the crowd. It is exactly what happens when he gives himself to us in the holy Eucharist.

“This is the logic of the Eucharist,” the pope concludes. “We receive Jesus, who loves us and heals our fragilities in order to love others and help them in their fragilities; and this lasts our entire life.” We receive the bread of life so that we can give thanks and distribute it to others.

Let’s give thanks to God for the miracle of his love generously shared with us in the Eucharist. May the compassion of Jesus transform us into brothers and sisters who care for each other. †

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