Abundant Insufficiency by Rev. Paul Saclia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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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.
"There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish" (Jn 6:9). Thus we encounter an unsung hero of the Gospels - the boy who saved the day by offering a little bit of food. Perhaps he saw the hungry crowds. Perhaps he heard our Lord's testing question: "Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?" (Jn6:5). And Philip's despondent response: "Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little" (Jn 6:7). Whatever the case, he must have been thrilled (as only a boy could be) to race up to the grown men and offer his help. Imagine his excitement when Our Lord - despite Andrew's grim verdict: "But what good are these for so many?" (Jn 6:9) - used his little offering to work an enormous miracle.
The whole scene evokes the Eucharist. It happens near the "Jewish feast of Passover" - that is, near the feast on which Our Lord would later institute the Eucharist. It also follows the two-part structure of the Mass. First, as the crowds follow Our Lord to hear and learn from Him, so we gather at Mass to hear Scripture readings and to learn from the homily. Second, as Our Lord takes the bread, gives thanks and distributes it to the people, so the priest takes hosts, prays over them and distributes them to the people. And between these two parts is the offertory: the boy brings loaves and fish to the Lord, and we bring bread and wine to the altar.
At Mass, as the bread and wine are brought to the altar and offered by the priest, Andrew's objection may pop into our minds: "What good are these for so many?" That is, how can bread and wine possible be worthy of God? How can they offer Him the worship He deserves? Of themselves, of course, they cannot. But we, like that boy, have placed them in the hands of Christ. using the priest as His instrument, He changes the bread and wine into His body and blood, making them His perfect sacrifice to the Father.
Andrew's objection may haunt us again at Communion: "What good are these for so many?" How can what looks like mere bread fulfill my spiritual needs? How can that small host nourish my eternal soul? If it were mere bread, we would be right. Yet Our Lord took ordinary bread and fed 5,000. And there was even some leftover (cf Jn 6:12). Likewise at Mass the same Lord takes ordinary bread and, through the ministry of the priest, changes it to His body - more than enough to satisfy our souls.
The boy's offering and the offertory of Mass reveal the pattern of all offerings to God. We merely give Him what we can and leave the rest to Him. We trust that He will make an abundance of our insufficiency. The saints teach us this. When a generous soul offers what little he has, the Lord uses that small offering for tremendous good. St. Benedict and St. Francis, for example, sought to serve the Lord simply. Yet He took their offering and used it to benefit the entire Church and the world. St. Therese of Lisieux only wanted to live her "little way." But Our Lord has used her offering to inspire millions. What seems small in the world's estimation - " What good are these for so many?" - Our Lord can make more than sufficient.
"There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish." At your next Mass, imitate that boy. He did not withhold the little he had, nor was he ashamed to offer so little. Rather, he gave in confidence because he relied not on his sufficiency but on the Lord's grace. As the priest offers bread and wine, offer yourself in union with Christ - and from Him receive an abundance in return.
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