St. Anthony Catholic Church, Long Beach, California
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 15:29-37
At that time: Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, went up on the mountain, and sat down there. Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. they placed them at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the deformed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind able to see, and they glorified the God of Israel.
Jesus summoned his disciples and said, "My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse on the way." The disciples said to him, "Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place to satisfy such a crowd?" Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" "Seven," they replied, "and a few fish." He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up the fragments left over -- seven baskets full.
As I reflect on this reading, I get completely side tracked by my background and experience: I left the church for a number of years after Vatican II coincided with my own crazy years of late teens and early 20s. I was confused and it felt to me that the church was confused. I longed to go to mass that actually "felt" like mass. I couldn't understand why this place of holiness had suddenly turned into a free-for-all - singing Bob Dylan songs- paraphrased for church. I just didn't understand, got angry, and left.
When I came back to the fold, I found a church that felt welcoming to me. It was a very modern church, no pews, no kneelers, no lots of things. The priests were wonderful and helped me tremendously. I went to mass daily until necessity forced me back to full time employment - and even then I attended daily mass as often as possible. Later I moved across town and found another church.
But when I really pondered this reading this morning, I was struck by the memory of the homily about the loaves and the fishes by one of those priests I loved so much. He explained away the miracle, very logically, very compellingly. He explained that in that time and place, there were not McDonald's and Burger Kings on every corner. When people traveled, they carried food with them. He explained that when they passed around the seven loaves and few fish, people unfastened their bags of carried food and shared. And that was how, he posited, they ended up with baskets-full left over.
I believed that - and many other things that priest said. He taught the first Bible class I ever attended. He studied in Rome. He was brilliant. He was funny. He helped me tremendously.
And now he is in prison for abusing young men in that parish.
Now I read this passage and understand that it wasn't some kind of holy sleight of hand to get people to share their food. It was a miracle performed by Our Lord Jesus Christ. It prefigures the Eucharist. He will not leave us hungry. He will feed us.
I hope no one reads this as my commentary on Vatican II or the clergy abuse scandal. I am just sharing my own experience with these things. How we are influenced by the people who have been in our lives. Again, I am so incredibly grateful that God has allowed me to live long enough to get back to the Holy Catholic Church, and to come to a real faith in the real true God. Miracles and all.