Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, Francisco Herrera the Elder (1576–1656), c.1650; Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid

Fr Neil’s homily for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity, 25 July 2021

There is one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.¹

What is it that you desire above all else? This is an important question that we need to ask honestly, deep within our own hearts. The answer we get will reveal what drives and motivates our actions and will. Desires we don’t scrutinise will often cause us and others great difficulties, trials and pain. It doesn’t take much to see where unexamined desires can lead. Sin and selfishness deceive and darken our understanding and twist logic so that we begin to believe that good is evil in an attempt at self-fulfilment. The acknowledgement of these inner desires will enable us to temper, moderate and redirect our actions to be less destructive of self and others.

In our Gospel reading we see the crowd’s reaction to the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish. Christ reveals in these signs that he is the new Elijah and Moses who multiplies the loaves and is the bread of heaven that will feed God’s people in a new exodus. The desire of those present to take Christ, by force, and make him king reveals a collective longing for freedom and the fulfilment of the prophetic promises.

Christ evades their attempt because he understands the heart of fallen humanity. He sees temptation to find a quick fix that often leads to long-term disaster in our attempts to fulfil our desires.

There will be a new exodus, but by a path that is altogether harder. This path to the fulfilment of our ultimate happiness requires a journey to both Golgotha and the tomb before we can enter into the fullness of being the children of God.

Both Mary and Joseph, along with many of the saints and martyrs, are a wonderful example of how surrendering our own attempts to self-fulfilment leads to becoming all that God wills for them. Certainly both Mary and Joseph had ideas of what the road to happiness was going to look like. However God’s intervention and their willingness to surrender those dreams to the purposes of God led them both to their place in the glory of heaven. Humanly speaking, this journey was by a more difficult path.

Of course we all have our own particular journey to follow in seeking the real purposes of God for our lives. Yet there are some general principles that help guide us in our walk with God. While we have our own particular journey we do not walk alone. The twelve baskets gathered from the multiplication of loaves hints at this pilgrim journey taken by the whole body of Christ. The twelve baskets symbolise the twelve apostles who are the new Israel after the twelve tribes of the old covenant.

Unity of the pilgrim people, then, is critical in our discovering of the will of God and our particular journey to happiness in him. If we believe that our fulfilment lies in a path that separates and alienates us from others and is a cause of division particularly in the body of Christ then we can be fairly certain that we are walking the wrong way. We might assess the actions and decisions of others, even priest and prelate, by whether it is marked by ‘forbearing one another in love eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’²

Saint Paul emphasises clearly that unity in the Spirit is expressed in the faith that acknowledges that there is only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one faith, and one God and Father of us all. St Peter, speaking of Christ before the council of the Sanhedrin in Acts, also declares. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”³

Humility is the first characteristic needed in this journey of reconciliation in God. Saint John Chrysostom stated: “remember how you were saved … and you will not be excessively impressed with chains or privileges.. be humble towards everyone, whether enemy or friend, great or small. Meekness is the foundation of all virtue.”⁴ It is the virtues of humility, meekness and patience that will enable the body to maintain its unity and it is the very opposite of these virtues that has always pushed people into schism.

The young lad in the Gospel story is an image of innocent humility. He offers the little he has, five loaves and two fishes, despite the fact there are five thousand men to feed. To the older worldly wise disciples this act is an act of foolishness. “But what are they among so many?” asks Andrew⁵.

How easy it is for us to despise the little that we have, and think it’s not worth offering to the service of God. If the young boy had not made his offering would the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish taken place? The actions of the boy has led to this story being recorded in scripture and retold for 2000 years — all because of the humble innocent offering that he made. Only by offering the little time, gifts, and resources that we have will we be able to see the miracles of God.

Christ receiving and giving thanks for the gifts received from the young boy is the moment of transformation. The giving of ourselves into the hands of Christ in an act of Thanksgiving is the means of our transformation. Christ moves us from alienation to reconciliation, from despair to hope and from death to eternal life.

We celebrate this miracle at every mass as we take the ordinary things of bread and wine and place them in the hands of Christ, who — in an act of Thanksgiving — transforms them into his body, soul and divinity, for our salvation. In our receiving of these transformed gifts we are made into the children of God living in the one body, through faith, hope and love to the glory of the the one God and Father of us all.

¹ Ephesians 4:4–6
² Ephesians 4:2–3
³ Acts 4:12
Chrysostom, Homily IX on Ephesians
⁵ John 6:9

The editorial title is a refrain by Edward Plumptre (1821–1891)