Photo: Gregorio Guglielmi’s fresco “The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes” is seen during an exhibition at the former convent of Sant’Agostino in Rome in 2009. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)
We are familiar with the Gospel we will hear this Sunday. Jesus is in a deserted place and is concerned that people be fed. By the simple gesture of a blessing, Jesus provides food for thousands of people and there is some left over. The people not only marvel at this but they seek Jesus out at a later time, looking for more. Jesus is disappointed that they come because they were fed with the fish and the bread. He wants them to understand that this was a sign. All the miracles of Jesus were signs. A sign is something that points beyond itself to something else.
The multiplication of the loaves and the fish was a beautiful moment in itself. But the meaning of the miracle goes beyond the moment. And what, you might ask, is the meaning of the moment? In this particular instance, I think this involves two things. First, the multiplication of the loaves and the fish symbolize the abundance of God’s love. Jesus explodes with love upon the earth. He is the Son of God; He is the Holy One of God; He is the Prince of Peace.
When Jesus says the blessing and the bread and fish become abundant, He is inviting His audience to look beyond the bread to appreciate that they are in the presence of the Son of God, that God is literally visiting His people. This is given beautiful expression by St. Paul today in the second reading. Paul asks a very human question: “Who will separate us from the love of God?” He names a number of things including anguish, distress, persecution, danger or the sword. If you look around our world today I think you will see that these things seem to separate us from God. But Paul does not ask the question from the perspective of this world. He asks the question from the perspective of God entering into this world in Jesus Christ. And he concludes that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is given to us in Christ Jesus. Paul puts his confidence in Christ and rejoices in the abundance of love.
The second sign that marks the multiplication of the loaves and the fish is the Eucharist. Jesus takes bread and says a blessing and the people are fed. This is a sign of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist Jesus is giving Himself to us out of love when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. This is precisely why the Eucharist is so important. This is precisely why I keep saying that the most important thing we do each week is celebrate Sunday Mass. And this is precisely why I hope you come each week.
May the Lord give you peace.
Rev James M. McNamara