Sunday Sermon for July 31, 2011, the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Is 55:1-3; Rom 8:35, 37-39; Mt 14:13-21
In the second reading today, St. Paul asks what can separate us from the love of Christ? He provides a variety of possibilities: anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or the sword. Then he tells us that none of these, nor anything else, can separate us from the love of God and, in fact, we conquer overwhlemingly through our Lord Jesus Christ Who loves us.
St. Paul is able to make such a bold statement because he lived and experienced these things in his own lifetime. This does not mean that things were not difficult for him at times, but because he persevered in his prayer and learned to trust completely in God through Jesus, he was always provided for, often in extraordinary and unexpected ways.
The same is certainly true for us. Even the context is important for our situation today. We live in a time where we have witnessed new wars breaking out, tens of millions of acres of farmland burned or flooded, unprecedented unemployment, chaos throughout the world, persecutions in various parts of the world and threats of such in Europe and America. The world is facing a terrible food shortage due to the numerous disasters that have occurred, people are losing their jobs and their homes; in a word, there is a lot of anguish and distress going on already and it appears that it is only going to get worse.
We have only a few options. We can count on the government to provide, we can count on our own abilities to take care of ourselves and our families, or we can count on God. The Lord has made many promises to those who are faithful to Him, but He tests that fidelity to find out if we are true believers or fair weather friends. Because God does not make it easy, many people get frustrated and walk away from Him. His Saints remained faithful to Him in the midst of trials. What will we do?
In the first reading God asks why we would spend our money on things that fail to satisfy. This has been a major problem in the western countries where our greed and materialism has failed to satisfy while our desperation to find something that will fill our hearts continues to increase. Only God can fill our hearts, but He can fill them only after they have been emptied of everything that is not Him. This presents another reason why people give up on God: they put their trust in things and in money rather than in God.
In the Gospel reading today the crowds of people came to Jesus in a deserted place. He taught them and then fed thousands of people with five loaves and two fish. When everyone had eaten their fill there was more leftover than there was when they had begun. In the first reading God says through Isaiah that if we heed Him we will eat well and that if we come to Him heedfully and listen, we will have life. This explains why our Lord fed these people with the bread and fish: they paid attention when He fed their souls.
This also points to a potential problem for us as the array of difficulties begins to converge with the possibility of causing terrible hardship. How many Catholics have really listened heedfully to the voice of the Lord? Most people, including the hierarchy, have made an art out of changing, manipulating, denying or ignoring what God has stated in the Scriptures and through the Church. When we look at the numerous occasions in Scripture where God fed people through miraculous means, it is always in situations where someone trusted God absolutely and remained faithful to Him even when things seemed hopeless. We must recall the words of our Lord that nothing is impossible for God.
If we are more than conquerors because of Jesus, then we must put our trust in Jesus in Whom we have conquered. St. Paul noted that if God did not spare His only Son, He will certainly not fail to give us anything less. Jesus told us that we are not to worry about what we will eat and what we will wear; rather, we are to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness then everything else will be provided.
We have to be honest and admit that we have probably not sought the Kingdom of God first. Instead, we have sought our own little kingdoms. It is high time that we learn to seek His Kingdom first, as we pray in the Our Father, to come to Him heedfully and to listen. In other words, we not only need to pay attention to what He says, we need to put it into practice, all of it!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.