Jesus’ gift of himself invites us to lead others to him

Over the last weekend of July, Omaha hosted two significant gatherings of Catholics. Representatives of those involved in Catholic Engaged Encounter were here from across the country, including Hawaii. They are involved in an important apostolate in their dioceses to help prepare couples for marriage during the months before their wedding.
Pope Francis has recently emphasized something that is always true. The loving and fruitful union of husband and wife helps form a strong foundation for our church and for the larger human community. We should all be grateful to movements like Catholic Engaged Encounter for their support for those called to the vocation of marriage, which becomes a blessing for all of us.
Roncalli Catholic High School in Omaha was the scene that same weekend of a gathering of Hispanic Catholics from around our archdiocese. The school and gym were packed with hundreds of people. Separate speakers and activities were planned for youth and adults. I am grateful to Deacon Gregorio Elizalde and all who worked with him to provide such a vibrant experience of Catholic life and worship. The average age of the group is young, and good formation in the faith is extremely valuable as they take on more responsibilities for leadership in their families and in their communities.
I had the privilege of celebrating Sunday Mass with both the Catholic Engaged Encounter gathering and the Hispanic Congress. The Gospel for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time was taken from the beginning of the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel. These verses describe Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee and being followed by a crowd of thousands. There is a concern about how to provide food for so many. The apostle Andrew introduces a boy to Jesus who has a few loaves and fish. Jesus works a miracle to provide more than enough food for all.
There are lessons in this Gospel passage that I thought could be helpful to the groups to whom I preached last Sunday. I share them with you briefly, as the quiet part of summer is ending around here, and we begin to think about how to live as disciples of Jesus in a new season.
It is easy to imagine ourselves as part of the crowd who came to see Jesus and who were fed miraculously as they reclined on the grass. What a privilege it would have been to be so close to the Son of God and to be on the receiving end of a miracle. We recognize how our heavenly Father expressed his love for those people, by sending his Son to care for them in such an out-of-the-way place.
We know, however, that every time we gather to celebrate Mass, in our parish churches, or with another group, the risen Jesus becomes present with us. He feeds us in a miraculous way, not with loaves and fishes, but with his own body and blood. He comes among us not simply as a visitor. In the holy Communion experienced in the Eucharist, Jesus becomes part of us and we become part of him. This is the ultimate sign of the Father’s love and care for us.
You and I cannot possibly earn so great a gift. We try to be well prepared for this encounter with the Lord, but we are never worthy, as we always say just before approaching Communion. This abiding, personal presence of Jesus in the church right where we live is a gift, pure and simple.
At the same time Jesus gives himself to us, he also invites something from us. We see this also represented in the account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.
Every true disciple who has encountered the risen Jesus, as we certainly do in the Eucharist, is asked to introduce others to Jesus. As Jesus inquired with the apostles about feeding the large crowd, Andrew took the opportunity to bring to him the boy who had a few loaves and fishes. By sharing his picnic lunch with Jesus, that young man helped the Lord to care for the people.
Jesus has invited, first the apostles, then a larger group of disciples, and now you and me to assist him in his saving mission. He looks for new helpers, new disciples, to be his co-workers in every age. He depends on current disciples to lead new ones to him, so that he can invite them too.
To test Philip, Jesus asked him how they could provide food for so many. Philip failed the test; he told Jesus it was impossible. Andrew introduced the boy who shared what he had with Jesus. The Lord took it from there. He was able to do something great with a little that was offered. And the boy did not lose anything by being generous. He got plenty to eat with everybody else.
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