Prayers for today: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; the Lord God shines upon us. (Ps 117: 26-27)
Father, your Son became like us when he revealed himself in our nature: help us to become more like him, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
St. John Neumann (1811-1860)
Perhaps because the United States got a later start in the history of the world, it has relatively few canonized saints, but their number is increasing. John Neumann was born in what is now the Czech Republic. After studying in Prague, he came to New York at 25 and was ordained a priest. He did missionary work in New York until he was 29, when he joined the Redemptorists and became its first member to profess vows in the United States. He continued missionary work in Maryland, Virginia and Ohio, where he became popular with the Germans. At 41, as bishop of Philadelphia, he organized the parochial school system into a diocesan one, increasing the number of pupils almost twenty fold within a short time. Gifted with outstanding organizing ability, he drew into the city many teaching communities of sisters and the Christian Brothers. During his brief assignment as vice provincial for the Redemptorists, he placed them in the forefront of the parochial movement. Well-known for his holiness and learning, spiritual writing and preaching, on October 13, 1963, he became the first American bishop to be beatified. Canonized in 1977, he is buried in St. Peter the Apostle Church in Philadelphia.
Neumann took seriously our Lord’s words, “Go and teach all nations.” From Christ he received his instructions and the power to carry them out. For Christ does not give a mission without supplying the means to accomplish it. The Father’s gift in Christ to John Neumann was his exceptional organizing ability, which he used to spread the Good News.
Today the Church is in dire need of men and women to continue in our times the teaching of the Good News. The obstacles and inconveniences are real and costly. Yet when Christians approach Christ, he supplies the necessary talents to answer today’s needs. The Spirit of Christ continues his work through the instrumentality of generous Christians.
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (6: 34-44)
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. This is a remote place, they said, and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat. But he answered, You give them something to eat. They said to him, That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat? How many loaves do you have? he asked. Go and see. When they found out, they said, Five— and two fish. Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)
As we think of the surging sea of humanity as it ebbs and flows from generation to generation, the great issue of happiness rises before our minds. All living things aspire to happiness in some sense and according to their measure, understood as the fulfilment of their nature. The plant “aspires” — if we may speak in metaphor — to fullness of growth and to produce its fruit and its flower. The animal unreflectively seeks its happiness in the fulfilment of its various impulses. Above all, man — the crown of visible creation — seeks to be happy. This too involves his fulfilment — the fulfilment of the various needs and aspirations of his rational and physical nature. He instinctively aspires to be happy, and yet the course of life never brings all the happiness for which he mysteriously longs. It brings a certain fulfilment but never its completion, and often — with this or that individual — life is profoundly frustrating. So constant is this issue in the life of man, that many thinkers have considered that the attainment of what is deemed to make one happy is the entire purpose of life. It is insisted that man must be free to choose what will be most conducive to his happiness. Certain philosophers have reduced morality to that which is most useful in bringing the most happiness. Such a position is philosophically very questionable, and there are difficulties with it even from the merely practical point of view. How difficult it is to calculate what will bring him the most happiness! So many factors are constantly at work favouring or undermining, as the case may be, the shifting sands of happiness. A young royal marries a fine girl and the nation is filled with joy at the prospects ahead. Then gradually, one tragedy follows upon another and the marriage becomes not bliss but an ongoing test of heroic fidelity. It was impossible to have foreseen or even avoided this. Simply aiming to be happy cannot be the formal goal of life, nor can it be the foundation of duty.
In our Gospel today, “when Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Is not the crowd a picture in minuscule of mankind searching for happiness? The crowd hurries to Jesus with its sick, its burdens and its worries. There is so much that tears at its heart and weighs it down. Jesus, they think, will give us relief. At the sight of this crowd our Lord is filled with compassion, and this is the attitude of the Son of God made man to each and every man and woman in human history, including you and me. But notice, he does not answer all their needs. How great and varied must have been the needs of such a concourse of people! Instead, he set himself to teach them many things and at some length. He was teaching them what God above all wanted them to have — a share in his kingdom, which was none other than union with his Son Jesus Christ. At the end of his discourse, and the implication is that our Lord’s teaching was lengthy, he did proceed to work a spectacular miracle. He fed the crowds as much as they wanted with a mere handful of food. Their physical needs were satisfied to the extent that was necessary. But he did not answer all their needs. Filled with compassion for them as he was, Christ knew that their true happiness would come from a different source. It would come from receiving into their hearts with faith and obedience that about which he was teaching in his discourse. All this is to say that the Gospel scene of today (Mark 6: 34-44) is yet another reminder of what is the true source of happiness for man. Man’s happiness comes not from loaves but from the Word, the Word of God made flesh for our salvation. We can make loaves the goal of our life, or we can accept Christ as our life. God can give us loaves if he judges it to be in our best interest, but loaves cannot of themselves be our happiness. The ever-present danger for man is that he will seek his happiness in loaves and fishes. But no. His true happiness is to be found in fulfilling his duty of union with God, and this is found in union with and obedience to Christ.
Let us come to God with all our needs — for, after all, this is what the crowd did in our Gospel today, and Christ was full of compassion for them. Let us learn from the passage, though, that our deepest need is for Christ and his teaching. It is in this that our happiness will be found. Where is Christ? He is present above all and in all his fullness in the Holy Eucharist. To this too, the miracle of the loaves and fishes points. Let us make him our life, for as St Paul writes, now not I but Christ lives in me.