The miracle of the loaves and fishes reveals to us how the generosity of God is so great, that it is incomprehensible to us. In this astounding miracle, God makes something out of almost nothing, feeding thousands of people with two fish and five barley loves. He makes so much out of so little, in order to show his love and concern for even the most basic of needs - the need to eat a meal.
Now all of us are called to imitate the generosity of God. Jesus said, "Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect." We aren't going to be totally perfect, but we can strive to live up to the Lord's call. If we even try, it will certainly bear much fruit. And In this context of the generosity of God, and our call to be generous, I want to make some valuable points about family life, the home, marriage, and ultimately, love of one's neighbor.
I may have mentioned this some years ago. But a few years after I became a priest, I was getting ready to do a wedding and looking over the prayers for a Wedding Mass. I noticed and interesting detail that I'd never heard of or seen before. It's one of those things, like the washing of feet on Holy Thursday, the blessing of throats on February 2nd, and use of palms on Palm Sunday. One of those little things that shows up in the Mass, but not ordinarily.
It was that at a wedding Mass, the couple who has been married, has the option of, just after pronouncing their wedding vows, of bringing forth gifts for the poor. Isn't that interesting? Actually, the gift is itself supposed to have value, but more than that, it is a symbolic gesture. Let me say, in their voice, what this means for the couple, as if the husband and wife are saying it:
"We've just been joined to one another until death; joined to one another and to God in an unbreakable bond - which strengthens us with his love and our love for one another. We recognize that in this Union, as two in one flesh, we have been made stronger, we can rely on one another. And in turn, we can become a safe harbor for those in need, we can become helpers to those who are without love, those for whom no one cares. So those who have no food may find it at our table. Those who have no warmth may find it under the shelter of our home. Those who experience no love, will be shown the love and mercy of God which emanates from the love we have for one another as husband and wife. We rejoice to now be married, and we will love God, one another, and all who are in need - with the most generous love."
Isn't that awesome!!!! I find it so moving. Yet, I have never seen the symbolic gift done at a wedding. It's too bad really. I think it should become an essential and required part of a wedding. You know why? Because these days we think of marriage as something that is entered into in order to fulfill ME. In fact, we think of most relationships in this fashion. It's part of a consumerist society. I buy a couch because I like it. I buy a bacon cheeseburger, because I am hungry and I like bacon. I have a baby when and how I choose to. I marry you because you make me happy. If you don't make me happy, it won't work. If a baby comes at an inconvenient time, maybe I will throw it away.
Consumerism leads to a culture of use. And when something is no longer useful, it gets thrown away. That's why pope Francis says so often that we live in a "Throw-away culture".
Because of this mentality we often today get the basic orientation of married life wrong. We tend to think of the relationship of husband and wife as being one in which the man and woman spend forever gazing into one another's eyes, owners of one another's love forever and ever and ever.
But that's not the image of a Catholic Marriage. Rather, the proper orientation of spouses is not they face one another, in a sort of narcissistic, self-fulfilling embrace. But rather, that they, as husband and wife, as side by side, arm in arm, facing not one another, but facing heaven, bringing one another along to heaven, bestowing blessings and goodness on those in need who come to them for shelter, for clothing, for food, for love. And their mission, becomes a mission that is to be shared with their children. By living this way, they form the little kids to learn to love, to care, to be virtuous, to be giving - like God. So the family and the home become the place where everyone learns not to be closed in on themselves.
What is the opposite of being closed in ourselves? Well, in the seminary, some of the brothers one year, spent the summer in the Canadian wilderness in a program called "Outward Bound". It was a many weeks long program where you went with a guide into the wilderness with few belongings, a canoe to carry, and just the bare necessities. The purpose was to learn how to survive, to challenge yourself, to encounter danger, to strengthen your will, your character, and your confidence. To learn teamwork, and to experience nature. It was a grueling program. It was never offered to me - though I wish it had been.
A couple years later, one of the guys who did the Outward Bound program, also named Mark, was ordained a priest by St. John Paul II. At the party in Rome after the ordination, another of the guys, Brady, who also did the outward bound program walked up to Fr. Mark, the newly ordained priest, and he said to him: "Now you're really outward bound".
That’s the opposite of being closed in ourselves. Only when we are outward bound – attentive to others – can we reflect the generosity of Jesus. This is at the heart of the call of every individual Christian vocation: single, priest, religious, and for every married couple, for every family.
Now this is our call in a world which is full of people who are hurting. So, what should people find in a Catholic person? They should find mercy, understanding, compassion, gentle guidance, and support. The should find the love and generosity we get from Jesus, who feeds us with himself in the Eucharist, just as he so generously fed the multitude of thousands in today's Gospel.
A lot of people believe that if they come to the Catholic Church they will find harshness and judgement. But that's not the way. What should they find in us?
Well, I would say that they should find what the multitudes found in Jesus. Mercy, love, concern and solidarity. If we are outward bound, they will find a safe shelter in this valley of tears. Catholics ought to be the antidote to the throw-away culture. Here, everyone is worthy of love, because everyone is human – made in God’s image and likeness. We can, even from our own brokenness and wounds and hurts, support and love others with generosity of Jesus.
Now, does not mean that we have to love everything another person does in order to love them. And they don't have to love everything I do in order to love me in return. People don't have to meet my expectations or choose to live this or that way in order for me to love them. I can still love them completely. In fact, it is true, that one of the works of mercy is to correct the sinner. Even Jesus did this. When he forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery, he did not say, “Your sins are forgiven, keep on doing what you have been doing.” No, he said, “Your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more.” Jesus showed her mercy in forgiving her, and more mercy in showing her the right way forward.
However, friends, I think in this time that we live, when Catholics are the object of ridicule, accused of being harsh and judgmental, we need to be, as St. Paul said, “wise as serpents and gentle as doves.” Let’s just show others his generosity and mercy. I’ve experienced so many times, that I don’t need to bring the difficult issues up with people, I love them, and they know deep down the answers already to the difficult questions. If they don’t, I show them so much kindness and love, that eventually they ask. Do we live the works of mercy – even the one that says, “correct the sinner”? Absolutely, but let’s focus on correcting ourselves first, and show others the generosity and kindness that draws people to Christ, just as the sweetness of honey draws the bees.
This is especially necessary in our own families and friendships. Most of us have friends who are living with someone who’s not their spouse, most of us have family members who have same-gender attraction, some might have family members who live with someone of the same gender, and so on. Being a Catholic doesn’t require us to reject them, to throw them away. On the contrary, it requires us to love them earnestly and completely.
Now loving them in this way doesn’t then require that we agree with or approve of what they do. Many of you have told me you have friends or family members who are gay. Guess what, I do too. And I love them! We can love and be good to them, show them mercy and tenderness simply because of who they are. This doesn’t mean we agree with all they do … it just means we love ...
Some say it does require, in the name of tolerance, that we agree with what others do. But that is a misunderstanding of tolerance. Tolerance does not mean that we agree with or approve of something. Rather tolerance, by definition, means that you deal with something you don’t like. So many of you would like to live in a warmer climate, but you stay here because you have family here. You may not like winter, BUT YOU TOLERATE IT! Similarly, we don’t agree with every type of sexual lifestyle under the sun. In fact, on the utmost logical grounds, which I laid out in last week’s homily, our faith and our intelligence leads us to uphold sexual intimacy only in the union of husband and wife. But, in loving our neighbor, we just love them. We don’t even need to tolerate --- there’s only love. So some will say we are judgmental, but we will show them mercy, we will be good to them in every way, we will be like the sweet honey which draws the bees.
People might say Catholics are bigots, haters. No, we are not that at all – those who say it, have a terrible misconception of truth. Rather, we, beginning in every family, flowing out of every marriage, and every home, and every disciple, we love all people with the generosity of Christ. We may not agree with everything everyone else does, and we don't expect everyone to agree with everything we do - but we will love, we will love unconditionally, people will find in us a safe place, a shelter, a meal, understanding, mercy, solace, and love - without judgement. And then they will know that we are Jesus disciples, for in our love for them they will taste and see, as the multitudes in today's Gospel did, and as we will in a few moments, they will taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
This converted the multitudes in Jesus’ time.
Friends, this is what will also convert the multitudes of our time.