When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them….
the disciples approached him and said, "… dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves." Jesus said to them, "…give them some food yourselves."
But they said to him, "Five loaves and two fish are all we have here."
Then he said, "Bring them here to me."…. he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied.
Excerpts from Matthew 14:13-21
One year ago today I professed my perpetual commitment to serve God and our world as a Marianist Sister. It was a marvelous weekend-long celebration with family, friends, members of the Marianist family from near and far… There was a lot of joy in the celebration. And as I had the silver ring placed on my finger, the one with the inscription "God alone," I had absolutely no idea exactly how the year ahead would play itself out and how important that inscription would become.
Since that day one year ago it has been a wonderful year. But it's also had its share of challenges. But, challenges can be bearers of grace, as well. Perhaps we don't see it in the moment - as is my experience - but after the fact, if one is open one can see how grace was a by-product of challenges faced.
Yesterday I spent the day with other members of the Marianist Family at Indian Lake. It was a relaxing day of eating, talking, playing games, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, and other water sports. It was a wonderful day. In the evening we gathered to celebrate Mass outside facing the lake. It was beautiful and the temperature was perfect. But the highlight was the homily given by our presider, my friend Fr. Chris. I found the homily perfect to pull together some thoughts I was having about the anniversary of my perpetual vows, the year gone by, and today's readings ...
In our Gospel the disciples are faced with people in need. The disciples know they do not have what it takes to meet the needs of the crowd. There's too many of them and disciples are so few and have so little. Who hasn't felt like that in their lives? The needs of the world are so great…. The needs in our own communities or families are often too great for what we can offer. Maybe we don't have enough time or enough resources… enough compassion or enough patience… Maybe we're not organized enough or intelligent enough… Maybe we feel that our mistakes have been too great. Whatever our reasoning, most of us can find a reason why we are simply "not enough" to meet the needs around us.
For sure I have felt that way many times myself - especially in the last year. I can list many traits and skills that I simply do not have enough of to meet the needs or complete the tasks expected (whether that's my own expectation or the expectation of others). People are often overly aware of what they lack. And I am no exception!
What is Jesus' response? "Bring what you have to me." And they do. He blesses it, breaks it, and gives it back to them so that they can meet the needs. This is a model for us, yes? It's true. We will never have enough or be enough to meet all the needs we see. We can't save the world. But that's not the call, really. I've said it before and I'll say it again - the world has a savior and it's not us. The call is to allow God to meet the needs and to bring salvation by using what little we have. God blesses what we offer - breaks it open (our very lives if we allow it) - and gives it back to us so that God can work through us.
This is perhaps something we can know intellectually. However, if we do not take it to heart and base our lives on it, the life of discipleship can be disheartening or discouraging. Our first reading tells us though that if we listen and follow… if we continue to bring our meager offerings to God… if we keep doing what we are called to do… we will be renewed. But the trick is in offering what we have to God - not pretending that everything depends on us or living with the illusion that we have what it takes. We don't.
It reminds me of a prayer often attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero (but was actually written by an American bishop - Ken Untener):
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificententerprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way ofsaying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection.No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, anopportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the masterbuilder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.
If there is anything about which I need to keep reminding myself it is this prayer. And our readings for this weekend. There are many things that call for our attention in this world, in our everyday lives. And we simply cannot meet them all. But it is God who gives the increase and it is God who meets the needs. Perhaps we just need to offer what we have to God and then get out of God's way!
Many blessings to all who read this!