Saturday, July 28, 2012

Feeding of the 5,000

As many of my readers know, I really enjoying cooking. Over the course of my studies at Fordham, it became one of my great joys to host dinner gatherings for some of the younger faculty. For me, these were two-day affairs: on Friday, I would trek into Manhattan to go shopping and, on Saturday, I'd spend the day preparing the meal. Almost without fail, hours before the meal, the guest list would begin to expand rapidly: what had started as a dinner for eight would become dinner for twelve, or fourteen, or sixteen. The first few times this happened, I'd begin to panic: surely, I hadn't prepared enough food to feed that many. Yet, it never seemed that anyone ever went away hungry. There was always just enough.

On one level, tomorrow's Mass Readings play on the theme of making more out of less. I suspect anyone who has lived with teenagers knows something of the dilemma facing the man from Baal-shalishah and the Apostles: how can we make a little go a long way? How do we stretch the meal prepared for four into a meal for eight? How do we turn twenty loaves into food enough for 100, or a few loaves and fishes into food for 5,000. How is it possible that from so little that not only is everyone filled but, also, that there are leftovers?

As I think on the state of the world today, it strikes me that each one of us stands in the position of the "boy...who has five barley loaves and two fish." How many of us go through our lives with provisions enough for ourselves, provisions we guard jealously lest they be squandered? How many of us have resisted the invitation to surrender our meager goods - justifying our reluctance by saying, "What difference can my gifts make?" - to the hands of another? How many of us expend more energy "holding back" than we do by "giving over"?

Three years ago at this time, I remember being totally terrified at the prospect of teaching high school. I didn't like high school - I was fat, had acne, and played the accordion - and I couldn't imagine that I'd like going back into the milieu I had once dreamt daily of escaping from. On my retreat in 2009, I remember going out for a long run and saying suddenly in a prayer, "Lord, I'll do my best...I'll give whatever it is I've got. It ain't much, but I'll give it over to you. Do something with it!"

Three years later, I am daily grateful for the experiences I've had at U of D Jesuit. If I were a parent, without question is it the school I would entrust with the education of my son. I say this because as it was with me, it has been with so many of my students: if one has the courage to surrender his gifts and talents, they will be appreciated and transformed into something greater. The Holy Spirit is unquestionably present where what little we can offer is transformed into something beyond what we could have imagined.

Each one of us feels, at various points in our lives, a stirring to give. Sunday's readings should give us the courage to follow the impulse toward generosity, toward "giving without counting the cost," and offering up what we have that it might be transformed into something greater. A boy's gesture of surrender, of offering what he had been given, is transformed into food enough for all those gathered. What gesture of "giving over" might each of us make today that might be transformed into food for a hungry world? 

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