Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, January 5, 2016 — “God sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we might have life through him.” — “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I lack.”

Memorial of Saint John Neumann, Bishop
Lectionary: 213

Art: Miracle of the Bread and Fish by Giovanni Lanfranco

Reading 1 1 JN 4:7-10

Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
In this way the love of God was revealed to us:
God sent his only-begotten Son into the world
so that we might have life through him.
In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.

Responsorial Psalm PS 72:1-2, 3-4, 7-8

R. (see 11) Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
O God, with your judgment endow the king,
and with your justice, the king’s son;
He shall govern your people with justice
and your afflicted ones with judgment.
R. Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
The mountains shall yield peace for the people,
and the hills justice.
He shall defend the afflicted among the people,
save the children of the poor.
R. Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.
Justice shall flower in his days,
and profound peace, till the moon be no more.
May he rule from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
R. Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.

AlleluiaLK 4:18

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Lord has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor
and to proclaim liberty to captives.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 6:34-44

When Jesus saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.
By now it was already late and his disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already very late.
Dismiss them so that they can go
to the surrounding farms and villages
and buy themselves something to eat.”
He said to them in reply,
“Give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Are we to buy two hundred days’ wages worth of food
and give it to them to eat?”
He asked them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.”
And when they had found out they said,
“Five loaves and two fish.”
So he gave orders to have them sit down in groups on the green grass.
The people took their places in rows by hundreds and by fifties.
Then, taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and 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 they picked up twelve wicker baskets full of fragments
and what was left of the fish.
Those who ate of the loaves were five thousand men.
Commentary on Mark 6:34-44 From Living Space
Just before today’s passage begins we are told that the Twelve had just returned from the mission on which Jesus had sent them. He suggested that they all go to a secluded spot where they could rest. So they set off there in one of their boats. (In spite of what we are told in Mark 1:18 and 20 about them leaving their boats to follow Jesus, we still see them in use.) However, the crowds spotted them and large numbers ran along the shore and, by the time Jesus and his companions had reached their destination, they were faced with a huge crowd. Perhaps the disciples were very disappointed to see their day of rest so badly disrupted.
Jesus, on the other hand, was filled with compassion as he looked over them. He saw them as people lost and confused; they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus, of course, is their Shepherd. He began by teaching them many things, helping to bring clarity and understanding into their scattered lives.
As evening began to draw in, the disciples approached Jesus and urged him to let the people go to the surrounding villages and towns where they could get something to eat. Did they say this because they really felt for the people’s needs or because they wanted to be left alone? Jesus replied by telling his disciples: “You feed them yourselves.” They remonstrated. It would need a large amount of money to give everyone even a little to eat.
Then Jesus told them: “Go and see how much bread there is.” They found that there were just five loaves and two fish. For Jesus that was enough.
The people were told to sit down in rows on the green grass. The scene recalls Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd [Jesus saw the crowd as sheep without a shepherd]
there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures you let me graze… [the people sat in rows on the green grass]
You set a table before me…
Only goodness and love will pursue me
all the days of my life…
It is also reminiscent of the Israelites encamped in groups in the desert (Exod 18:21-25) and the prophets speaking about the transformation of the desert into pastures where the true shepherd feeds his flock.
In a very ritualistic way, Jesus took the loaves and bread, looked up to heaven [to his Father], said the blessing and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. The fish were similarly divided. All ate and were satisfied, there were twelve baskets of leftovers and altogether 5,000 people had been fed.
The whole passage has strong Eucharistic overtones. There is what we would now call the Liturgy of the Word when Jesus taught the people at length and the Liturgy of the Eucharist with the bread blessed, broken and distributed to the people in groups/communities. The amount left over points to the huge generosity of God in taking care of his children.
It is worth noting that Jesus does not distribute the bread and fish himself but delegates his disciples to do this. And that is how Jesus comes into people’s lives today – through the agency of his dedicated followers.
It is also significant that the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle of Jesus which appears in all four gospels. It can be understood on many levels. It looks backward to the feeding of Israel with manna in the desert during the Exodus. It was expected in some circles that this would be repeated in the messianic age – as in fact happens here. It may also point to the prophet Elisha feeding 100 men with just 20 loaves of bread, an action met with the same scepticism as the disciples showed but, in this case too, there was some left over (2 Kings 4:42-44)
Altogether in the gospels there are two multiplication stories in Mark and Matthew and one each in Luke and John. This is taken as an indication of the importance of eucharistic gatherings in the early Church.
But the story essentially points beyond the Eucharist to what it signifies. The breaking of the bread and its being shared out among all present is intended as a sign or symbol of the life of the Christian community, where all the resources of the community are shared and divided in such a way that none is in need. And this way of life is also to be fostered in the wider community. It is a story about the love of God for his people and how he takes care of them but that love is shown in practice by his people passing on that love, especially to those in need. If that does not happen then the Eucharist becomes a sign of nothing. It is simply reduced to an abstract ritual.
First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
Look at the words: Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given.
This is what Jesus does. This is what Jesus did with the loaves and the fish — and this is what Jesus does again at The Last Supper.
Jesus does this over and over again in the Mass — and with us in our lives.
Whenever we are broken we can return to Him. We can be taken, blessed, broken and given back to Him.
Archbishop Goh has said, “Without hope, everything will end in nihilism.”
Nihilism says that life is without objective meaning. Nothing could be further from the truth if we follow Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
Our thanks and prayers go out to Fr. Henri Nouwen who has been my excellent teacher.
Fr. Henri Nouwen

In Henri Nouwen’s book “Life of the Beloved” he outlines four words that he believes are central to the spiritual lives of Christians,

“To identify the movements of the Spirit in our lives, I have found it helpful to use for words: taken, blessed, broken and given. These words summarize my life as a priest because each day, when I come together around the table with members of my community, I take bread, bless it, break it and give it. These words also summarize my life as a Christian, because, as a Christian, I am called to become bread for the world: break that is taken, blessed, broken and given. Most importantly, however, they summarize my life as a human being because in every moment of my life somewhere, somehow the taking, the blessings, the breaking and the giving are happening.” (Life of the Beloved, 41-42)

The radical difference between the way God works and the way the world works is that the world only uses 2 of the four. The world takes and breaks with no idea of how to bless and give. Praise God that we have a Father who knows us and loves us enough to give us exactly what we need and then turn right around and use us to be a blessing to others through the experiences we have walking with God…being taken by him, blessed by him, experiencing brokenness through him and with him and then being given for others.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had blessed it, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” – Matthew 26:26

Nouwen says, we are now that bread….

Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
05 JANUARY 2016, Tuesday after Epiphany

We are all called to love.  No man can live without love.  We are created for love.  Right from the outset in the Book of Genesis, we read that no suitable helpmate was found among animals and the rest of creation.  Hence, God created a woman to be his helpmate.  (Cf Gn 2:20f)  In a similar vein, St Paul wrote, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. ” (1 Cor 13:2f) Indeed, success and wealth without love or someone to share our joys, is totally meaningless.

However, all of us want to love but we do not know what is love and, most of all, we are so inadequate in love.  Most of us today are so confused about love because love, in our modern world, is not based on truth.  And even if we know that true love is to give ourselves to others completely, most of us are not capable of loving selflessly.  Our love of self is disguised and masked as love of others.  Instead of loving others unconditionally, we often make use of them to fulfill our affective needs.  In many relationships, couples tend to manipulate each other for one’s pleasure or personal needs.  That was how the disciples felt when Jesus told them to feed the hungry crowd.  They wanted to save themselves from the inconvenience of love by sending the crowd away.   But Jesus was insistent, “Give them something to eat yourselves.”  Again, their selfishness showed in their reluctance to part with their money.  They answered, “Are we to go and spend two hundred denarii on bread for them to eat?”  Like them, we do not have the capacity to love even our loved ones, not to say our friends, fellow Church members, colleagues, much less strangers and the poor.  Those of us active in Church ministry often experience burn-out and end up giving up completely serving the Church and the poor.   We feel that we have only five loaves and two fish.  We feel frustrated, resentful and angry because we feel so helpless and hopeless at times.

Hence, St John says “love comes from God.”  This is beautifully illustrated in the gospel.  We read of the compassion of God in Jesus.  “As Jesus stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.”  Instead of being uninvolved, He wanted to satisfy the hunger of the crowd Himself.  This explains why His heavenly Father helped Jesus to perform the miracle to feed the 5000 because God is like that.  He wanted to be involved in love and in our lives.  Love is not mere words and nice feelings and great ideas.

But more importantly, the multiplication of loaves is but the anticipation of the Eucharist which is a celebration of His passion, death and resurrection.  In other words, this miracle is more than just a material miracle but it expresses the total, unconditional, absolute and unreserved giving of Christ the Son of God to us.   He wants to satisfy our needs even at His personal expense.  He is always thoughtful of us and desires to give us complete happiness in life.   He does not shy from the sacrifices of love.  So He tries to find ways and means to feed us.  He asked for the five loaves and two fish.  He prayed to the heavenly Father to bless and multiply the food.   And the end result was that not only were all fed but “they collected twelve basketfuls of scraps of bread and pieces of fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.”

So when St John invites us to love one another, he is not asking us to love from our own capacity but from Him.  “Let us love one another since love comes from God.”  But how is this love of God coming to us?  “God’s love for us was revealed when God sent into the world his only Son so that we could have life through him; this is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.”  For St John, therefore, the understanding that “God is love” is not a philosophical idea or a beautiful thought but a concrete act of God in the giving up of His only Son at Christmas and at the passion.  It is this love that empowers us to love likewise.   Our capacity to love must come from Christ alone.

From this basis, we can appreciate why St John wrote, “Everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love.”   Love therefore is the sure criterion that we love God and we know Him.   If we do not know God or that we have been begotten by Him, then the capacity to love will be limited.   But then some might say, what about those who do not know God and yet love much?  Indeed, we see that there are many non-Christians, even freethinkers, atheists who are involved in humanitarian works.  Many of them are even more compassionate and self-giving than many of our Catholics.  In fact, they put us to shame in their generosity and outreach to the poor and the suffering.   Yet, they do not know God!   Well, the truth is that they do know Him implicitly because they are created in His image and likeness.  They might not know Him personally, but they know Him deep in their hearts.   This explains why in every human person, our shared humanity makes us feel with and for each other.  However, if they were to know Jesus, they could do even much more than the five loaves and two fish they have.   When they give these to Jesus, He could empower them to do what humanly speaking we cannot do.

Hence, to know Jesus is critical in love, service and ministry.  But let us be clear that the knowledge of God in St John’s understanding is not merely intellectual cognition.  When he says “everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God” or “anyone who fails to love can never have known God”, he is speaking of an intimacy of mind and heart.  It is not so much intellectual knowledge of God but a union with God.  To be begotten by God is to share His life and love.   So if we love deeply it is because His love is in us.  Conversely, those who have no capacity to love imply that they do not really know God or His love for them.   If we have known the love of God for us, our hearts will also be filled with His love because His Spirit will dwell in us.

Indeed, this is what the Eucharist is supposed to do for us.  In the Eucharistic celebration, we have two parts, the liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist.  Both are essential to the Eucharistic meal.   The Word of God prepares our minds and the Eucharist touches our hearts.  This is in imitation of Jesus who would always preach before He healed or fed the people, as we read in today’s gospel.   Unless, they have heard the Word of God, the miracle would not happen, whether literally as narrated or symbolically as some scripture scholars suggest, namely, that the people were so inspired by the act of Jesus’ sharing that few loaves and fish, they too came out to openly share what they had in their baskets with others.  Whichever way, we read it; the point is that a miracle truly happened.  The greatest miracle at the end of the day is not the miracle itself but what the miracle does, transforming people’s lives, touching their hearts, enlightening their minds, and making them loving, caring and generous like Jesus in His compassion.

So let our celebration of Christmas, made concrete in the Eucharistic celebration, be not a mere ritual, not a superstition, but truly be a transforming encounter of God’s love.  This explains why again and again, I always remind all in active ministry, leaders and parents, that they must stay connected with the Lord in prayer through a daily meditation on the Word of God, a contemplation of His love, especially in the Eucharist, and find healing and mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation when we have sinned or when we are weak.   Begotten in His love, we too will be able to love others with the love that He has given us.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh

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