Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Reading 1 JER 28:1-17
in the fifth month of the fourth year,
the prophet Hananiah, son of Azzur, from Gibeon,
said to me in the house of the LORD
in the presence of the priests and all the people:
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel:
‘I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.
Within two years I will restore to this place
all the vessels of the temple of the LORD which Nebuchadnezzar,
king of Babylon, took away from this place to Babylon.
And I will bring back to this place Jeconiah,
son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah,
and all the exiles of Judah who went to Babylon,’ says the LORD,
‘for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’”The prophet Jeremiah answered the prophet Hananiah
in the presence of the priests and all the people assembled
in the house of the LORD, and said:
Amen! thus may the LORD do!
May he fulfill the things you have prophesied
by bringing the vessels of the house of the LORD
and all the exiles back from Babylon to this place!
But now, listen to what I am about to state in your hearing
and the hearing of all the people.
From of old, the prophets who were before you and me prophesied
war, woe, and pestilence against many lands and mighty kingdoms.
But the prophet who prophesies peace
is recognized as truly sent by the LORD
only when his prophetic prediction is fulfilled.Thereupon the prophet Hananiah took the yoke
from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it,
and said in the presence of all the people:
“Thus says the LORD: ‘Even so, within two years
I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon,
from off the neck of all the nations.’”
At that, the prophet Jeremiah went away.Some time after the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke
from off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah,
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah:
Go tell Hananiah this:
Thus says the LORD:
By breaking a wooden yoke, you forge an iron yoke!
For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel:
A yoke of iron I will place on the necks
of all these nations serving Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon,
and they shall serve him; even the beasts of the field I give him.To the prophet Hananiah the prophet Jeremiah said:
Hear this, Hananiah!
The LORD has not sent you,
and you have raised false confidence in this people.
For this, says the LORD, I will dispatch you from the face of the earth;
this very year you shall die,
because you have preached rebellion against the LORD.
That same year, in the seventh month, Hananiah the prophet died.
Responsorial Psalm PS 119:29, 43, 79, 80, 95, 102
Remove from me the way of falsehood,
and favor me with your law.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
Take not the word of truth from my mouth,
for in your ordinances is my hope.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
Let those turn to me who fear you
and acknowledge your decrees.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
Let my heart be perfect in your statutes,
that I be not put to shame.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
Sinners wait to destroy me,
but I pay heed to your decrees.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
From your ordinances I turn not away,
for you have instructed me.
R. Lord, teach me your statutes.
Alleluia MT 4:4
One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MT 14:13-21
When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.”
He said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
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,”
and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
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,
and they picked up the fragments left over—
twelve wicker baskets full.
Those who ate were about five thousand men,
not counting women and children.
Hananiah was one of the false prophets who confronted Jeremiah (vv. 1-4). Hananiah’s home, Gibeon, was in Benjamin, about 6 miles northwest of Jerusalem. The Gibeonites deceived Joshua into making a treaty with them (Josh. 9:1-15). It was at Gibeon that Joab killed Amasa (2 Sam. 20:8-10). Hananiah promised that the rebellion would be followed by restoration (vv. 5-11). Hananiah became the recipient of God’s judgment. He even resorted to violence and destroyed the wooden yoke which Jeremiah was wearing by divine directive (v. 10). He continued his deception of claiming to be God’s prophet (v. 11). Jeremiah spoke the truth but it was unpopular. Hananiah spoke lies, but his deceitful words bought false hope and comfort to the people.
God’s message used Hananiah’s actions to show the harshness of the coming judgment. Hananiah had broken a wooden yoke, but God would replace it with a yoke of iron that could not be broken (vv. 12-14). After answering Hananiah’s predictions Jeremiah attacked Hananiah’s credentials as a prophet (vv. 15-17). God had not sent Hananiah as His spokesman, but through his eloquent speech he had persuaded the nation of Judah to trust in lies. Rebellion against God’s servant and messenger is also rebellion against God, and is a capital offense (vv. 16, 17). Even greater is the punishment for one who, in addition to rebelling personally, teaches rebellion to others (v. 16).
We can see that people who have no spiritual life and who have no desire for the deeper things of life will always live on the peripheral level, pursuing mundane things which do not give them real and lasting satisfaction. Inevitably, they will always remain dissatisfied. But when a person has been touched by the love of God; or when he comes to understand the deeper realities of life as he comes to know God, then he would realize that all that he has in life are insignificant, compared to the greater joy he has found in being with God and his fellow human beings. Why is that so? As scripture says “Man does not live by bread alone but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” Because man is a spiritual being, he constantly searches to be united with His Creator. St Augustine understood this when he exclaimed in revelation “Our hearts are restless till they rest in thee.” When we have found true joy and love in the Lord, there is very little else that we need.
Consequently, if we want lasting fulfillment, we should “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these other things will be given as well.” How then, do we seek God and His Kingdom? It is by getting to know Jesus, the Bread of Life come down from Heaven. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, says the Lord; No one can come to the Father except through me.” We have thus to be nourished by the Lord in prayer, the Word and the Eucharist. We are told that when the people heard that Jesus had left with his disciples in the boat, “leaving the towns, they went after him on foot.” Are we hungry for God? Do we make time in the hustle and bustle of our lives to be nourished by the Lord? Are spiritual retreats or holidays more a priority for us? More often than not, it is only when we are in crisis that we turn to the Lord, even blaming Him as the Israelites did.
Hence, unless we have received Jesus as the Bread of Life, the manna from Heaven, the Word of God, we can never be contented in life and our cravings will never cease. But once we have the Life of God in us, everything else will be accepted gratefully; and even if we do not have them, we will not really miss them nor desire them. So today, let us not be afraid to bring our meager desire and efforts at spiritual growth to the Lord. “Bring them here to me” He said. “Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, raised His eyes to heaven and said the blessing. They all ate as much as they wanted.” Let us therefore take the first step to the Lord, and surely in His infinite mercy and love, He will not only satisfy our needs but will multiply the blessings abundantly, so that they will be shared joyfully with others.
Commentary on Matthew 14:13-21 From Living Space
The announcement of John the Baptist’s death is followed immediately in Matthew by the feeding of the 5,000 in the desert.
Matthew says that Jesus, on hearing of his cousin’s tragic death, withdrew by boat to a desert place by himself. He clearly wanted time to reflect. He knew that, if things continued as they were, he too could be facing trouble.
However, the crowds knew where he had gone and followed along the shore on foot. “When he disembarked and saw the vast throng, his heart was moved with compassion, and he cured their sick.” His own troubles were set aside as he saw the greater need of the people. We have here, of course, an image of our God, filled with compassion for all of us and anxious to bring us healing and wholeness.
As evening comes down, the disciples suggest that the people be sent to neighbouring villages for food. It is the first mention of the disciples’ presence. In Mark’s version of this story, the disciples had accompanied Jesus in the boat at his invitation, so that they could all have a period of quiet away from the crowds. Jesus’ response is simple and to the point: “You give them food to eat.” They reply: “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish. What good is that?”
This, of course, is a sign of the future. It will be the responsibility of Jesus’ followers to give the people the nourishment they need for their lives. At times, their resources will seem very inadequate but time will show that wonders can be done with very little. Just look at what Mother Teresa achieved with nothing of her own.
The people are then ordered to sit down on the grass. Jesus takes the loaves and fish, looks up to heaven in the direction of his Father, blesses the food, breaks it, gives it to the disciples who in turn distribute it among the people. The whole action clearly prefigures the Eucharist and leads up to it.
It is not explained how it all happened but five thousand men not counting women and children had their fill. Matthew alone notes the presence of women and children. As Jews did not permit women and children to eat together with men in public, they would have been in a place by themselves.
And what was left over filled 12 baskets – a perfect number symbolising abundance and also the number of the apostles.
There are two clear lessons. God takes care of his people. We can read the feeding in two ways. On the one hand, we can simply take it as a miraculous event, pointing to the divine origins of Jesus. On the other hand, there is another possibility with its own meaning. Once the disciples began to share the little food they had with those around, it triggered a similar movement among the crowd, many of whom had actually brought some food with them. When everyone shared, everyone had enough. A picture of the kind of society the Church should stand for.
Some people might say that this is explaining away the miracle but it also makes an important point. The second lesson is that it was the disciples and not Jesus who distributed the bread and fish. And so it must be in our own time. If the followers of Jesus do not share with others what they have received from him, the work of Jesus and the spreading of the Gospel will not happen.
Lastly, there are clear Eucharistic elements in the story. Especially the ritualistic way in which Jesus prayed, blessed, broke and distributed the bread. The breaking of the bread (a name for the Mass) is very important because it indicates sharing and not just eating. The Eucharist is the celebration of a sharing community. If sharing of what we have in real life is not taking place, then the Eucharist becomes a ritualistic sham, a whited sepulchre full of dead people’s bones.
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….
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 28:1-17; MT 14:13 -21 ]We do not mind being prophets of good news. We are all so desperate for peace at all costs. We want to be accepted by people and be loved by all. We want to be known as nice people, amiable and agreeable. As a result, very few of us dare to speak the truth even when we know that the truth must be spoken. At most we will try to give some hints, hoping that those concerned might come to realize what we really want to tell them. We are afraid that if we say things that are disagreeable to the ears of our listeners, they would no longer like us or see us as their friends and they might even marginalize us. This was precisely the way the false prophets in the Old Testament acted. Hananiah prophesied victory and peace for the kingdom. He said all that the people and the King were so desperate to hear. Instead of telling them what God wanted them to hear, he told them of things that were to their liking.
In contrast, we have the prophet Jeremiah who was alone in proclaiming the Word of God as it should be spoken. He spoke against all the false prophets, the King and the people’s expectations. Jeremiah was brutally honest in his message. Whilst he wished that the words of the Prophet Hananiah were true, he knew that this was not the message from God. So he told them the plain truth, which of course did not sit well with his people. Instead of welcoming the truth of his message, he was condemned, persecuted and castigated as a traitor and a wet blanket.
Indeed, how many of us can be as courageous as the prophet Jeremiah to speak the truth with such boldness even when all others are against us? Most of us would succumb under pressure and at the first sign of hostility we would cave in and submit to the popular wishes of the group even if we know from the depths of our heart that this is not the truth or what the Lord is asking of us. Such tendency to gain cheap popularity and acceptance is very common, whether in politics, in the office or even in Church. Whether we are dealing with individuals or at meetings, we dare not speak the truth frankly for fear of losing favour with our friends.
It is important that we make a distinction between being negative and speaking the truth. Being positive does not mean that we compromise the truth. To be positive on the contrary, is to look at the whole situation in perspective and highlighting the good aspects of a particular situation whilst not denying the negative aspects as well. Being true does not require us to be negative in outlook. In fact, to be true is a positive thing, for by speaking the truth, we can also help a person or the group to face the problem squarely and find positive means to deal with the situation rather than to suppress it and pretend that it does not exist.
How, then, can we find the fortitude to be faithful to the truth that the Lord has planted in our minds and hearts? Jesus shows us the way in today’s gospel. We read that “when Jesus received the news of John the Baptist’s death he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves.” The death of His cousin, John the Baptist, surely must have affected Jesus greatly. Not only was He sad and distressed at the loss of John the Baptist whom He commended as a great prophet, but He knew that that would likely be his fate as well, since all prophets in the Old Testament were killed and martyred. It was in such a bewildered mood that He became pensive and needed some time to calm His thoughts and heart. Hence, the need to withdraw to a lonely place so that He could pray to His Father and find enlightenment, encouragement and strength.
Yes, if we are confused, insecure and fearful of our future even though we know we are doing the right thing, like Jesus, we need to withdraw to a lonely place to pray. In our solitude, the Lord will speak to our hearts and give us the conviction and the grace to be true to our beliefs and to His Word. Hence, if there are moments when we are tempted to seek false compromises and make uneasy alliances with evil, let us quieten ourselves before the Lord and listen to the prompting of His Holy Spirit. Only in the desert, can we hear the voice of God clearly. Without withdrawing we can only hear the voice of our fear and that of the world speaking to us loudly.
To listen to the Lord requires that we follow the psalmist in deepening our love for the Word of God. Truly, if we are troubled and lack courage in speaking the truth, we must, with the psalmist, ask the Lord to teach us His statutes and to remove us “from the way of falsehood” and instead pay heed to His decrees and ordinances. So being grounded in the Word of God, listening attentively to His Word, is the first step in finding courage to remain true to what we believe. St Paul reminded Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)
But for us Catholics, we are truly privileged, for besides the Word of God, we have the Eucharist to give us the personal presence of Jesus. The multiplication of loaves in today’s gospel miracle is an anticipation of the Eucharist that the Lord would give to the Church at the Last Supper. Jesus, who is the Word of God, is also the Bread of Life. Just as He multiplied the five loaves and two fish to feed the five thousand, so too through the Eucharist, He now makes Himself present to us all in the form of bread and wine. By adoring and receiving the Eucharist, we remember His passion, death and resurrection. Contemplating on His love for us on the cross and the power of His resurrection, we no longer need to fear the possible rejection by our fellowmen. With the assurance of Christ’s love for us and confident that we too will share in His victory over sin and death, we can with faith surrender ourselves and our lives to Jesus.
Today, we also take consolation that Jesus will be with us in our trials and difficulties. He will respond to our prayers for help when we are disheartened and downhearted. For even in His sadness, He put aside His pain and attended to the sick and the people who were hungry for the Word of God and His love. We can also be confident that Jesus will stand by us whenever we need Him. Learning from Jesus, we must also selflessly put aside our need for comfort and acceptance by people. Instead, like Jesus, let us serve the people of God with selflessness.
Most of all, we can rest assure that with Jesus, there is nothing we cannot do. He will accomplish His work in us. Just as He made use of the meager food that was given to Him to feed the multitude, so too, by offering Him all that we have, He will use us mightily to proclaim the Good News which is the Word of God in its entirety, the Word that sets people free from falsehood, sin and evil so that they can share in the freedom and truth of God’s kingdom.
The Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes by Vasili Nesterenko
To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help
of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!
Moral theology, Vatican II said, should be more thoroughly nourished by Scripture, and show the nobility of the Christian vocation of the faithful and their obligation to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world. Alphonsus, declared patron of moral theologians by Pius XII in 1950, would rejoice in that statement.
In his day, Alphonsus fought for the liberation of moral theology from the rigidity of Jansenism. His moral theology, which went through 60 editions in the century following him, concentrated on the practical and concrete problems of pastors and confessors. If a certain legalism and minimalism crept into moral theology, it should not be attributed to this model of moderation and gentleness.
At the University of Naples he received, at the age of 16, a doctorate in both canon and civil law by acclamation, but he soon gave up the practice of law for apostolic activity. He was ordained a priest and concentrated his pastoral efforts on popular (parish) missions, hearing confessions, forming Christian groups.
He founded the Redemptorist congregation in 1732. It was an association of priests and brothers living a common life, dedicated to the imitation of Christ, and working mainly in popular missions for peasants in rural areas. Almost as an omen of what was to come later, he found himself deserted, after a while, by all his original companions except one lay brother. But the congregation managed to survive and was formally approved 17 years later, though its troubles were not over.
Alphonsus’ great pastoral reforms were in the pulpit and confessional—replacing the pompous oratory of the time with simplicity, and the rigorism of Jansenism with kindness. His great fame as a writer has somewhat eclipsed the fact that for 26 years he traveled up and down the Kingdom of Naples, preaching popular missions.
He was made bishop (after trying to reject the honor) at 66 and at once instituted a thorough reform of his diocese.
His greatest sorrow came toward the end of his life. The Redemptorists, precariously continuing after the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, had difficulty in getting their Rule approved by the Kingdom of Naples. Alphonsus acceded to the condition that they possess no property in common, but a royal official, with the connivance of a high Redemptorist official, changed the Rule substantially. Alphonsus, old, crippled and with very bad sight, signed the document, unaware that he had been betrayed. The Redemptorists in the Papal States then put themselves under the pope, who withdrew those in Naples from the jurisdiction of Alphonsus. It was only after his death that the branches were united.
At 71 he was afflicted with rheumatic pains which left incurable bending of his neck; until it was straightened a little, the pressure of his chin caused a raw wound on his chest. He suffered a final 18 months of “dark night” scruples, fears, temptations against every article of faith and every virtue, interspersed with intervals of light and relief, when ecstasies were frequent.
Alphonsus is best known for his moral theology, but he also wrote well in the field of spiritual and dogmatic theology. His Glories of Mary is one of the great works on that subject, and his book Visits to the Blessed Sacrament went through 40 editions in his lifetime, greatly influencing the practice of this devotion in the Church.
St. Alphonsus was known above all as a practical man who dealt in the concrete rather than the abstract. His life is indeed a “practical” model for the everyday Christian who has difficulty recognizing the dignity of Christian life amid the swirl of problems, pain, misunderstanding and failure. Alphonsus suffered all these things. He is a saint because he was able to maintain an intimate sense of the presence of the suffering Christ through it all.
Someone once remarked, after a sermon by Alphonsus, “It is a pleasure to listen to your sermons; you forget yourself and preach Jesus Christ.”
Patron Saint of:
Saint Alphonsus LiguoriFeast Day: August 1
Canonized: May 26, 1839
Beatified: September 15, 1816Alphonsus was what we call a “gifted” student today. He was a lawyer by the time he was 16 years old! He came from a wealthy family in Naples, Italy, and had every advantage in life from the moment he was born in 1696. But his parents were spiritually devoted people, and Alphonsus was taught that the greatest blessing he had been given was his faith. He prayed often and attended Mass even on days when he was appearing in court.Alphonsus found that he was not happy with his life. He sought to understand God’s will for him and finally realized he was being called to the life of a priest. He studied theology and was ordained when he was 29.Alphonsus became famous for his preaching. He spoke so that everyone in church—even people who had never gone to school—could understand his message. He gave retreats for the poor and he encouraged people to pray more often. He founded an order of priests called the Redemptorists. These men were devoted to serving the average working family and peasants.
Even though he was such a busy priest, Alphonsus took time to write books and hymns. He also worked to correct a false teaching of his day known as Jansenism that said that people were too sinful to ever be worthy of receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Alphonsus taught that receiving Communion helped us to overcome our sins and to become more holy.
He suffered from physical afflictions that left him in great pain in his later life, and he died at the age of 91. Alphonsus was canonized a saint in 1839 and was named a Doctor of the Church in 1871 — a person who made an important contribution to the Church by helping us to understand what it means to be Catholic.
Tags: Alphonsus, August 1 2016, Five loaves and two fish are all we have here, Fr. Henri Nouwen, give them some food yourselves, God’s message used Hananiah’s actions to show the harshness of the coming judgment, he said the blessing broke the loaves, He sought to understand God’s will, Henri Nouwen, his heart was moved with pity for them and he cured their sick, I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon, Jansenism, jer 28:1-17, Jeremiah spoke the truth but it was unpopular, Mt 14:13-21, Mt 4:4, Our hearts are restless till they rest in thee, Prayer and Meditation, Psalm 119, Rebellion against God’s servant and messenger is also rebellion against God, Redemptorists, Saint Alphonsus Liguori, St. Augustine, Those who ate were about five thousand men, We have thus to be nourished by the Lord in prayer the Word and the Eucharist, When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself