Sometimes Jesus had a difficult time getting away from the crowds for the purpose of retreat, renewal, and prayer. The masses would follow him to isolated regions and he would end up teaching them and, moved with compassion, healing their sick (Mt. 14:13-21).
On one occasion in the hinterlands, it was late in the day and the disciples thought it would be prudent to send the crowds home so they could have something to eat. Christ said that would not be necessary: he took the five loaves and two fishes given to him by a boy (Jn. 6:9), multiplied them, fed the multitude, and had twelve baskets full of left-overs.
Sometimes in our efforts to practice the Catholic faith, we become acutely aware of how small our sacrifices are in comparison to Christ’s. Our “loaves and fishes” seem paltry to his Incarnation, life, and Passion.
We overlook the fact that this is often by design, because, on such a canvas of human weakness and divine plentitude, God can highlight his greatness. Often our embarrassment over what we bring to the table is rooted in pride, in wanting to make a good showing.
The story of the Feeding of the 5,000 provides an excellent snapshot of our earthly pilgrimage. We bring our loaves and fishes and by faith cooperate with the grace of God: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12b-13).
Christ can take what little we give and multiply it in a miraculous way. During Lent 2019, I wanted to push fasting and prayer beyond what I had done in previous years, especially in light of the present scandal and crisis in the Church.
I did go further than in years past but my sacrifices still felt like they were nothing to write home about. However, now that we are several months removed from that Lent, it’s obvious to me that Christ took my loaves and fishes and created for me a closer relationship to his Mother and, subsequently, new levels of sanctification.
Recently a friend of mine, who is a devout Catholic, who I’ll call “Dennis,” had a very painful illness and wanted to be a “victim soul” and “offer it up” for unbelieving loved ones. Afterwards, he said that he “could’ve done more.”
However, he was gratified one week later, when one of the people he was praying for sent an e-mail to him offering an apology for trying to get money out of him a decade ago that was not rightfully theirs. Christ had taken his loaves and fishes and was working in a redemptive manner in the life of someone, who, for all intents and purposes, had left their evangelical Protestant faith several years ago.
Sometimes as a writer I’ll hit the SEND button and submit an article that feels like a basic, meat and potatoes piece. It’s my loaves and fishes and it isn’t profound; it ain’t Augustine or Aquinas.
But then Christ will take it and miraculously bless scores of lives. He is the great Force Multiplier.
Over the years I’ve noticed with many people that prayers (loaves and fishes) offered up for “a new job with a 20% increase in income so things won’t be so tight,” may or may not be answered though I know God cares about our material situation. However, prayers (loaves and fishes) that target something that has eternal significance (e.g., wanting more godly sorrow for our sins like the Desert Fathers) seem to be answered frequently and quickly.
When we offer our loaves and fishes to Christ, the important thing is not the size of the offering but the faith of the individual offering it. Faith is that trust in the goodness and wisdom of God to do with that offering as he sees fit; it is as Caussade says, an abandonment to his divine providence.
Sometimes we go through a season where we make offerings without feeling anything and without seeing dramatic results. Do it anyway.
These seasons work for good in our lives because they wean us from dependence on feelings and results. Our obedience to God is then rooted in our will and intellect empowered by the Holy Spirit and infused by faith instead of how we feel and things going our way.
If we are struggling with unbelief Christ can help us with that too. Remember how he helped the father of the boy with a mute spirit: “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mk. 9:24).
Many Catholics who are prayer warriors today started out by only being able to pray one decade of the Rosary. This decade was the loaves and fishes they brought to Jesus.
They didn’t denigrate their offering and their faith kept bringing them back over and over as they incrementally began to pray more and more. They took the prophet’s advice: “Don’t despise small beginnings” (Zech. 4:10).
Scripture is clear in declaring the relationship of faith to our sanctification. Peter said that the Gentiles’ hearts had been “cleansed by faith” (Acts 15:9).
Christ said that we can work the works of God by believing on him [Christ] whom God has sent” (Jn 6:28, 29). John the apostle said that it is our faith that overcomes the world (I Jn. 5:5).
In healing the sick and feeding the 5,000, Christ was moved by compassion. In giving him our loaves and fishes, we can become channels of his mercy, whether it be corporal or spiritual works of mercy.
You may have wanted to become a certified mechanic but it didn’t work out and you now manage a tire and lube shop. You are, however, a good “backyard mechanic” and recently did a four-hour, labor-free repair for a widow in your parish.
Christ took your loaves and fishes and multiplied it. She’s on a fixed income and you saved her hundreds of dollars.
These savings and having her car back reduced her stress level. She also has significant health issues and now can drive to the doctor’s office to have them addressed.
She no longer needs a ride to Mass or her Rosary prayer group. With the money she saved from your repair, she gave a little extra to EWTN this month.
May God give us eyes of faith to see the loaves and fishes in our lives and may Christ take them and multiply blessings for the least of these our brethren.