“Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” Our Protestant friends like to ask this question, especially when they come across Catholics. While we Catholics often find such a question offensive, it is asked from the noblest of sentiments. Our friends across the way want to stress to us the importance of knowing God on an intimate basis, not just as a set of rules and rubrics we follow every Sunday. This is a noble impulse, and the more Catholics can talk about friendship and fellowship with Christ, the better off everyone will be.
One way to talk about that relationship is stressed in the liturgy for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost. In the Introit, we read of the God who is the “protector of the salvation of His Anointed.” We cry out to that protector, because if we don’t, we could end up like those who “go down into the Pit.” Speaking about Christ in terms of being a Savior is good, but for Catholics, it is insufficient. For Catholics, one of the defining features of Our Lord is how He guides us along the path of salvation, and how he does so through His Church.
The first way He does this is mentioned in the Epistle, through the Sacrament of Baptism. When we are baptized, it isn’t just proof that we have accepted Christ. Baptism is a mark accepted by us (or by those who can speak for us) to not just live as a Christian, but to invite God into our lives to help us live as a Christian. Baptism joins us not only to the life of Christ, but to the death of Christ. Why is being joined to the death of Christ so important? That death signifies that we are not of this world, but a heavenly creation. For as Leo XIII states, we “are ever guided by His will and providence, and, having come forth from Him, must return to Him.” (Leo XIII, Libertas) Baptism is the means by which we signify our desire to return to God. Having seen that desire, would God reject it? Would not Jesus come to our aid to make it a reality?
The Gospel tells us another way in which Christ comes to our aid. In the miracle described here, Christ decides to take care of their needs because his followers followed him for three days. In today’s society we can barely think of getting away from work for a weekend. These people dropped everything to listen to a man for three whole days. During that time, they were also running out of food. Christ wanted to make sure that if you followed him, all your needs were provided for.
We Catholics see the Eucharist in this miracle, and rightly so. We might not have dropped everything and followed Christ for 72 straight hours, but we are coming to Church because we want to follow Jesus. Moved by compassion, he takes the small offering of bread and wine, and makes it His Body and Blood, and that feeds the entire congregation. Sometimes the demands of being a Christian can be hard. Like those who were following Christ, we can become tired, weary, and sometimes even just sick of it all. Christ gives us the Eucharist so we can have the strength to not only continue on, but to find something better: holiness.
Another thing that is important about this miracle is that Christ takes an offering giving to him. He didn’t conjure the bread and wine out of thin air, or out of a rock, though that was clearly within His power. (The devil would never ask him to do something beyond God’s power.) He didn’t just point at everyone and tell them they were no longer hungry either. Instead, Christ takes the offering, blesses it, and gives it to his disciples to pass out to others. While there are obviously allusions to the Eucharist here, we also see an explanation about how God sustains the Church: through our effort and offering. When I look at a global Church involving over a billion people, my talents as a writer for a Catholic website seem pretty miniscule. Yet I bring my talents before the Lord, and let the Lord use them.
In the United States last week, the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage throughout all fifty states. While calls about a coming apocalypse might be premature, the ramifications of this decision present a great danger to the liberty of the Church. Following Jesus will become more difficult, and we will be like those in the Gospel, weary and exhausted. Yet if we follow Jesus, we know He will provide for us and have compassion on us. He will take those gifts that we give him, our miniscule talents, and use them to transform our Church. Now, more than ever, let us follow Jesus.