Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sometimes Priesthood Feels Like Barley Loaves and Fish

Throughout the centuries there have been extraordinary acts that are truly noteworthy, events that have drastically altered the course of human history. None of us would think to include among those great moments the offering of five barley loaves and two fish. And yet, today in Catholic churches throughout the world, we heard the account of a young boy who did just that. He had five loaves and two fish and he offered them to Jesus. 

Some might say that the young man offered a great sacrifice because he offered all that he had. Perhaps they are correct. At the same time, however, one could argue that in the greater scheme of things, five loaves of bread and two fish are not all that extraordinary. It really is something that should be passed over quickly and without much fanfare. It was cute at the time. He had these loaves and fish and he offered them. It's a nice story to tell for a few weeks, and maybe people for a few years would remember that he was the nice kid who offered his small amount of food so that others could eat. It's a nice good news story that the local newspaper could pick up or that somebody could post on Facebook as a feel good moment.

The young boy, however, placed this offering into the hands of Jesus and this changed everything. Two thousand years later, we are still talking about it. Two thousand years later, we are still being fed from this story. There were twelve wicker baskets left over and we are still being nourished from them. When we place something into the hands of Jesus it takes on an eternal value. He takes our relatively small and finite sacrifices and multiplies them thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold and he makes them of infinite value. This is what he did to those five loaves and two fish. It is what he does when we offer to him our sacrifices.

Several times this week, I was reminded of what a true grace it is to share in the priesthood of Christ. For the young man who is thinking about priesthood, the sacrifices that are demanded may seem daunting. Lifelong celibacy and obedience, on one level, seem like huge sacrifices. At the same time, they can also seem like a few barley loaves and fish. When you look about and see the Church so weak, one could reasonably ask how one man being celibate and obedient is going to make any difference at all. When there are thousands of people hungry, how can five loaves and two fish make any real difference? When parishes and dioceses are foundering, when pews are emptying, and when secularism and atheism are expanding, how can one man offering his body and his will to Jesus make much of a difference at all?

Today there are crowds who are spiritually starving. They are dying. Jesus wants to feed these people. He wants to feed them with His Word and with His Body and Blood. He wants to nourish them and save them from death. To accomplish this, Jesus asks certain men to offer something. He asks them to offer their bodies through the promise of celibacy and he asks them to offer their wills through the promise of obedience. From one perspective, these offerings can appear to be too demanding. But from another perspective, such an offering can seem useless. In the face of all the problems confronting the Church; in the face of so many people starving for the Truth; in the face of all of the Church's internal weaknesses; in the face of all this, how can one man's celibacy and obedience accomplish anything meaningful? 

In the end, Catholic Faith is Eucharistic Faith. In every Mass, we offer to God some bread and some wine. God takes that offering and transforms it into His very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. We all come to Mass--and even when we offer to God, to the best of our ability, all of our heart, mind, body, and soul, we recognize that what we offer is very small when compared to what He gives in return. We begin by thinking that our offering is grand. But then we receive God in exchange! 

For the man who is considering priesthood, sometimes the offering that is demanded seems too much. But at other times, the offering seems too small to really matter. I can only speak from my experience. If you are a young man who has seen the face of Jesus as he looks with tenderness on the hungry crowds and if you have heard his voice asking you to offer something, do not be afraid. Do not be afraid that Jesus is asking too much and do not be afraid that you have too little to make any real difference. Jesus will never take from you without giving you a hundredfold in return. And, what he takes from you, He transforms into a hundredfold for the life of others. There are times when we feel like Jesus is asking too much! There are other times when we think that no matter how much we give, it can't solve the problem! But it is the hands in which we place our offering that makes all the difference! In His hands, five barley loaves and two fish feed over 5000! When we place the promise of celibacy and obedience into His hands, He transforms that sacrifice and uses it to feed the people whom He loves with His Word and with His Body and His Blood.  

The serious problem of spiritual starvation confronting the world will not be solved by human ingenuity or by ecclesiastical policies. It will be solved in the same way that it was two thousand years ago. Jesus will ask someone to offer the little that they have. He will accept that offering, bless it, and use it to feed the crowds. This is what Jesus did two thousand years ago, what He is doing today, and what He will do tomorrow. We know what Jesus will do. If you are a young man who has heard Jesus calling you, the question is, "What are you going to do?"

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