Summary: In our lives, love takes form as self-giving. In this, we imitate Our Lord, who humbled Himself and gave Himself for our salvation.
Tuesday after the Epiphany 2020
In these four short verses penned two thousand years ago by St. John, there are nine repetitions of some form of the noun or verb “to love.” What is love? St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that Love is the proper name of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Logos, the Son who is Jesus Christ, is the perfection of the Father’s self-understanding, so the pneuma, the Holy Spirit, is the perfection of the love that the Father has for the Son, and the Son has for the Father. Moreover, this love overflows from the Blessed Trinity and takes physical form in the universe. The stars and planets and plants and animals and even you and I were loved into existence by God.
But in our lives, love takes form as self-giving. In this, we imitate Our Lord, who humbled Himself by subjecting His divine glory to thirty some years of existence as a human being–divine person with both human and divine natures. In our Gospel today, we see Jesus arriving by boat and ministering to a great throng. The Fathers of the Church were fond of repeating that any time a boat appears in the Gospels, the Church is being signified. Jesus comes to the throng through the ministry of the Church through the sacraments, with the Holy Eucharist being the sign of Christ’s presence beyond all others. Here we are taught of the love of God shown in the compassion of Jesus for a crowd that reminded the onlooker of a flock of sheep left to the wolves, unkept by shepherds.
It’s worth looking at the root word that comes out as “compassion” in English. If you have lost a dear friend or relative, you know the feeling. It’s like something is happening in your gut. Your heart beats faster, you may lose your appetite. But you are–we use the word “moved” with emotion. That’s what is meant about Jesus. He felt this feeling in the deepest part of His body and spirit. And so He fed them twice. First with the Word of God, teaching about “many things.” And then with physical food–bread. The whole reading sounds like what we do here today in the Sacrifice of the Mass. We hear the Word of God, we are nourished in mind and will by that Word, and then we give thanks and praise and share the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus. The miracle of loaves and fish then, turned into a sacrifice of praise on Calvary, becomes our nourishment now. And it is enough to feed the whole world. He, Our Lord, is enough to satisfy the deepest need of our souls. What now is the Lord requiring of us who hear the Word and partake of Eucharist? Do we quietly contemplate the Lord’s Real Presence and then hoard the gift of God? Not at all. In another place Jesus grieves over the people who are like sheep without a shepherd, and, moved with compassion as He is here, He gives His command: “The harvest is huge but the laborers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest.” What does that mean?
First, it means that we need to pray daily for the spread of the message and sacrament of Christ throughout the world, starting with our own country. We need to pray for ourselves in that manner, that we be presented with opportunities to share Christ with our friends, co-workers and family, and know what to say and what not to say when the challenge presents itself. It also means we must pray daily for full-time laborers to be trained for and to enter the harvest. That, of course, means not just laity, but consecrated religious and priests. Each time I take communion to the sick, I make certain in our intercessory prayer that we ask God for priests and religious to enter the field for harvest. We should all do this daily, whether we are ordained or not. It is one of the commands of Christ!
Second, it means we need to encourage young men and women who have been touched by Our Lord Jesus through His word and sacrament, encourage them to pray over their own vocation to ministry. Because they all have a calling to ministry, either as lay people, usually married, or as consecrated religious or priests. This is a critical part of our own calling as Christians. The world does not need to do anything in its attempt to destroy the Faith other than discourage men from thinking of the priesthood as a life calling. That happens every time they pick up a newspaper or look at their news feed. So our encouragement must take up the slack.