'Soul food' offered with generosity, love by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, "Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?" He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish'; but what good are these for so many?" Jesus said, "Have the people recline." Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted." So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, "This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world." Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
One of my brothers in Youth Apostles, Father Peter Nassetta, is a fantastic cook and loves to gather people around a table and lavish choice portions upon them. It is a real treat to experience a dinner prepared by him. It is so clear that he takes great delight in using his culinary skills to bring community, family and friends together for a veritable feast of Italian delights.
This culinary and community-building gift is a reflection of the goodness of God who loves to lavishly bestow His graces upon His children. In the Gospel today, for instance, Jesus looks with compassion upon the vast, hungry crowd which has been following Him and listening to His every word. Jesus knows that the people are starving, and He is moved to do something about it. Jesusí compassion leads Him to miraculously provide a meal of bread and fish.
The sixth chapter of Johnís Gospel moves on from this scene to teach us that Jesus came to do more than feed a vast crowd from a few loaves and fish; He came to pick up us and embrace us as His dear children. He came to transform our lives, teach us a new way of life and call us to a deeper and richer existence based upon His sacrificial love.
Jesus uses this unexpected banquet to invite us to look more deeply at life, to see beyond the physical to the spiritual dimension of our existence. He uses this miracle to remind us that we were fashioned by God not only to enjoy the physical beauties of this world Ė a crystal clear sunset, a delicious Italian meal or a fine piece of music Ė but also the divine beauties Ė intimacy with God, deep inner peace, the joy of living for others, eternal life gazing upon the loveliness of God.
In other words, Jesus uses the miracle of the loaves and fishes to point us to an even greater miracle, the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, Godís love for us drives Him to do and be so much more than one who provides a meal. Jesus wants to be our companion on the journey of life. In fact, He wants to nourish our souls with his very self. Jesus wants us to look beyond the blessings of God to enter freely into a deep and nourishing relationship with the God of all blessings.
Additionally, the Eucharist is an opportunity for us to express profound thanksgiving to God. The crowd in the Gospel was in a difficult place. They were hungry and far from a place to purchase enough food for such a crowed. Yet, God provided. As children of our heavenly Father, our hearts should long to thank Him for bestowing upon us countless gifts Ė sharing with us the gift of life itself, providing all that we need for our daily existence, restoring us to life through the saving work of His only-begotten Son, and giving Himself to us out of love in holy Communion.
It is important that we come to Mass with the proper sentiments. Humility, contrition, joy, reverence and thanksgiving rise up in the heart of the believer who understands the gift and mystery of the Eucharist. A strong sentiment of gratitude is essential to full, active and conscious participation in the action and grace of the Mass.
Finally, the sentiment of thanksgiving is truly Christian when we respond to Christ at the end of Mass by launching into the world to imitate the Word-made-flesh who became our nourishment. The Eucharist transforms us into Christ-like disciples who bring the love, truth and life of God into every corner of our world. We, in fact, become Eucharist for others, bread that is taken, blessed, broken and given for the nourishment of Godís people, especially those who are fragile, poor or sick.
Father Peter is a great example of a priest who pours his life out for his flock in response to the goodness of God. The students at George Mason University in Fairfax (where he serves as chaplain and director of campus ministry) see him not only behind the grill on occasion but untiringly celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, offering spiritual direction, handling crises in the lives of students, raising funds and directing campus ministry. He truly strives to make his life a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, not only as someone who cooks a great meal, but also as a priest who serves Godís people with a generous heart.
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