Dear Parishioners and Friends of St. Dunstan’s,
“The Dog Days of Summer,” my dear grand aunt, Mame, used to call them! Hot, sticky, the threat of rain, but little to show for it. She had lots of Irish wit, and kept us well entertained. Besides that, she was a keen observer of the weather. This time of year reminds me of her. Come to think of it, lots of weather patterns and climate events do.
Observing what’s going on around us—weather-wise and otherwise. That was Jesus. He wondered aloud on at least one occasion why people were such astute observers and interpreters of cloud formations and wind direction, but tended to overlook the “signs of the times” (see Luke 12:54-56). He was a reader of the human heart. The Samaritan woman whom he encountered at the well in the heat of the day is but one of many examples (see John 4: 1-39).
And he was an interpreter of the obvious. Take, for example, today’s gospel (Matthew 14:13-21). It’s a familiar story. The fact that variations of it are told six times in the four accounts of the gospel shows us it’s important. No other event in the life of Jesus garners such attention by the evangelists.
It begins with Jesus reading what’s going on around him. The crowds had followed him to a quiet place where he had gone to reflect on the death of John the Baptist. He observes their many needs, and reaches out to them. Evening comes. The disciples also observe, but at a different level. They know the throng must be hungry. They ask Jesus to send them away to fend for themselves. Jesus perceives their motives: probably not insensitivity, but fear. They’re overwhelmed with the prospect of feeding such a mass of humanity with resources, amounting, in their estimation, to nothing.
Jesus decides to use the moment for a dual purpose: feed the hungry and instill a sense of personal responsibility and courage in the hearts of the group he will leave behind to carry on his work. To paraphrase him, he directs the disciples, “Identify what you have, bring it to me, and we’ll see where it goes from there.” The paltry five loaves and two fish go beyond what even the wildest and most optimistic imagination could foresee.
The story, of course, is about more than Jesus and his followers meeting up with a hungry crowd one day in a deserted place. It’s about us, our world, the hungers that exist at all levels, and our shared responsibility, in Christ, to respond. It’s about our reaction when we read the signs of our times. There’s no shortage of pity on our part. Our hearts ache. We’re like the disciples on that score. We’re also often like them in their initial impulse. “Send them away to buy food for themselves—whatever kind of food that might be. Or if it seems unlikely they’ll be able to manage that, “Send them off for someone else to take care of it.”
That’s not the way of Jesus, the gospel teaches this Sunday. And if it’s not the way of Jesus, it can’t be ours, either. Rather, the directive is more like this: “Observe the situation. It’s OK if, at first, you’re overwhelmed. Then, ponder the truth of gospel stories like the one we’re considering. Look around for what’s at hand: the resources held by the whole community—be it local or global. Take it, in company with the Lord, and discover it’s not so insignificant as one might first assume. To your collective surprise,” says the Lord, “see it go further than you’d ever expect.”
It’s not pie in the sky. Neither is it a call to hide from the immensity of the challenges involved in working together, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to fashion a world more as God intended—this world—on the way to a world that eternally endures, where all hungers are satisfied, and a perpetual abundance is held in store.
It’s a call, instead, to find our security not in hoarding, but in gathering what we have to share for the common good. It’s recognizing the true security of any of us resides in the well-being of all of us. It’s being committed to the Lord’s teaching that each and all of us have a role to play in feeding the many hungers of the world—including those we find right next door and under our own roof.
A final point to think about: no-one was deprived that day. Not those who gave up their lunch; not the disciples, who, against their better judgement, went around to gather up the meagre bite. All ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. Imitate the pattern established by the Lord, and no-one will be deprived; everyone will have what they need; and there’ll be enough left over to respond to other needs.
Haven’t we glimpsed this truth in our own lives: someone stretches themselves to help us or we allow our reach to exceed our grasp on behalf of someone else, and we’re all advantaged.
Something, friends, for us to think about these Dog Days of Summer, as we not only interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but…know how to interpret the present time (see Luke 12:56).
Our Masses continue. Last Sunday, we expanded our capacity to 100 at the 11 am, as we had previous weeks at the 9. There’s room for more! When you feel ready, we’ll be happy to welcome you. In the meantime, we continue to pray “for our absent brothers and sisters.”
After being delayed because of COVID-19, we plan to celebrate First Communion next Saturday at 4 with nine children and their families. Please pray for them.
Peace be with you and yours,