Today's readings can be found: [HERE]
In our gospel passage today, we hear about the multiplication of the loaves and the fish. The disciples brought to Jesus five loaves and two fish—I could eat all of that by myself, depending on the size of those loaves and fish—but miraculously, that was enough to feed five thousand men—and their wives and children; with twelve full wicker baskets leftover!
This is somewhat of a leit motif—or a recurring theme—within salvation history; God’s abundance and power to multiply. It’s another example of how initial quantities are irrelevant when God chooses to reveal his power.
After all, this is the God who created the heavens and earth out of nothing. This is the Lord who likened the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed; which is the smallest of seeds but grows to become a largest of shrubs. This is the divine champion who granted Gideon—and his 300—victory over an army numbering over 100,000.
The logic of numbers breaks down before the Lord of infinity. God promised an elderly and childless Abram that he would become Abraham, the father of many nations; and his offspring now outnumber the sands on the seashore and the stars in the sky. God rained manna to the starving Israelites during the Exodus. In the desert, he summoned springs of water from a rock at Meribah and Massah. When they craved meat, God gave them quail for a month, until they were sick of it.
God’s power made it so that jar of meal was not spent, and the pitcher of oil did not run dry for three years; so that the widow of Zarephath and her son survived the famine at the time of Elijah. A single drop of his blood washes away the sins of the world. The Eucharist is without end. The list goes on. God creates from nothing, and he multiplies the little into the uncountable.
That miracle continues today. And we are evidence of that miracle.
After his resurrection from the dead, our Lord Jesus Christ commissioned eleven men to make disciples of all nations; baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Just eleven men, charged to evangelize the entire world!
On this topic, there’s a book I’m reading—it’s more of a long essay—called, From Christendom to Apostolic Mission: Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age. The author argues that Christendom is dead; namely, the Christian civilization. Long gone are Christian empires, monarchies, governments and any other sort of civil structure that once supported the faith.
Certainly, there are remnants of those things; but by and large, we can no longer rely on society to be the transmitter of faith. In Christendom, we would move with the culture. Outside of Christendom, we must be countercultural. The author argues that we’re in that position once again; and it’s dangerous to apply a Christendom mentality in an apostolic age.
As a starting point for discussion, the author looks, somewhat anachronistically, to that moment when Christ ascended into heaven, and standing there were the eleven, who had just been commanded to evangelize the world.
Had the apostles established a committee, like we often do today whenever we speak of evangelization, or stewardship, or anything else; their first meeting would begin with something like this:
"Our Agenda: to bring the Gospel of Christ to the world."
"Our resources: Bishops? Eleven. Priests? Same number. Deacons? None. Trained theologians? None. Religious orders? None. Seminarians? None. Seminaries? None. Christian believers? A few hundred. Countries with Christians in them? One. Church buildings? None. Schools and universities? None. Written Gospels? None. Money? Very little. Experience in foreign missions? None. Influential contacts in high places? Next to none. Societal attitude toward us? Ignorant to hostile.
"If the Apostles had been thinking in a Christendom mode, and had assessed their situation from the viewpoint of the strength of existing Christian institutions, they would have been overwhelmed by discouragement. They’d be facing crises in every direction: vocations, finances, catechism, education, and numbers of the faithful. But they weren’t discouraged; rather, they were filled with joy and hope. They had great confidence in their Lord, in their message, and in the creativity and fertility of the Church. They knew that their task was to be used by the Holy Spirit to grow the Church… and grow it did."
"I’ll confess to you that when I first arrived at Holy Family as pastor, I was a little discouraged by the lack of numbers: of volunteers, ministries, finances, committees. But not anymore. I realize now that at that time, I assessed our situation from a Christendom mentality; I was searching for existing structures that I merely needed to maintain. But now my attitude has changed. I don’t chase after numbers in that way. I’m fine with sparse pews (ironically, the current pandemic forces this upon us), because I’m not looking for more registered parishioners; I’m looking for champions. The Church doesn’t need more marginal Christians; she needs more saints. In that regard, I think we’re growing.
As an example of this, I think of last weekend. Due to Hurricane Douglas, there came a point where I had to make a decision: I eventually postponed an afternoon Confirmation Mass, and I canceled our 7 p.m. Mass. But I waited until the last minute.
Now, despite the lower number of attendants at our remaining Masses, our collection for the whole week soared beyond normal. Our weekly average is usually between four to five thousand dollars. But last week, we received over $10,000. That's not do to anything I've done. I almost never preach about tithing (to my shame). That collection was a spontaneous gift from the people. While our faith can never be reduced to finances, finances can be an indicator of commitment.
Last weekend, it wasn’t that many people gave a little (we had less than 300 people here in total); but that the few who were here—physically and with us in spirit (online giving)—gave in abundance. The few gave more than what we receive even at Christmas or Easter, when these halls are filled with people.
Another example: we have beautiful grounds here. Just three people handle all of the landscaping, yardwork, and caring for the plants. They’re not paid staff; they’re volunteers. And I don’t supervise them. They come here on their own and work diligently without asking for thanks.
These plants here; every now and then someone—I don’t even know who—anonymously provides very tasteful decorations. We have people who come in on their own to clean the Church. Liturgically, you wouldn’t believe how few ministers we have. But it’s fine; it all works out because the ones who serve are committed to the parish and their ministry.
They are the loaves and fish of this parish, who are few, but whose fruits are magnified so that all of us are satisfied. They are the champions of our parish. That’s what the Church relies upon in an Apostolic Age; intentional disciples who have experienced a profound conversion, and are deeply invested in the success of the Church; and contribute to that success. Through the grace of the Mass, may we too become champions of the faith we profess. May God bless you.