- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 30, 2006

The following is an excerpt of a homily delivered yesterday by the Rev. Monsignor Edward J. Filardi at St. Stephen Martyr Roman Catholic Church in Northwest.

The multiplication of the loaves and fish draws a striking image. The vast crowd, having witnessed Jesus’ works among the sick, follows Him to this deserted retreat across the Sea of Galilee. They spread across the grassy hill, far from the comfort and provisions of home.

Though no mention of hunger is recorded, the Lord, always mindful of us and our needs, knowingly asks, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”

To his disciples’ astonishment, Christ provides for these followers in abundance, increasing five loaves and two fish into enough to feed 5,000, with 12 baskets full left over.

As amazing as this wonder is, its fuller meaning is more significant.

This miracle prefigures the Mass, at which Jesus offers Himself to the many as spiritual nourishment, the Holy Eucharist, “the food that endures for eternal life.”

How? At the crux of this account, “Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them.” This “thanks giving,” Eucharistein in Greek, would come to denote two realities.

First, the communal worship of the Church commonly referred to as the Mass. Second, it signifies Jesus’ literal gift of Himself, under the appearance of bread and wine.

The Lord reveals this truth more explicitly following the multiplication when he states, “The bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Let me say a bit about each.

The Mass is revealed in subtle indications in this account.

In what way? We have all seen the simple outlined image of a fish affixed to the back of cars.

Were you aware this sign, known as the ‘Ichthus,’ is one of the earliest symbols of Jesus Christ?

With this in mind, it has been suggested that the fish offered to the crowd signifies Christ’s giving of Himself. The loaves represent the bread continually offered and changed to become the “Bread from heaven” [John 6:32]. As for the 12 baskets of fragments — these remind the 12 apostles they are responsible to continue to feed His flock.

This communal offering and reception of the Eucharist had always been central to Christian identity.

An account from 304 A.D. provides a powerful example. During the persecutions called by the Roman Emperor Diocletian a number of believers from North Africa were interrogated before their martyrdom. The group was asked a telling question: “Do you attend the service called the Eucharist?” Each replied with a telling answer: “I am a Christian.”

Perhaps most revealing, the recorder of this scene notes what he deems obvious, adding, “as though there could be Christians without the Eucharist or the Eucharist without Christians.”

The Mass is still central to our identity. It is the action that defines us as Catholics. Even pagan Rome understood this. The Mass “preserves the unity,” making us “one body and one Spirit.”

The Church regards sharing in its liturgy as the supreme affirmation of the Christian life. It is here that Jesus Christ comes to us in a most intimate way, in the Eucharist under appearance of bread.

Pope Benedict, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, put it succinctly: “Ultimately, the Church draws her life from the Eucharist, from this real, self-giving presence of the Lord.”

In my experience, it has been in receiving Holy Communion that I have most fully sensed Christ’s divine presence and love. Here He comforts me with his peace, renews my desire for virtue, and gives me direction and purpose.

As a priest I am humbled and at the same time affirmed in my calling when at the altar I offer the Eucharistic prayer and utter the Lord’s own words by which the simple elements of bread and wine are transformed into the inexpressible reality of Christ Himself.

Jesus has an eternal purpose when he asks, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He knows us. He knows our needs.

In the miracle of the multiplication, Jesus provided the vast crowd with fish and barley loaves.

In the miracle of the Mass, He provides millions with something more satisfying — His own flesh, which He gives “for the life of the world.”

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