Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr

From Universalis.com:

He was born on 8 January 1894 in occupied Poland: he joined the Franciscans in Lwów in 1910, and was ordained eight years later, as his country became free and independent for the first time in over 120 years. He believed that the world was passing through a time of intense spiritual crisis, and that Christians must fight for the world’s salvation with all the means of modern communication. He founded a newspaper, and a sodality called the Knights of Mary Immaculate, which spread widely both in Poland and abroad. In 1927 he founded a community, a “city of Mary,” at Teresin: centred round the Franciscan friary, it attracted many lay people, and became self-supporting, publishing many periodicals and running its own radio station. In 1930 he went to Japan, studied Buddhism and Shintoism, and through the Japanese edition of his newspaper spread the Christian message in a way that was in harmony with Japanese culture. In Nagasaki, he set up a “Garden of the Immaculate,” which survived the atomic bomb. He also travelled to Malabar and to Moscow, but was recalled to Poland in 1936 for reasons of health. When the Germans invaded in 1939, the community at Teresin sheltered thousands of refugees, most of them Jews. In 1941 he was arrested and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz, where he helped and succoured the inmates. In August of that year a prisoner escaped, and in reprisal the authorities were choosing ten people to die by starvation. One of the men had a family, and Maximilian Kolbe offered to take his place. The offer was accepted, and he spent his last days comforting his fellow prisoners. The man he saved was present at his canonization. Maximilian Kolbe’s martyrdom is the least important thing about him. We are none of us likely to find ourselves in a position to emulate his sacrifice, and speculation as to the heroic way in which we would have behaved in his place is a pernicious waste of time. What is important is that he acted the way he did because of who he was – or, rather, because of who he had become. It is because of who he had become that we revere him as a saint: he would have been a saint (though perhaps not canonized) even if he had not been martyred. And that process of becoming is something we can all emulate. We can all become people for whom doing the right thing is obvious, natural, and easy. It requires no heroism, no special gifts: just perseverance, and prayer.

Prayer from Morning Prayer:

All-powerful, ever-living God,
you gave Saint Maximilian Kolbe the courage to witness to the Gospel of Christ
even to the point of giving his life for it.
By his prayers, help us to endure all suffering of love of you
and seek you with all our hearts,
for you alone are the source of life.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

Image credit.

Clare, Virgin

From Universalis.com:

She was born at Assisi and came under the influence of Saint Francis. She left home at the age of 18 and, under Francis’s guidance, began a community that grew to become the order of the Poor Clares (she was later joined both by her sister and by her widowed mother). In its radical attachment to poverty the Rule of the order was much more severe than that of any other order of nuns. In 1215 Clare obtained from the Pope the privilege of owning nothing, so that the nuns of the order were to be sustained by alms and nothing else. Such a rule was (like the Franciscan rule) both a challenge to established structures and a risk to those who followed it, and successive Popes tried to modify it. In 1247 Pope Innocent IV promulgated a new Rule that allowed the ownership of communal property: Clare rewrote it. A later attempt at mitigation in 1263 partly succeeded (perhaps because Clare was dead by then): some communities followed the old, strict rule and some followed the new. Clare was a noted contemplative and a caring mother to her nuns. She died at Assisi in 1253.

Prayer from Morning Prayer:

God of mercy,
you inspired Saint Clare with the love of poverty.
By the help of her prayers
may we follow Christ in poverty of spirit
and come to know the joyful vision of your glory
in the kingdom of heaven.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

Image credit.

Dominic, Priest

From Universalis.com:

He was born in Castile (part of modern Spain) and became a canon of the cathedral of Osma. He accompanied his bishop (Diego de Azevedo) in a mission of preaching against the Albigensian heresy, which was then strong in southern France. While the official missions lived in formality and splendour, Dominic and Diego lived in extreme poverty, and prepared with great diligence for the debates that they held with their opponents. When the suppression of Albigensianism was undertaken by invasion and war of a particularly savage kind, Dominic continued to try to preach and persuade. In 1216 he founded the Order of Preachers, dedicated to saving souls by preaching and persuasion. Like the Franciscans, founded a few years before, the Dominicans put great importance on poverty, both of the individual and of the community, and of the need to be involved directly in the world while still living some form of monastic life. At a time when the settled Benedictine monasteries had grown into great and rich institutions, this was a revolutionary and to some a subversive concept. The Friars made a lasting impact on the life of mediaeval Europe, and the Dominicans in particular altered the course of intellectual history by making a well-thought-out and rational response to the new learning that was appearing as long-forgotten thinkers such as Aristotle became known once more in the Christian West. Dominic died at Bologna on 6th August 1221.

Prayer from Morning Prayer:

Lord,
let the holiness and teaching of Saint Dominic
come to the aid of your Church.
May he help is now with his prayers
as he once inspired people by his preaching.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

Image credit.

John Vianney, Priest

From Universalis.com:

He was the son of a peasant farmer, and a slow and unpromising candidate for the priesthood: he was eventually ordained on account of his devoutness rather than any achievement or promise. In 1818 he was sent to be the parish priest of Ars-en-Dombes, an isolated village some distance from Lyon, and remained there for the rest of his life because his parishioners would not let him leave. He was a noted preacher, and a celebrated confessor: such was his fame, and his reputation for insight into his penitents’ souls and their futures, that he had to spend up to eighteen hours a day in the confessional, so great was the demand. The tens of thousands of people who came to visit this obscure parish priest turned Ars into a place of pilgrimage. The French State recognised his eminence by awarding him the medal of the Légion d’Honneur in 1848, and he sold it and gave the money to the poor.

Prayer from Morning Prayer:

Almighty and merciful God,
by your grace Saint John Mary Vianney
was remarkable for his zeal as priest and pastor.
Help us by his example and prayers
to win our brethren for Christ by love,
and to share with them in eternal glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

Image credit.

New Death Penalty Teaching

The big news out of the Vatican today (not a phrase you see often), is that the Pope has approved a reworded portion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, specifically paragraph 2267 which will now read:

Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide. (emphasis added)

This news is not entirely new because Pope Francis spoke last October about wanting to review the Church teachings on the death penalty and it was a topic during the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization that took place that same month. This English text is the fruitful effort of that council as well as the work of Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The new text was introduced with a letter from Cardinal Ladaria where he explains that this is not a new doctrine or a contradiction from previous teaching, but is a natural evolution of our understanding of the dignity of humans:

If, in fact the political and social situation of the past made the death penalty an acceptable means for the protection of the common good, today the increasing understanding that the dignity of a person is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes.

Personally, I have never supported the death penalty. I went to a Roman catholic school and I remember very clearly in grade 9 watching Dead Man Walking about Sister Helen Prejean and her work with Matthew Poncelet during his time on death row. I consider the greatest sin of a state to be the murder of innocent citizens, and the fact that we are incapable of knowing for fact the guilt of any person (even in seemingly clear cut murder cases) means that there is always a risk of the state murdering an innocent person and thus the death penalty is immoral. That is the logic that I am able to use to justify my position. And it is rooted in the dignity of the body, being a creation of God that we have no right to extinguish (even with seemingly good reason). I am therefore certainly not upset that the Pope and the church have taken this position on the death penalty, but my catholic spider senses are tingling here…Cardinal Ladaria is stretched to explain that this is not new doctrine, and he does it by saying that it is our secular understanding of the dignity of the body that has informed the church’s refined position on the matter. The problem with that thinking is that the source of the dignity of the body does not come from our secular understanding– no university professor or philosopher has articulated any powerful message as to why I should care about my brother– it comes from our understanding of our relationship with God and the fact that each and every one of us are created uniquely by God. We therefore all have certain rights and dignity that comes from that fact. This is the source of western human rights. We do not have rights because we are a collection of atoms, we have rights because we are creatures of God. Nothing new has been revealed recently about the dignity of the body. It is part of the Deposit of Faith and has been present since Christ’s Resurrection when the body was glorified. It is a core teaching of the faith that stretches back to the Jews in exile and their understanding of how the world was made– man being made in the image of God and all. So I am personally at a loss to understand where the good Cardinal is coming from when he asserts that this is not new doctrine.

And this is where I am going to depart from the Roman church. They were wrong, and have been wrong on the death penalty for a long time. Their understanding of the dignity of the body is sound, but they made the error long ago of caving to secular and temporal political opinions against the Will of God which was clear in the Deposit of Faith. We know why the church endorsed the death penalty, it had been done for centuries around the world and was being done within advanced western societies (hello United States of America) and the church was not willing to go down into a fight with the state about the issue. It was political and the Roman church failed her faithful in this teaching. And today they are continuing the sin because of their own pride, they cannot admit that they were wrong and are now making a course correction, instead we get a very smart Cardinal contorting himself into all sorts of wild positions in order to justify what is essentially a new or rather corrected doctrine because of the fact that the Roman church puts more emphasis on an appearance of never being wrong rather than just admitting it is not how the church works at all– it is not how the Body of Christ works at all. This is yet another example of Roman church leaders using weak logic to paper over a major sin of the church of the whole, the sin of pride believing that somehow they are incapable of impressing their own human sin and error onto the church that very much exists within the world and is influenced by the broken and sinful humans.

It is good news that the Roman church is finally teaching proper catholic doctrine as present in the Deposit of Faith concerning the death penalty. But it is a sad that they continue to try and fool the faithful in thinking they were not wrong to teach acceptance before, or that this is not a new or complete change in teaching on the subject. I suppose I can chalk up not being made to feel like a fool when Cardinals and the like try to sells these illogical lies to another reason why I am happy to have left the Roman church.

Image credit.

Authority of Rome: A Catholic Perspective

This post is the third and final instalment on a series concerning the authority of Rome and the infallibility/supremacy of the pope. We will explore the doctrine of papal infallibility from the lens of Christians who still call themselves catholic despite no longer being in official communion with Rome. For some, this is because they do not see Rome has holding the monopoly over what is and is not catholic. For others, this is because they believe that the Roman Catholic church has departed from true catholic teaching or “that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all” (Fr. Vincent of Lérins). This post will examine those positions specifically from the Old Catholic Church and the Anglican Catholic Church. For the purpose of this post Roman and catholic will be distinguished terms; it shall not be assumed when one reads catholic that this means Roman.

The only place to start when we discuss the position of non-Roman catholics on papal infallibility and supremacy is the First and Second Vatican Councils– more so the First Vatican Council. As we learned in the Roman perspective on the issue, the doctrine of papal infallibility/supremacy that we understand today is relatively a very new concept within the Roman Catholic Church having been defined clearly in the 1870s and then further refined in the 1960s. When speaking of papal authority within the church there is a definite pre- and post- Vatican Councils era that any honest observer should take into account when reflecting on a supposed catholic position on the doctrine itself. A period before the doctrine was defined where there today exists a dispute between Romans and catholics as to whether said authority was exercised without resistance (and hence not requiring definition) or was not exercised and hence didn’t require any resisting. And a period after the doctrine was defined when a portion of the Roman Catholic church broke away on the issue itself and many Roman catholics now attend Sunday services in Anglo-Catholic churches– and the established Roman Catholic church insists that the doctrine makes up a core component of the catholic faith requiring strict obedience.

There is no dispute that in the pre-Vatican I council period of the church there was no definitive (let’s say written down, at least) definition of the the doctrine of papal supremacy. Today, proponents of papal supremacy (the Roman Catholic church as a whole) maintain that the doctrine existed during this period but, as Cardinal Newman said, did not require defining because it was held to the evident by the church and her faithful. However, there is a segment of those who call themselves catholic (but not Roman), who would maintain that the doctrine was not defined because it did not exist and was never truly held to be evident by any single person. These faithful point to catholic textbooks and catechisms such as the one I quoted in the previous post that clearly stated there was no authority granted to the pope of that kind.

(Q.) Must not Catholics believe the Pope himself to be infallible?

(A.) This is a Protestant invention: it is no article of the Catholic faith: no decision of his can oblige under pain of heresy, unless it be received and enforced by the teaching body, that is by the bishops of the Church.

Another good example from history is that of the use of oaths of office, especially throughout England, Scotland, Whales and Ireland (and even into Quebec and Canada) because of the historical religious tension between catholics and protestants in those regions. In the early 1800s during the reign of the King George III, a catholic who wished to take public office in any form had to swear an oath that protected against a (now defined false, and therefore heretical) claim by popes that they could forgive regicide and directly guide state affairs through their office (what was in the pre-Vatican councils period, the fundamental question of papal supremacy, it was not about faith or morals at this point). Part of the oath stated, “it is not an article of the Catholic Faith, neither am I thereby required to believe or profess that the Pope is infallible.” And this was supported by the Irish bishops in 1826 when they stated in a pastoral letter to the faithful:

[t]he Catholics of Ireland not only do not believe, but they declare upon oath … that it is not an article of the Catholic faith, neither are they required to believe, that the Pope is infallible, and that they do not hold themselves ‘bound to obey any order in its own nature immoral’, though the Pope or any ecclesiastical power should issue or direct such an order; but, on the contrary, that it would be sinful in them to pay any respect or obedience thereto. (Pastoral letter, 25 January 1826)

Contrary to what the Roman church and her theological authorities continue to repeat, it does not appear that there was a clear definition or understanding of papal supremacy/infallibility in the early church, nor was there indications of a consensus among Bishops, clergy and faithful. This is the position of many catholics who fall outside of the Roman church. They do not see a legitimate claim that the doctrine of papal infallibility/supremacy has existed clearly through-out the history of the church– and some consider this to be new doctrine.

Along the same lines of there being no clear consensus on the authority of the pope through-out the bulk of the history of the Roman church, Old Catholics specifically charge the Roman church with the error of adding doctrine to the faith. This point was touched on in the post on the protestant position on Roman authority as well. The premise is that the whole collection of what has been revealed to mankind concerning God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as well as the mission and intention of the Church has been handed down in what is called the Deposit of Faith, this Deposit can be accessed by the church and she does regularly as a source of her teaching and preaching of the Good News around the whole world. However, she cannot add to this Deposit, because what has been revealed has been done by God and cannot be altered or added to by the church– not even the pope. And the Roman church does hold to this belief as well. It is without question a catholic doctrine which is professed in the Apostle’s Creed when we say that we believe in One Holy Catholic Church– meaning whole and complete as well as united and together. However, the Roman church does not consider the doctrine of papal infallibility– first defined in the 1870s and again in the 1960s– to be new doctrine because it is a fruit on the tree of faith which has grown over time– or, as Cardinal Newman pointed out, it has existed the whole time (which as we explored earlier, is not entirely conclusive). Old Catholics maintain that what has been taught within the faith throughout the ages and for all time was altered during the course of the First Vatican Council and then again during the Second Vatican Council. Admittedly, there has been some significant controversy within the Old Catholic movement (the “leader” who I quoted in the opening of this post never even associated himself directly with the break from the Roman church) and today the Old Catholic church permits the ordination of married male Priests.

The fallout of not adhering to the authority of Rome but still holding catholic value (or attempting to), is clear in the Anglican Catholic church of today. Members of this church often see themselves as catholic, and would even consider themselves as individuals to be in communion with Rome and still catholics despite the official position from Rome being that they are not in communion. They take issue with certain non-essential elements of the Roman faith which within the Roman church are taken very seriously. These are the trivial cultural practices that although very important, are often presented within the Roman church as being on an equal footing with tenant of the Creeds, for example. This is often because of the zero-sum-game that is created an organization is establish along the blind adherence to how a single man does something in a specific part of the world. Anything you do, regardless of where it falls along the hierarchy of importance within the faith, becomes taboo when it is not in line with what Rome does, it puts the actions and will of the pope on equal, if not very, very near footing with the Will of God for His Church. That is a problem to many Anglican Catholics who have left the Roman church as a result.

A summarizing sentence for the catholic position on papal infallibility/supremacy and the authority of Rome could be: it was never part of the catholic faith to profess the infallibility/supremacy of the pope, that is a new doctrine and it is an error of the Roman church to continue to teach it.

Image credit.

 

Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor

From Universalis.com:

Saint Alphonsus Liguori was born in Marianella near Naples on September 27, 1696. He was the first born of a rather large family belonging to the Neapolitan nobility. His received a broad education in the humanities, classical and modern languages, painting and music. He composed a Duetto on the Passion, as well as the most popular Christmas carol in Italy, Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle, and numerous other hymns. He finished his university studies earning a Doctorate in both civil and canon law and began his practice in the legal profession. In 1723, after a long process of discernment, he abandoned his legal career and, despite his father’s strong opposition, began his seminary studies. He was ordained a priest on December 21, 1726, at the age of 30. He lived his first years as a priest with the homeless and marginalized young people of Naples. He founded the “Evening Chapels”. Run by the young people themselves, these chapels were centres of prayer, community, the Word of God, social activities and education. At the time of his death, there were 72 of these chapels with over 10,000 active participants.
In 1729, Alphonsus left his family home and took up residence in the Chinese College in Naples. It was there that he began his missionary experience in the interior of the Kingdom of Naples where he found people who were much poorer and more abandoned than any of the street children in Naples. On November 9, 1732, Alphonsus founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, popularly known as the Redemptorists, in order to follow the example of Jesus Christ announcing the Good News to the poor and the most abandoned. From that time on, he gave himself entirely to this new mission. Alphonsus was a lover of beauty: musician, painter, poet and author. He put all his artistic and literary creativity at the service of the mission and he asked the same of those who joined his Congregation. He wrote 111 works on spirituality and theology. The 21,500 editions and the translations into 72 languages that his works have undergone attest to the fact that he is one of the most widely read authors. Among his best known works are: The Great Means of Prayer, The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ, The Glories of Mary and The Visits to the Most Holy Sacrament. Prayer, love, his relationship with Christ and his first-hand experience of the pastoral needs of the faithful have made Alphonsus one of the great masters of the interior life. Alphonsus’ greatest contribution to the Church was in the area of Moral Theological reflection with his Moral Theology. This work was born of Alphonsus’ pastoral experience, his ability to respond to the practical questions posed by the faithful and from his contact with their everyday problems. He opposed the sterile legalism which was suffocating theology and he rejected the strict rigorism of the time… the product of the powerful elite. According to Alphonsus, those were paths that were closed to the Gospel because “such rigour has never been taught nor practised by the Church”. He knew how to put theological reflection at the service of the greatness and dignity of the person, of a moral conscience, and of evangelical mercy. Alphonsus was consecrated bishop of St. Agatha of the Goths in 1762. He was 66 years old. He tried to refuse the appointment because he felt too old and too sick to properly care for the diocese. In 1775, he was allowed to retire from his office and went to live in the Redemptorist community in Pagani where he died on August 1, 1787. He was canonized in 1839, proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1871 and Patron of Confessors and Moralists in 1950.

Prayer from Morning Prayer:

Lord God,
you never cease to give new saints to your Church
as a pattern for holy living.
Help us to imitate Saint Alphonsus in his zeal for souls,
that we may share his reward in heaven.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

Image source.

Ignatius Loyola, Priest

From Universalis.com:

Ignatius (or Iñigo) was born in Loyola in the Spanish Basque country. He was a soldier, but was wounded in the battle of Pamplona (against the French) at the age of 30. During a long convalescence he read a life of Christ and a collection of lives of the saints, and discovered that his true vocation was to devote his life wholly to God. He was as systematic about this as he had been about his military career: he spent a year’s retreat in a Dominican friary, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and then set about learning Latin. Such enthusiasm in a layman caused grave suspicion in the Spanish authorities, and he was questioned and imprisoned more than once. He moved to Paris in 1528 and continued his studies; and then in 1534 Ignatius and six companions bound themselves to become missionaries to the Muslims in Palestine. By the time they were ready to set out, war made the journey impossible and so the group (now numbering ten) offered their services to the Pope in any capacity he might choose. A number of them were duly ordained and they were all assigned to various tasks. Soon it was proposed that they should organise themselves into a regular religious order, and in 1540 the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) was formed. Ignatius was the first Superior General until his death. Soon after their foundation the Jesuits began to meet the challenge of the Reformation: a tough task, given the debilitated state into which the Church had fallen, but one which, as Ignatius said, had to be undertaken “without hard words or contempt for people’s errors”. Ignatius had a gift for inspiring friendship, and was the recipient of deep spiritual insight. Soon after his conversion Ignatius wrote the Spiritual Exercises, a systematic step-by-step retreat that can be followed by anyone – and has been followed by many, not all of them Catholics, ever since.

Prayer from Morning Prayer for the Feast of Saint Ignatius Loyola, Priest:

Lord God,
you raised up Saint Ignatius Loyola in your Church
to give greater glory to your name.
Grant that, aided by his prayers,
we may fight against all that is evil on earth,
and with him receive the crown of victory in heaven.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

Image credit.

Peter Chrysologus, Bishop, Doctor

From Universalis.com:

He was born and died in Imola in northern Italy. He was made bishop of Ravenna, the new capital of the Roman Empire, and was responsible for many of the building works there. The name “Chrysologus” means “golden speech”, and was given to Peter because he was such a gifted preacher; unfortunately, most of his writings have perished, and only a collection of short sermons remains.

Prayer from Morning Prayer:

God our Father,
you made Saint Peter Chrysologus a most eloquent preacher of Christ,
your Word made man.
By the intercession of your saint
help us to meditate constantly in our hearts
on the mysteries by which you saved us,
and to manifest them faithfully in our lives.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

Image credit.

Feeding the Five Thousand

In the Gospel reading for this Sunday we hear the account from John of Jesus feeding five thousand people with bread and fish who had gathered to hear him preach near Passover along the shores of the Sea of Galilee (called Tiberias in the reading).

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiber’i-as. And a multitude followed him, because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place; so the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:1-15, RSV)

The miracle of Christ feeding the five thousand– aside from the Resurrection– is the only one mentioned in all four gospels. The miracle is important within the context of the Gospel of John because it forms the co-foundation, along with the miracle of turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), of John’s emphasis on Jesus as the “bread of life” (John 6:35-59). This idea forms the backbone of our catholic liturgy where Christ gives Himself in the bread and wine forming the Body and Blood and feeding the multitude of His faithful (CCC 1335).

The passover is mentioned three times in the Gospel of John (supporting a three year public ministry of Jesus). It was an annual Jewish celebration to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. It involves gathering for a liturgical feast called a seder in which the story of Exodus is retold, unleavened bread with dressed lamb is served and psalms are sung. The importance of passover in this story from John’s gospel is an undercurrent of the on-going narrative as Jesus’ coming to be that of the true “Lamb of God” (John 1:29), whose redeeming work would accomplish a new deliverance from sin (John 8:31-36). The connection between our liturgy and the liturgical meal inherent in the seder is made evident in John 6:53-58:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.

And further expanded on by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 bringing the seder feast, Christ and the Lamb of God together (no doubt strongly inspired by the Holy Spirit):

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Jesus gives thanks to the bread and fish before distributing it to the people. The Greek word used in the original translation of the gospel account is eucharisteo which is where the English word Eucharist derives from. This miracle is a clear foreshadow of the institution of the Last Supper and has a direct link to the celebration of Mass that we catholics gather for on Sunday (and everyday for that matter, all around the world).

God be praised!

Image credit.