Sunday, July 29, is the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B, Cycle II).
2 Kings 4:42-44, Psalm 145:10-11, 15-18, Ephesians 4:1-6, John 6:1-15
On Friday, July 27, the world will watch as rows of nations march into a London stadium under the rings of unity holding the flags of their nations.
On Sunday, July 29, Catholics worldwide will watch the opening procession at Mass.
Which of these is a deeper spectacle of worldwide dedication to friendship, peace and harmony?
A very real case could be made for the Olympics. After all, at the Olympics, the whole world sets aside its differences to compete in a friendly way.
Sports ennoble us. As Pope John Paul II put it: The best sports competitions “protect the weak and exclude no one”; they “free young people from the snares of apathy and indifference and arouse a healthy sense of competition in them.” Sport “trains body and spirit for perseverance, effort, courage, balance, sacrifice, honesty, friendship and collaboration.”
The Olympics are the best of sporting competitions, a chance for the world to show that we all acknowledge our common humanity.
Mass is very different: We go to Mass whether we feel close to each other or not. We come to Mass because we feel close to the Church. But while the Church is international and dedicated to peace and harmony, it can look like a failed project to us.
Pope Benedict XVI addressed the deep disappointment many people have in the Church when he spoke in Germany last September — ironically, in the Olympic stadium in Berlin.
He spoke of the “sad experience” many people have with the Church and its “good and bad fish, wheat and weeds.”
“Dissatisfaction and discontent begin to spread when people’s superficial and mistaken notions of ‘Church,’ their ‘dream Church,’ fail to materialize,” he said. “Then we no longer hear the glad song, ‘Thanks be to God, who in his grace has called me into his Church’ that generations of Catholics have sung with conviction.”
The answer to that dissatisfaction can be found in today’s Gospel.
The crowds who gathered around Jesus on the mountaintop didn’t do so because they liked each other or because they were impressed with the apostles. They gathered because Christ was there.
And when they were hungry, they didn’t find themselves fed by the apostles or by each other. They were fed by Christ, who multiplied the loaves.
As Pope Benedict put it, Jesus does not say: “You are the vine” to us. He says, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” Christ says, “Inasmuch as you belong to me, you also belong to one another.”
What happens on the mountainside in today’s reading — where so many people gather that 200 days' wages won’t feed them — happens every Sunday.
Christ sits, and we come to be with him. We don’t gather to make a statement about peace and harmony. We don’t even gather because we like each other, necessarily. We gather because we know Christ is here.
“Christ himself came into this world through his incarnation to be our root,” said Pope Benedict. “He takes upon himself all our sins, anxieties and sufferings, and he purifies and transforms us in a way that is ultimately mysterious. … God can transform into love even the burdensome and oppressive aspects of our lives.”
He continues: “In our era of restlessness and lack of commitment, when so many people lose their way and their grounding, when loving fidelity in marriage and friendship has become so fragile and short-lived, when in our need we cry out like the disciples on the road to Emmaus: ‘Lord, stay with us, for it is almost evening and darkness is all around us!’” we find comfort in Christ.
The Olympics are a great testament to the peace and harmony people can sometimes create, even on a global scale.
But the Catholic Church is a great testament to the peace and harmony that God provides on an eternal scale. Christ sits in our tabernacles worldwide, and people flock to him. And none need go away hungry.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.