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The 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
with Sacraments of Initiation for our Elect
during the coronavirus pandemic
August 2, 2020

Click here to watch Father Ryan give this homily. The homily begins at 26:30.

     There are invitations and there are invitations.  Some you can take; others you can leave. God has an invitation for all of us this morning – but especially for our friends who will receive the sacraments of Christian Initiation during this liturgy. It’s an invitation that they would be crazy to turn down, and so would we all. The invitation came in the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah.  Listen again:

     “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat.  Come, drink wine and milk.  Heed me and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare…!” An irresistible invitation, wouldn’t you agree? Especially for our friends who are about to be baptized and confirmed, and who will approach the table of the Eucharist for the first time. In baptism they will “come to the water;” in the holy bread of the Eucharist they will “receive grain and eat.” It seems that whenever the prophets wanted to fire people’s imagination and tempt them with what God had in store for them in the kingdom, they couldn’t come up with a better or more compelling image than that of a sumptuous banquet where only the richest of foods and the choicest of wines would be served. That works for me. Does it work for you? I know it does. That’s why you are here. And for those of you who can’t be because of the pandemic, it’s why you are experiencing such hunger.

     So, yes, an enticing invitation, but it gets better. The banquet is not just for the well-heeled – those with fat bank accounts or unlimited spending ceilings on their credit cards.  This is one time when “the haves” have absolutely no advantage over “the have nots” because there is no charge for this banquet at all. It’s free. God is picking up the tab. Listen again to Isaiah: “Come without paying and without cost.  Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy?  You who have no money, come!”

     Today’s gospel story of the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes takes this banquet theme even further.  Jesus gives his followers a little preview of the kingdom he has come to inaugurate and, once again, the kingdom is a great banquet with a huge guest list. That crowd of 5,000 hungry people out in a deserted place with nothing to eat includes you and me; it includes those about to be baptized, as well as every hungry or thirsty person of all time. The improbably large number assures us that everyone, absolutely everyone, is on the guest list, that God excludes no one.

        And the twelve baskets of leftovers after everyone has eaten and had their fill make it clear that this is a banquet that will go on and on; it will never end.

        But we mustn’t miss the little ‘twist’ in the story.  There’s almost always one of these in the gospel, and this one is no exception. The twist comes in the words of Jesus to his disciples when they present him with the problem of the big, hungry crowd. “You give them something to eat,” he tells them.  You give them something to eat.

        What a strange and improbable thing for Jesus to tell them.  And they know it. But he pushes the point. He has them bring forward what little they have: five loaves of bread and a couple of fish – and he says to them in effect: “Yes, even that pitiful little bit will be enough if it’s all you’ve got!”

        And that’s what God always does with us, my friends. God shows respect for us by accepting whatever it is that we have, and then takes it and works wonders with it. If we think we have little or nothing to offer, God shows us otherwise. Even a ridiculous insufficiency, as in the case of the five loaves and two fish, becomes more than enough in God’s generous hands!

       The heavenly banquet will be no different.  It will be made up of our poverty and of God’s surpassing generosity - lest we ever get the idea that the banquet is ours, or that we’re somehow in charge of the arrangements, or that we somehow deserve to be on the guest list. We don’t. But we don’t need to.

        And one further thought. We don’t have to wait a lifetime for the banquet to begin. It has already begun: the table is set, the guests are seated. We’re just finishing up the first course: God’s holy Word for our nourishment. The second course is about to begin: the Body and Blood of Christ given for us in the Eucharist - the closest we get on this earth to the heavenly banquet. It’s free of charge, and each of us is invited.

         Let me conclude with just a word to these wonderful people I am so privileged to baptize and confirm. You have waited a long time for this day. And you’ve been incredibly patient! Easter came and went; your hopes were not fulfilled but your faith never waned. You found a way to go with God’s time instead of yours – God’s mysterious time. And, you know, that’s good practice for this great journey of faith you’ve embarked upon because this journey with all its twists and turns, its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows, its explorations and discoveries is in God’s mind and in God’s time. All you need to know is that you will not be alone on the journey. No, you have for your companions the whole community of the Church and the great Communion of Saints, and for that reason, to borrow St. Paul’ words in today’s reading from Romans, “Nothing can separate you from the love of God that comes to you in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing, since “you are more than conquerors because of God who has loved you!”

         So, my friends, “Come now to the waters.” And then, “Receive grain and eat…delight in rich fare…!” And, in the words of St. Julian of Norwich, never forget that “God delights in you!” 

Father Michael G. Ryan





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