By Father James Rodriguez
Back in January, Pope Francis asked that this Sunday be observed as World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, since July 26th is the feast of Saints Joachim & Anne, the grandparents of Jesus. I can’t help but think of my own grandparents, now deceased. I never knew my father’s parents, but my mother’s lived nearby from my childhood to as recently as two years ago when my grandmother died.
My last memory of my grandfather, almost 20 years ago now, was of him in his hospital bed, and I remember how much he resembled a tree. Weathered by time, yet solid as ever, he smiled at us, surrounding him like branches. His life, like that of my other grandparents, was itself the source of life for my family. His faith, like that of my other grandparents, was the spring of eternal life for us, from which we still drink every time we approach the Eucharist that nourished them in life and, we pray, is their eternal vision now. It is that same Eucharist that casts light on me as I write these words in His presence. Jesus unifies His faithful through time and space, so much so that every Mass is not a recreation of the last supper, but a return to it. We sit beside the Apostles to be fed with them by the Lord, like branches on a tree. The Twelve begin a type of spiritual ancestry for us that includes Judas, for no family is without troubled members, and when we gather for Mass, it is like Sunday dinner at mom’s house. We come together from wherever it is we have branched off to, returning to the source of our life.
On the mountain of today’s Gospel, Jesus feeds the immense crowd. For context, Madison Square Garden seats a little over 20,000. If women and children were among the men counted in the Gospel, there could have been enough people to rival the Knicks’ home crowd! Jesus is unfazed by the odds — five barley loaves and two fish for so many — and far surpasses the miraculous feeding of today’s first reading. Elisha, the spiritual successor to the great prophet Elijah, is in a similarly impossible situation — though much better off by comparison. He is given 20 loaves for 100: hardly a meal, but not a bad snack. He insists beyond worldly reason: “They shall eat and there shall be some left over,” which of course is exactly what happened. The miracle of Jesus dwarfs that of Elisha, but the point is the same: God can do a lot with a little!
We can sometimes feel the pains of our inadequacy. We think of ourselves as insignificant, and in the eyes of the world, we as a church often are. Ignored or even mocked, we seem foolish and easily dismissed, yet as branches of the great Tree of Life we are, as St. Paul put it, “one body and one Spirit … called to the one hope” of the Christian vocation to holiness. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” As the fragments of the one loaf are broken and shared, thus creating the spiritual family of the Church, so too are we distributed by God as lights to the world, united by the heavenly food that strengthens and sustains us.
We must beg God for the gift of confidence in His sufficient grace. Like Jesus, Elisha was sure of it despite the odds. He knew what was essential, that God would provide. We can be tempted to doubt our Father’s care, but to do so is to forget the examples of the countless saints in our history and in our midst. To doubt Him is to forget Mary, through whom we are assured that “for God nothing is impossible.”
Our grandparents can represent for us the time-tested faith we long to have, a faith that pervades a long life of struggle and difficulty amidst its ineffable joys, like thorns on a rose. At the end of this life, and certainly, in heaven, may we be surrounded by the fruit of our spiritual toil, living rewards of a life well lived.