When we look at the feeding of the five thousand, which we see in today’s Gospel, it’s easy to focus on the surface meaning of the miracle. Our Lord was able to feed five thousand men, plus women and children who were not counted in the five thousand, by multiplying five loaves and two fishes. This in itself would be an incredible event, but there is a far deeper message within Jesus’ actions: the deep and sustaining love of God for each of us.
All those who followed Jesus would have considered the gift of bread and fish in today’s miracle as a great gift indeed, but few, if any, realized the deeper gift that Our Lord was preparing for his disciples: the Eucharist. Even in his great sorrow over the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, Jesus was willing to give of himself to care for the those who followed Him. He knew the faith of those who followed him, and was able to work with that faith to feed them.
Much as Jesus fed the five thousand, Our Lord is also able to feed us through his gift of himself in the Eucharist. This is not merely a physical feeding, as he was able to do with the five thousand, but a spiritually fulfilling meal. Just as Jesus was able to take five loaves of bread and give them to everyone who was present, Our Lord is able to take simple bread and wine and change it into His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity at every Mass that is celebrated throughout the world. Instead of feeding just five thousand, He is able to give himself to all those who follow him throughout time and space.
Just as Our Lord willingly gave to those who followed him out of love, He gives Himself to us out of the same love. Even with his sorrow, Our Lord had compassion on those who followed him, and willingly healed the sick and fed the crowds out of His love. When we receive the Eucharist, we are also receiving the benefit of His love for us.
As Saint Paul tells us in the second reading, God loves us so much that nothing outside of us can separate us from him. Even when Our Lord was in need of solitude, he did not allow that desire to come between himself and His people, but he reached out in pity to those who had traveled far to follow Him. In the same way, Our Lord does not allow anything to come between us and Him, but is constantly reaching out to us in love, constantly sending us the grace to respond to His love and turn to him.
While we can never be separated from God’s love, we can still turn our back on Him. Instead of responding to God’s love with joy and our own love for Him, we can instead refuse His love and ignore him. God loves us so much that He is willing to allow us to refuse his love and ignore Him. In effect, the only way that we can separate ourselves from God is through our own actions. God will never abandon us, but He will allow us to abandon him.
So how do we respond to Our Lord in love? First and foremost, we need to realize that when we receive the Eucharist, we are receiving the greatest gift that Jesus can give us: himself. We need to approach the Eucharist with devotion, and receive it with true joy and a desire to unite ourselves with Him. We need to make sure that we’re receiving the Eucharist out of true love for Our Lord, and not merely because it’s what Catholics are expected to do when we come to Mass.
As St. Jose Maria Escrivá wrote, we must prepare to receive Our Lord as if it were the only time that we would be able to receive Him. I would venture to say that if we were only able to receive the Eucharist once in our lives, we would prepare for the event much like many people prepare for graduations, weddings, and baptisms. Very few people take these major events for granted, with good reason. In the same way, we should not take the Eucharist for granted.
When we receive the Eucharist, Our Lord reaches out to us in love and feeds us with himself. May we never turn away from Him, but always respond to His love.