EIGHTEENTH ORDINARY SUNDAY 2011
Several years ago in Italy appeared a film, La Vita è bella, with Roberto Benigni. It told the true story of an Italian Jew placed in a concentration camp with his little son by the Nazis. He does everything to turn the horrendous experience into a “fun time” to distract his boy from the horrors surrounding him. He died and his son live to tell the story. Life is beautiful. It is a gift of God. But in all our lives there are moments when we have to do some things we would rather not or we put aside our own feelings for others. Young couples very much in love discover that they have to make adjustments that they did not have to when living alone. How often you parents have to issue a stern word to a child or do something that is needed for their good. And our hearts can be raised up to happiness or lowered into the depths of sadness.
There is a deep drama in this moment of the Gospel we have just heard. The drama is in the human heart of Jesus. He has just heard that the man he called “The greatest born of woman”, his cousin John the Baptist, has been killed, his head served up on a platter in a drunken orgy in the palace of Herod to satisfy the ambitions and jealousy of Herodias, his illegitimate wife. The human heart of Jesus mourns his friend and he goes off to pray to be alone with his Father, to let his human heart be consoled by the intimate union of truth and love between the divine Father and the beloved son.
Yet he cannot be alone. The crowds search him out. They need him. They have brought their sick in body. They also have come who are sick because of sin, and broken because of the events that tear at the heart. And Jesus knows. He was moved to pity and he cured them.
That is the event. But see how once again Jesus responds and offers so much more. And in so doing teaches you and me what he asks us to do as well. The place is deserted. Not a desert, it is near the sea. But deserted. No 7/11s here. The disciples are worried and Jesus tells them to go ahead and take of the crowd. And at that moment they suddenly realize how limited they are. Only five loaves and two fish. That’s all they had. Not enough. But the Lord knows what he wants to do. He takes what they have and transforms into what he wants to give: food for the hungry, hope for the desperate; healing for brokenhearted; life and joy and peace at a banquet that is more than loaves and fish, at a banquet that makes a prophecy that we know has come true: the Lord will feed all who come to him with the Bread of life, with the wine of salvation. He will feed us always as he is feeding us today: with His Word to guide us so that we might share His Body and Blood at the Eucharistic Banquet he has made our own.
Isaiah’s prophecy become Jesus’ promise: “All you are thirsty, come to the water; come receive grain and eat; come to me heedfully; listen that you may have life; I will renew with you my everlasting covenant!”
This is how Jesus comes to us, as the one who takes the little five and two that we have – themselves his gift – and invites us to let him guide us as a shepherd so that what we have we also might share and what he has given us will be sued to build up the Church and the world. This is a stark contrast to the banquet that led to the martyrdom of John. It is the one banquet that will always satisfy, the one meal that will be ours into eternity. From the Holy Father to every priest and bishop in the world, ours is the joyful vocation to bring you the Eucharist of Jesus Christ and to lead you to this home where you will never be separated from the love of Christ!
This past week one of those shepherds who came to our shores to serve the Church as the Pope’s representatives was called home to the house of our Heavenly Father. Archbishop Pietro Sambi began his priestly life by offering to serve the Church in diplomatic service of the Holy See. From the time he was 33 till his death at 73 last Wednesday he offered his service to the Holy Father and to the churches where he labored for forty years. He was a diplomat but one with a shepherd’s heart. He was a distinguished churchman, in Central America, Burundi, Indonesia, the Holy Land and for more than five years here in the USA. But he always coupled his vigorous and attentive service to a sense of humor and a palpable love of people, everyone, rich, poor, Muslim, Jew, priest, sister. He even loved us bishops, something not everyone succeeds in doing.
We in turn loved him and enjoyed his company and were stirred by his vision of our vocation to be worthy successors of the apostles by offering ourselves with all our being to be other Christs in service to the Church and all the faithful. We talked often on the phone and spent more than a little time together whenever circumstances permitted. We last spoke on July 4th two days before he entered the hospital from where he dies this past Wednesday of complications following an intervention on his lungs. We joked about the rumors in Rome that he was about to be transferred to Rome to a post where he would be made a cardinal. But our real concern was about a bishop about whose health we both were concerned. His last words to me were, “we will talk again when I come out of the hospital but remember, a bishop is for the Diocese; the Diocese is not for the bishop”.
What he said to me, he lived all his life. He was a bishop who lived for the Church he loved by offering faithful service as the Pope’s Man and by being a bishop who shepherded us bishops and in turn helped us shepherd the Churches entrusted by God to our care.
May the Lord who showed pity on the crowd and then fed them by transforming the simple loaves and fish of his first apostles, continue to feed us His Church with the bread of life and to give us priests and bishops who are like my friend. He joyfully and with wisdom and love offered his life for the Church he loved. May we all know with heart and soul that Paul is right when he reminds us that we are the beneficiaries of that astounding truth that “neither life nor death…nor any other creatures can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Eternal rest grant unto Archbishop Pietro Sambi, O Lord. May perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace Amen