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God Makes Great Things Happen with Small Means

As I write, it is the anniversary of the imposition of Traditionis custodes, certainly the legacy document of the Francis pontificate. While it seems, ultimately, destined for dusty irrelevance, it is now a neuralgic sign of the times. Almost by way of a celebration of TC, bad news comes from Chicago for the faithful who attend the Institute of Christ the King, and also of the Diocese of Savannah, upon whom Rome has issued a terminal date for Traditional Latin Mass. These are bad signs, clearly, because they show how little regard those in power have for the faithful. And I mean “faithful.” These are the people who actually go to church week in and week out, teach their children to believe what the Church teaches, and strive to live as Catholics in a fallen world. On the other hand, as Tertullian remarks, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. These good people are not experiencing bloody martyrdom at this point, but their experience at the hands of those who ought to be embracing them is a kind of white martyrdom. If a stranger hurts you, you hurt. If someone to whose care you have been entrusted hurts you, you hurt more.

That said, when crossing the threshold of a church for Sunday Mass we enter the Domus Dei at the Porta Caeli, the House of God by the Gate of Heaven. We can bring our cares with us to place upon the altar for their raising and transformation. We can bring those who harm us or betray us and entrust them to the merciful healing ministration of God.

In our Gospel reading for Sunday, we hear of the miraculous feeding of the 4000 in the wilderness.

The miraculous feeding of the 4000 is only in Mark and Matthew. They are in the region of the Ten Cities or Decapolis, outside the “promised land,” in Gentile territory. Christ miraculously multiplies 7 loaves and 2 fish and, thereby, feeds 4000 men, not counting women and children. There are 7 baskets of leftovers.

There is a parallel miracle, the feeding the 5000 by the Sea of Galilee in Jewish territory at modern day Tabgha.

The numbers and the places are important, as is demonstrated by the fact that the Lord asked the Apostles if they understood what He had done.

‘When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ ‘Twelve,’ they replied. ‘And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ They answered, ‘Seven.’ He said to them, ‘Do you still not understand?’ (Mark 8:19-21).

The 5000 were Jews, by the Sea of Galilee and the 4000 were in Gentile territory. In this two-fold miraculous feeding of multitudes in barren places, the Lord revealed Himself as the new Moses feeding the people with the new Manna in the wilderness during the Exodus. He is the new Moses just for the Jews but for the whole world, the Gentiles as well. The 7 baskets represent the 7 Gentile nations descended from Canaan son of Ham son of Noah, that once occupied the land of Canaan: the Canaanites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hittites, Hivites, Jebusites and the Perizzites.

12 Baskets (Apostles – Tribes) in the Jewish territory. 7 baskets (Gentile nations) outside Jewish territory. All peoples will be gathered in Christ.

All will be miraculously fed with superabundant food through the hands of the apostles once Christ ascends and the Great Commission begins.

You might recall that in between these two instances of miraculous multiplication of food, there is the incident with the so-called Syrophoenician woman related in Mark 7 and Matthew 15. She is the Gentile woman, a Canaanite, who begged the healing of her daughter. At first the Lord ignored her pleas, saying “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” She replied, “Yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28). Christ relented and healed the woman’s daughter. An explanation of the Lord’s reluctance come from the idea that, first and foremost, He was sent to be among the Jews, to call them to Himself. It would fall to the Apostles to go out among the Gentiles, to bring the Good News and to heal. As the Ignatius Catholic Bible Study puts it, “Israel’s leftover bread will be given to the Gentiles.”

In these miracles that the Lord performed, using earthly things like mud and spittle, bread and fish, there is an elevation of the natural to the supernatural. It is therefore natural that we should look for supernatural meanings in His actions. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas, in explaining Christ’s encounter with the Syrophoenician woman, says that the five qualities she displays, humility, patience, prayerfulness, perseverance and faith, are sign posts to us: “If we had had these five qualities we should be delivered from every devil, that is, from all sin; which may Christ grant us to be. Amen.”

This sort of elevating explanation is exactly the opposite of what modernists try to do, which is the reduce the supernatural to the natural. For example, in pulpits far and wide when the Gospel accounts of the miraculous feedings come up, priests and bishops will be heard to say that the real miracle was that, inspired by Christ, people took out the food they were all secretly hoarding and shared it with each other. This flies in the face of the account in the Gospel, but that’s modernism for you. This canard was cobbled up some 150 years by a German rationalist who hired Hegel at the University of Heidelberg named Heinrich Paulus (+1851). He explained away Christ’s miracles by reducing them to natural events. His efforts were later taken up by German theologian and musicologist Albert Schweitzer (+1965). He should have stuck with Bach. They both tried to explain away the text by mere natural means. This is the essence of modernism: reduction of the supernatural to the natural.

A clue that you are in contact with modernism is liturgical “dumbing down.” Be wary.

Here is something we can take away on a natural level. God makes great things happen with small means. We are His small means, natural but with supernatural souls. We can be conduits of graces, as the matter of Sacraments work miraculous, insensible things in us.

The material things we have, life itself, is from God in the first place. By letting go and using even small means generously, great things can be multiplied, both spiritually and materially. Entrepreneurs get that: they take risks and make gains and they benefit many. How much more should we be willing to do our little part for the sake of great gains.

On that note, never underestimate the power of an invitation. We all know Catholics whose faith is dying or dead. Rather, their conscious and active identity as Catholics, is at best dormant. The virtue of faith is the last of the theological virtues to fade, after charity and hope. Avoid bitterness or arguments with them. These days, it is very hard to lead people through a line of thought. We live in an age where the nonsensical “That might be true for you!” makes sense to a lot of people. Instead, show them joy in your Catholic Faith and be inviting. Even if people refuse, they are still pleased that you thought enough about them to invite them. Never underestimate the power of an invitation. Invite fallen-away Catholics to Mass and other parish events. If every regular church-goer would remember to invite someone every week to come with him, imagine what an effect that could have. Many will not accept. Some will. But if many are doing the inviting, many will eventually come. Everyone benefits. Parishes grow. Souls are helped. You please God Who will crown your deeds with His own merits.

Little miracle will multiply.

Fathers: that means that you have to provide the very best for them to encounter when they step into that church for the first time in who knows how long. Examine your consciences on this point.


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