Today is the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
by Fr. Francis Xaveir Weninger, 1877
“I have compassion on the multitude.”–Mark 8.
Christ sees the hungry multitude, and has pity on them. He feeds them by a miracle. What Christ at that time said, His heart had felt from its first pulsation; for it was the heart of the Redeemer of the world. This compassion was the cause of His coming upon the earth. He did not come to feed a few thousand hungry men, but to instruct all mankind, and to save them from eternal hunger. He came to feed us with the Manna of His divine Word, yes, with His own flesh and blood, in order to satiate us one day in heaven with the eternal fruition of His divine essence.
To this the words of David refer: “I shall be satiated when Thy glory shall appear;” and Christ Himself frequently makes use of the parable of a marriage feast when He speaks of heaven. But that we may enter heaven He requires our co-operation, and this co-operation depends on our confidence in His helping hand, and this confidence is, in its turn, awakened within us by meditation on the kindness and compassion of Christ, by which He so earnestly desires that His life, suffering, and death may not be lost upon us.
Let us consider today the compassion Jesus bears for every one of us. Mary, mother of mercy, thou who next to Jesus hast most pity on us fallen children of Eve, have compassion on us, that the merits of thy divine Son be not lost upon us! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater of God!
How comforting it is to think of the compassionate Heart of Jesus. “I have compassion on the multitude,” said Jesus in regard to the four thousand men who had followed Him to hear His word. But He might have? said the same of the entire human race which He came to instruct and to save. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee,” says the Lord to every human soul. The decree of Providence; ordaining our redemption was an act of infinite mercy, consequently the human Heart of Jesus was filled with unspeakable compassion for man. We recognize this fact best when we consider in what manner the feeling of pity is at times awakened and strengthened in our own hearts, and thence conclude that the same must hold true of the heart and mercy of Christ, since He was as much man as ourselves.
The first thing we have to consider, however, at present, is the nature of the human heart; for as experience teaches us there is a great difference in hearts. There are men who are naturally kind and compassionate, while others remain cold and insensible to the misery of their fellow-creatures. To understand how compassionate, how sympathetic God created the heart that beat in the breast of Christ, we need only think why the Son of God became man, and as such entered this world. Holy Writ assures us that all things were ordered wisely and mightily by God; and St. Bernardine of Sienna, as well as other theologians, maintains, that if God allots a certain vocation to any one, then He bestows upon him all the divine graces he needs for this vocation.
Now Christ was to suffer, to shed His blood for each human soul; hence, God the Father bestowed upon Him the most compassionate heart that ever beat upon earth. We are justified in saying that if all the loving hearts of all the mothers and fathers upon earth were melted into one for one child, this one heart would not contain the love that Jesus bears for each individual human soul, nor the pity that He feels for each one's wretchedness.
The second cause which heightens pity in our hearts, is the magnitude of the misfortune that has befallen another, and that we, perhaps, understand the consequences better than the sufferer himself. There is a great difference between knowing that some one is hungry, and seeing him die of starvation. There is a great difference between knowing that a house is on fire, and seeing an incendiary at his criminal work. There is a great difference between knowing that someone has wounded himself, and seeing him bleeding to death.
Now, Christ beholds the entire misfortune into which we were plunged by the fall of Adam, and He also sees at the same time the misfortune we have drawn upon ourselves by our own personal sins. He sees that our merits for heaven are lost, and that we are in danger of never entering its gates. He sees, further, the horrors of an eternal condemnation if we depart from the world in this state. How powerful a motive for His loving heart to have compassion on us! The present and the future lie like an open book before Him, says St. Paul.
The heart is still more moved to pity when the sufferer is some one united to us by the bonds of blood or friendship. This is the case of Christ in regard to us. We are his brothers and sisters, and what He feels for us, no earthly brother, sister, or friend feels, or can ever feel. The wish to help another is stronger than ever when we have already done a great deal for the person in need. Every artist takes the utmost care that the work which he has completed be not damaged or lost; and the more trouble it cost him to produce it, the greater is his solicitude. Now, let us consider what Christ, during His entire life upon earth, did and suffered for us at every step, and particularly during His passion and death upon the cross. How great, how inexpressibly great, is His desire, that His precious and dearly bought merits be not lost upon one of the children of men! Hence His cry upon the cross: “I thirst!” The fate of the soul upon whom Christ's merits are lost will be far more terrible than if Jesus had not suffered to redeem man.
How great a sorrow must this be for the compassionate heart of Jesus! Our pity is still more intense when he who suffers will not allow us to help him, although we are abundantly able to do so, and would feel the happier for it. This is exactly the case in regard to the compassion the heart of Jesus feels for us. He instituted His Church, and left her many and effective means of grace; and besides this He bestows many divine graces upon all in order to save them, yet without doing violence to their will; and when He succeeds His happiness in heaven as Saviour of mankind is increased; for there is more joy in heaven over one soul doing penance than over ninety-nine just. “For this,” says David, “will every saint one day give thanks to Thee.”
Let us therefore frequently consider this compassion of Christ, that our confidence in His assistance may awaken and become strong, and that one day may be fulfilled in us also the Word of the Lord: “Because He has hoped in me, I will deliver Him! . . . . I will deliver Him and will glorify Him!” Amen!
Jesus gave thanks. The actions of our Lord are intended by Him as an example for us. By Him alone, and by imitating His virtues, can we hope to besaved. We must tread the path He has traced out for us; we must follow in His footsteps, and daily fashion ourselves more and more to His image and likeness, if we would hope one day to arrive at His kingdom and His happiness. “For,” says the Apostle, “Whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His Son.”
Hence the fact related in this day's Gospel is not without meaning for us. Jesus gave thanks. We also must give thanks, thanks to God. What a noble, comforting and meritorious duty! “Be thankful,” says the Apostle to the faithful. Now, that we may be thankful to God in fact, and in a manner worthy of His divine Majesty, we should bear in mind the circumstances which, even among men, call for gratitude. With His standard before our minds, and remembering God's countless graces and favors towards us, we shall be forced to exclaim, with the royal Prophet: “What shall I render to the Lord for all the things that He has rendered unto me?” The first thing is thanks.
O Mary, teach us to comprehend the immensity of the gratitude we owe to God; teach us to fulfill this duty upon earth, that we may deserve to intone one day in heaven our “magnificat” of praise and thanksgiving with the raptures of thy grateful heart, before the throne of His infinite mercy! I speak in the name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
On all sides the voice of Nature proclaims aloud man's duty of gratitude. A little grain of corn is laid in the bosom of the earth, and it yields a hundred fold for man's use and benefit. “The earth that bringeth forth thorns and briars,” says the Apostle, “is reprobate . . . whose end is to be burnt.” Even the dumb brutes that surround us teach us the same lesson. Do not the wildest beasts put oft their ferocity and become tame under the gentle care of him who feeds them? The dog that, in his eager watchfulness around his master's homestead, bites the intruding wayfarer has, so to say, done; his duty; but should he turn upon his master and wound him, he is killed.
But what shall we say of man's opinion of gratitude? Ingratitude is cursed even by the ungrateful. Man, indeed, sometimes impiously and wantonly boasts of his deeds of guilt and shame, but who has ever vaunted of his ingratitude? Rather would one deny an act of kindness bestowed, than, owning it, proclaim his ingratitude.
Now, as Christians, how ardent should be the yearnings of our hearts to thank the Lord for all His gifts! For, if the duty of gratitude is to be commensurate to the dignity and greatness of our benefactor, the value and number of the benefits received; if the magnificence and unworthiness of the recipient should increase the measure of his thanks, what limits can man put to his gratitude towards God, whose exalted Majesty has deigned to shower down the torrents of His love and mercy upon the lowest and most helpless of His reasonable creatures? See what God has done for man, and learn what an imperative and just duty he has to exert his every power to make a suitable return to his generous and almighty Benefactor.
In the first place, then, I say our obligation of gratitude grows stricter in proportion to the rank of him who bestows the kindness and the lowliness of him who receives it. Now, who is it that heaps His favors and mercies upon us? Who, but the God of infinite majesty and glory, the Creator and Preserver of the world; Who, though He wants us not, deigns, nevertheless, to accept our services. Yet what are we, even the worthiest amongst us? Creatures in the lowest scale of rational beings, called from nothingness into life and existence by a mere act of God's all-powerful will. In body, formed out of the clay of the earth, destined to become dust and ashes, and a banquet for worms; by descent, members of a fallen race children of wrath robbed, by the fall of our first parents, of sanctifying grace; offspring of sin, from our very conception, and enemies of God! Add to this the deformity of our personal sins and ill-doings, many, perhaps, and grievous! Such is man!
Now, that God in His mercy should, notwithstanding all this, have made us children of His house, the Church, cleansed us in the sacred laver of baptism from the defilements of sin, and poured out upon us an unceasing stream of spiritual and temporal blessings, that God, I say, should have dealt thus mercifully towards us, is surely a strong motive for gratitude on our part.
I said before, that the duty of gratitude increases with the number of the benefits received. Well, then, let us consider these benefits in the order in which they have been lavished upon us by God, from the first moment of existence, both as to body and soul. See the benefits which accrue to man merely from those senses with which God has endowed and beautified his earthly frame. In order the more feelingly to understand and appreciate their value, consider what you would be without them!
You now see, hear, speak, feel, move and walk. If, at this moment, whilst I am addressing you, God were to destroy the powers of your senses, what would be your misfortune! Your eyes now see, and gaze exultingly upon the beauties of God's works upon the sun, moon and stars, streams and rivers, valleys and mountain-tops; but were God suddenly to spread the vail of blindness over those eyes, plunged in sad and melancholy darkness, how you would yearn after light! At present, you hear my words; but were God suddenly to take away your power of hearing, what anxiety would befall you! And should God suddenly deprive you of your speech, how would it be with you, dumb and unable to articulate an intelligible word, even like unto the beasts of the field? Or should He relax the nerves and muscles of your body, and leave you motionless and paralyzed upon a weary bed, how sad would be your plight! and how would you be a prey to melancholy, at seeing yourself, but a short time before active and vigorous, now unable to move hand or foot, and no better than a living corpse!
Do you now understand the use and benefit of those senses which God has so kindly and so wisely given to your body? Have you ever thought of all this? Have you ever thanked that almighty Architect who has thus wonderfully and wisely framed and embellished your earthly tabernacle? Perhaps never! But if our gratitude should be great from the consideration of the marvels of our bodily senses, what should it be when we consider the powers of our soul, the gifts of reason, memory and free-will? To what a sad condition would you be reduced, were you suddenly, here in this church, to lose your memory and your reason, be no longer conscious of who you are, where you are, and, consequently, all at once brought down to the level of unconscious brutes! Then, as man as a human being for how many benefits are you indebted to God! You are a being formed of a body and a soul; and, as to your soul, created to the image and likeness of God Himself.
Consider, moreover, what graces you have received in the order of nature. Every breath you draw, every pulsation of your heart, every drop of water, every mouthful of bread, the very garments with which you are clad, all are the gifts of God ! Considering all this, I ask you, with the Apostle: Man, “what hast thou that thou hast not received?”
But more urgent far will be our obligation to be grateful, if we reflect upon God's gifts in the order of grace. We were lost, irreparably lost, and banished from heaven; its gates were barred and bolted against us. But to repair our misfortune, the Son of God, clothed in our nature, came into this world, and won back the birthright we had forfeited; and, by His redeeming mercy and death, purchased for poor, forlorn mortals, the rich inheritance of which Adam had despoiled us. If we have been made the children of His Church, if we have been made the brothers of Jesus Christ, co-heirs to His kingdom, and partakers of His graces as our Redeemer, what share could we have had in all this without His bountiful mercy and generosity?
The Gentiles, who lived during those long and bleak four thousand years before the Redeemer came to perform His work, nay, millions who yet live and have lived since His coming, have not enjoyed these blessings. Again, how many in error, wandering shepherdless outside the fold of Christ's Church, and sitting in the shadow of irreligion, or of a faith that is not the faith of salvation and of God, how many, I say, are deprived of the graces and favors God has so bountifully conferred upon us!
Furthermore, let each one in particular weigh the many graces God has given him, through the Christian education he has received as a child of the Church; through the light-giving whisperings of God's Holy Spirit; through the counsel and advice of father, mother, and teacher, and, above all, through the participation of Christ's body and blood in the eucharistic banquet which he has been so often allowed to approach, despite the many sins of his former life!
Finally, reflect that Christ has gone to prepare an abode of rest and happiness for us not in some remote corner of the earth, but in the mansion of the God-head in heaven. Considering and pondering all these favors and blessings in our heart, is it possible not to cry out, with David: “What shall I render to the Lord? ” Give yourself to Him, and thank Him to your latest breath. These are the acknowledgments He demands of you! Amen!
Not only did Christ feed with the seven loaves of bread and the few fishes a multitude of people, but after they had eaten, more food remained than had been on hand before the distribution. They filled seven baskets with what was left. In all the events narrated by the Gospel, there is contained, according to the holy fathers, a moral and a spiritual lesson. The circumstance that seven baskets were filled with remnants, has, therefore, a moral application.
I shall, today, speak of the increase which seven virtues revive in us, if we place ourselves with confidence in the arms of divine Providence, and accustom ourselves to put our hope, in God, and to receive gratefully from His hands whatever He bestows upon us, for body and soul, for time and for eternity. These seven baskets of virtues are, namely, the practice of the theological virtues faith, hope, and charity; of those moral virtues that have a direct influence upon the sanctification of our lives as children of God, which are: humility, patience, fortitude, and zeal in the fulfillment of corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
I shall, today, consider with you these seven baskets of virtue, which are filled by our trust in Divine Providence. O Mary, mother, who, with all the love of thy motherly heart, takest care of us, bless us, and strengthen our trust in the providence of God! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
The first virtue which is exercised and strengthened by our trust in the Lord's providence is the virtue of holy faith. He that trusts in God's providence, makes by this trust an act of faith, since he recognizes God as the almighty, infinite, kind, and faithful God, who has assured us so solemnly, and especially, through Christ, that He would take care of us like a Father. Consider the lilies of the field, and the grass of the earth; the Father takes care of them, how much more of you! No sparrow falls to the ground without His will; how much more will He take care of you! Not a hair will fall from your head without His will. Faith shows itself strongest where there is but little hope of human help, and hence the virtue of Christian hope is strengthened by our trust in God's providence.
Whoever trusts in God, hopes, and this hope is the more glorious and victorious, as there is less prospect that men will or can stretch out their hand to help us. This hope grows and becomes strong when we learn, by experience, how unexpectedly and mightily God comes to our help in need and sorrow. This trust, this knowledge, nourishes and strengthens in us the virtue of love for God, by the gratitude we feel when the Almighty has heard our supplication, our prayer, and sent more than we asked for and expected. It is mostly gratitude for received benefits that keeps bright the fire of love in our hearts.
These exercises of the three theological virtues and their increase in our heart, are the first three baskets of virtue which trust in the providence of God fills. This trust in God's providence has, in addition, the most beneficial influence upon the moral disposition of our hearts, through the exercise of those virtues that most aid us in the sanctification of our lives, namely: humility, patience, fortitude, and zeal in the practice of corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
I say, first: humility. Pride is self-confident, and feels not its own weakness. A proud man trusts himself, his own talents, skill, intelligence, or he has confidence in his ability to procure the assistance of others; whereas a Christian, who has put his trust in God, practices humility, by not depending on his own power, but on the wise guidance of God. A Christian, habituated to trust in God's providence, exercises himself also in holy patience. He who depends solely upon himself or upon others, is easily roused to impatience when he encounters an obstacle, or is deceived; and hence the want of firmness, of stability, in all his undertakings. Quite different is he who trusts in God; he bears with patience all that is antagonistic to him, all that obstructs his endeavors, and perseveres until the end. He adores the Lord's decrees, knowing full well that God has, perhaps, not immediately answered his prayers, in order that patience might increase his merits, and to bestow still greater graces upon him in recompense for his perseverance, his obedience to Divine dispensations. He looks upon Abraham, the Father of the faithful, of whom Holy Writ says: “He hoped against hope,” which is exactly that disposition which bears witness to the fortitude of our faith, hope, and charity.
Our trust in the providence of God is especially important, because it enables us to do all that the love of God, the desire to glorify Him, demands, and because it also urges us to be kind to our neighbor, and to take care of his body and soul, and in this manner it arouses and strengthens our zeal in the spreading of the kingdom of God upon earth. Proofs of this we can find in the lives of the saints. How many and how great their undertakings, especially for the dissemination of faith, and in the foundation of religious orders! Had they trusted in themselves, or in men alone, they would never have been inspired with the lofty thoughts of the children of God, as Holy Writ calls them; they would not have executed their plans so joyfully, and would not have overcome so courageously and successfully all the obstacles that barred their path.
Their trust was in God. They felt and confessed it before God and man, and this disposition of their heart was often visible in their outward manner. Thus we read, for example, of St. Francis Xavier, that if people who did not know him were asked how he looked, by what they could recognize him, they answered: “If you meet a priest who often raises his eyes to heaven you may know that it is Francis Xavier.” This upward look of the saint tells in whom he trusted, from whence he expected help and blessing in order to execute successfully the grand work for which God sent him to Asia.
Similar facts are related to us of other saints. Their trust was: “The Lord!” Behold here the seven baskets of virtue, which trust in God's providence fills to overflowing! This disposition of the heart is especially important in carrying to a successful issue the work of salvation. Whoever during life is accustomed to repose trustingly in the arms of divine Providence, will do the same when he comes to die, and he can then, full of confidence, say with St. Francis Xavier: “In Thee, O God, have I trusted; I shall not be confounded!” Amen! (1)
by Fr. Raphael Frassinetti, 1900
SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST Gospel. Mark viii. 1 – 9. At that time, when there was a great multitude with Jesus, and they had nothing to eat, calling His disciples together, He saith to them: I have compassion on the multitude: for behold they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat. And if I shall send them away fasting to their home, they will faint in the way: for some of them came from afar off. And His disciples answered Him: From whence can any one fill them here with bread in the wilderness? And He asked them: How many loaves have ye? who said: Seven, and He commanded the multitude to sit down upon the ground. And taking the seven loaves, giving thanks, He broke, and gave to His disciples to set before them, and they set them before the people. And they had a few little fishes, and He blessed them, and commanded them to be set before them. And they did eat and were filled, and they took up that which was left of the fragments, seven baskets. And they that had eaten were about four thousand: and He sent them away.
Our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ came down from heaven to take upon Himself our human nature through the motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary–for our salvation and to take away our sins. For thirty-three years He prepared Himself for this mission, in silence, prayer, and retirement, in order to preach the glad tidings of the Gospel. As He travelled through the land of Judea, He was always attended by crowds of people, who were attracted by His goodness, His doctrine, and His grace. He healed all manner of sickness, He caused the blind to see, the deaf to hear; the dumb came to Him, and He bade them speak, and their tongues were loosed; the dead were raised to life, and many other things did this great wonder-worker perform in that little country of Judea.
So great was the eagerness with which the people followed Our Lord, that they forgot everything, their food, their rest, and their business, in listening to His eloquence. They forgot to go to their homes, so great was their desire to be instructed by the Saviour. This should be a lesson to us: showing us how we should seek the word of God and listen to it with avidity. But of this I have spoken before: let me now merely remind you that the food of the soul is the word of God; that unless we give it this food the soul will lose its vigor and fall into a mortal sickness. How many are there who are already stricken with this death, and do not know their unhappy state. As Isaias says: “There are those who call evil good, and good, evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” There are some who make a boast of not having heard the word of God for many years. What blindness to boast of this! We hear sermons rarely enough; and when we do hear them, are we attentive? We never learn without attention. The Emperor Constantine had such respect for the word of God that he listened to it standing, and when asked to sit down, he said that holy things should be listened to standing, as did the first Christians in the ages of fervor. Those who will not listen to the word of God with respect and attention are judged by the words of Our Lord Himself, “My brethren are they who hear the word of God.”
Our Lord saw this great multitude patiently following Him. He approved of their great desire to hear Him, and calling His disciples together He said, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with Me now three days, and have not what to eat, and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint on the way.” Such is the tender heart of Our Lord: not only will He reward fidelity to Him in the next world, but even in this. Hold to Our Lord, therefore, with all faith and confidence. David, the prophet king, cries out, “I have been young, and now am old, and I have not seen the just forsaken nor his seed seeking bread.” Fear then the Lord; live good lives, be obedient to His laws, and you will want for nothing.
This beautiful lesson the elder Tobias impressed on the mind of his son. One day he called him and said: “Fear not my son: we lead indeed a poor life, but we shall have many good things if we fear God, and depart from all sin, and do that which is good.” Tobias and the Jews were in exile and captivity, were dependent slaves to cruel masters, and still he had such unswerving faith in the goodness of God that not with one word did he complain of that providence that ordered things in this way. And even in a worldly sense this confidence was not disappointed; for an angel became his son's conductor to a far off country, where he was happily married and received a large sum of money for the relief of his necessities.
Our Lord in the tenderness of His heart asked how many loaves of bread there were. A few fishes and seven loaves were all that could be collected. Then He made them sit down on the grass, blessed the loaves, and the disciples distributed them. They multiplied in such a manner in their hands that all had more than enough, and seven baskets were gathered of the fragments. Did you ever, my dear young friends, reflect that this miracle is repeated at all times in this world by almighty God? When the fanner takes the little seed and places it in the ground, it comes up and multiplies a hundredfold in the crop that is gathered in, and many millions of people are fed by it. This multiplication is not only seen in the seed of the field, but in the multiplication of fishes, of animals, and of men. Of these things we do not take much notice, they are in the ordinary course of the things of this world; but they are not the less wonderful. Be grateful to God for all this, look up to Him, and thank Him for the abundance He has bestowed on us. Consider, too, the innumerable graces that God has been pleased to send us without ceasing; consider the light He pours in upon our souls, the inspirations to our minds; the helps for our spiritual life; the Sacraments, fountains of all blessings, by which He feeds the soul, and especially His sacred body and blood, which is intended by Him as the great food of the soul.
St. Teresa, reflecting on the great benefits Our Lord bestows on man, especially in the sacrament of His divine love, the Holy Eucharist, says, “If you give a bone, which is no longer wanted, to a dog, he will show by his joyful leaps and the wagging of his tail how glad he is for the gift.” How grateful should man, then, show himself for God's wonderful kindnesses! Impress deeply on your minds, my dear young people, the gratitude you ought to show to almighty God, and use every means to glorify His goodness.
Once, in the amphitheatre of Rome, a slave was to be torn by a hungry and ferocious lion; when the unfortunate man was placed in the arena, the lion bounded toward him, as if to tear him to pieces. But instead of killing him, the beast crouched down before him, and acted in the most friendly way, because at one time the poor slave had taken a thorn from its paw, and the lion recognized its friend. Tremendous was the applause at this fortunate recognition, and the slave's life was spared. You, having reason, and knowing from whom all good gifts come, show your gratitude like rational beings. God has given you life, has preserved it, has given you health and vigor; He continually protects you from the many enemies that are threatening you, especially the devil. What has not almighty God done? You ought to open your eyes and consider yourselves the happiest youths in the world, for all the benefits you are enjoying through His goodness, and of which so many others are deprived. You will acknowledge the goodness of God at the judgment seat. God is like a good king, who took his favorite out of the midst of destruction, and put him in a safe place, whence he could see all, and where he would have him acknowledge that his fate would have been similar had the king permitted him to remain with the others. You will see the millions of wicked sent to hell, while you are going to heaven; by the mercy of God, you have been preserved and placed in safety, where the fire of hell cannot touch you.
Then, indeed, and for all eternity, you will raise your voice in thanksgiving for His interposition in your behalf, “when you shall see the sinner perish.” (2)
Image: Jesus feeds the multitude. (4)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff