by Father John Bartunek
From The Catholic Spiritual Direction
“For we do not receive this food as ordinary bread and as ordinary drink; but just as Jesus Christ our Savior became flesh through the word of God, and assumed flesh and blood for our salvation, so too we are taught that the food over which the prayer of thanksgiving, the word received from Christ, has been said, the food which nourishes our flesh and blood by assimilation, is the flesh and blood of this Jesus who became flesh.”
- St. Justin Martyr
Mark 6:30-44: The apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught. Then he said to them, ‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’; for there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat. So they went off in a boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But people saw them going, and many could guess where; and from every town they all hurried to the place on foot and reached it before them. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.
By now it was getting very late, and his disciples came up to him and said, ‘This is a lonely place and it is getting very late, So send them away, and they can go to the farms and villages round about, to buy themselves something to eat’. He replied, ‘Give them something to eat yourselves.’ They answered, ‘Are we to go and spend two hundred denarii on bread for them to eat?’ ‘How many loaves have you?’ he asked. ‘Go and see.’ And when they had found out they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’ Then he ordered them to get all the people together in groups on the green grass, and they sat down on the ground in squares of hundreds and fifties. Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing; then he broke the loaves and handed them to his disciples to distribute among the people. He also shared out the two fish among them all. They all ate as much as they wanted. They collected twelve basketfuls of scraps of bread and pieces of fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.”
Christ the Lord Every kingdom resembles its king; Jesus is a King who gives himself entirely for the welfare of his people; therefore his Kingdom overflows with justice, peace, and matchless prosperity – both materially and spiritually. First we see Christ himself working so hard to teach and heal the crowds that he doesn’t even have enough time to eat. Then the Twelve return from their first mission, brimming with excitement – but Jesus sees that they are exhausted and need a rest, so he invites them to go on a little getaway. When the crowds refuse to be put off, his heart is moved yet again, and he can’t help himself from taking care of them. Such is our Lord. He lived for us; he died for us; he intercedes for us – he is for us, even to the point of becoming our food in the Eucharist, the sacrament foreshadowed by the miraculous multiplication of the loaves. What better response can there be to this love, to this example, than to imitate it? And what else would our Lord expect from the citizens of his Kingdom?
It is not always easy to be followers of such a Lord. He often demands more from us than we think we can give. In this case, he demands that the apostles surrender to him all their food, which isn’t much, and then distribute it to the crowds. They must have felt like fools as they started the distribution – so little food for so many people! The Lord, however, can see the big picture. To be his follower means to trust that his vision is better.
Christ the Teacher Jesus’ apostles had completed their first successful missionary endeavor. After being with him for a long time, under his tutelage and guidance, they had been sent out to be his ambassadors, to announce his message and testify to its truth. Now they returned to report their progress. We know from the other evangelists that this moment of reunion is full of rejoicing and energy – they had experienced the power of God working through them, moving people’s hearts through their words and deeds. And how does Christ respond? He takes them aside to rest, to be with him again in the quiet intimacy of their small community.
The lesson is clear, but so hard to put into practice: active apostles, Christians who are energetically engaged in evangelizing the world around them, need to complement their activity with contemplation, with time spent in personal dialogue with the Lord. Without prayer and study and time alone with God, our well will soon run dry – we will have nothing substantial to offer others. But without action, without giving freely to others what we have freely received from God, our spiritual waters will become stagnant, lifeless – like a lake with no outlet. Contemplation and action, prayer and work – such was Christ’s way, and such should be every Christian’s way.
Christ the Friend “His heart was moved…” Jesus has a human heart; he took one on purpose – so that he could be close to us. He truly cares for us; he feels our needs and our struggles even more deeply than we feel them ourselves. And he continually reaches out to be our light and our strength. When we accept these offerings of his love, he is pleased, truly gratified; and when we reject them, he is hurt, truly stung by our ingratitude.
This is the lesson of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which has, through the centuries, confided its sorrows to certain chosen souls, like St. Gertrude and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.When we are dealing with Jesus Christ we are not dealing with an idea, a concept, or a philosophical “unmoved mover,” as Aristotle described God. In Christ, God has become a man, someone just like us; in heaven, this very moment, he exists as a man, body and soul, and he is “preparing a place” for us (John 14:2). Through the Holy Spirit and the Church, he extends his friendship to us, trying to draw us more fully into the indescribable joys of his own divine life, so that someday, when the time is right, we may enjoy the place he is preparing for us. Every human person seeks to live in communion with God; only those who find Christ get to live out that communion in the form of a real, human friendship.
The greatest summary and manifestation of God’s desire to be close to us, to share our every breath, is the sacrament of the Eucharist. The miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes in this passage prefigures the Eucharist, the sacrament in which Jesus miraculously transforms blood and wine into his body and blood, and gives himself to each of his followers in Holy Communion. The reason why Jesus multiplied the loaves is the same reason why he gives us the Eucharist: his heart goes out to us; he wants to give us true life. In each Holy Communion Jesus comes to renew his commitment to be our Shepherd, our own personal trainer for the soul. What more could he have done for us?
Christ in My Life You are always thinking of others’ needs – mine included. My heart tends to center on my own needs. But I know you can continue to change me. Keep teaching me, Lord. Keep making my heart more like yours: meek, humble, generous, and willing to give my life for the sake of your Kingdom…
Thank you for the gift of the Eucharist. Thank you for wanting to stay on earth for twenty centuries, so that you could come into my heart in Holy Communion. I cannot receive you now in the sacrament, but somewhere you are right now offering yourself again through your priests. Come spiritually into my heart and fill me to overflowing with your grace…
Who around me is like a sheep without a shepherd? Who is hungry and thirsty for meaning, truth, and love? You know, Lord. Show me. I want to tell them about you; I want to lead them to you. Guide my words and my example and draw others to your side through me…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.