This post appeared as a column in the January 16 bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church. It was written during the cold snap the week before.
As I write this morning, it’s -24 outdoors. That people work outdoors in this weather—expanding our church facilities, for example—is amazing. That people sleep and starve outdoors in this weather while I sit comfortably typing away is tragic and humbling.
The daily readings for the week after Epiphany focus on the love of God, in concept (Saint John’s first letter, explaining that God is love, and all that implies) and in deed (examples of Jesus’ teaching, feeding, healing, and other miracles from Saints Mark and Luke.
The gospel for January 5 was Mark’s story of the feeding of the 5,000, followed by Jesus walking on water and calming the sea. Once Jesus joins His disciples in the boat, Mark ends with this:
They were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.Mark 6:52
My first thought reading this was, “What’s not to understand? How could Jesus miraculously feeding 5,000-plus people harden the hearts of His followers?”
Perhaps the answer is in my question: The disciples watch the miracles unfold—the multiplications of loaves and fishes, the walking on water, the calming of the sea—and they are amazed and even frightened at what Jesus can do. Perhaps they forgot the command He gave that set the first of these miracles in motion: “Give them some food yourselves.” Perhaps they don’t believe they can make any difference. Indeed, they respond to the Lord’s request almost sarcastically: “Are we to buy two hundred days’ wages worth of food and give it to them to eat?”
The gospel for the next day speaks specifically to Jesus’ mission—and ours:
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.Luke 4:17-19
Baptized and confirmed Catholics are called, anointed, consecrated to the same purpose prophesied by Isaiah. This was not the Lord’s job, but His reason for being—and the same applies to us.
Nor did Jesus merely proclaim the Kingdom—He actively worked to bring it to fruition. The gospel for January 7 is Luke’s account of the cleansing of a man “full of leprosy” (Luke 5:12-16). The man turns to Jesus with a beautiful statement of faith: “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus responds: “I do will it. Be made clean.”—and the man is healed completely.
The message of these three gospel passages together is clear to me: Charity is a theological virtue and a gift, but it is also participatory. Love is an act of the will, but it is also targeted, personal, and embodied. As a disciple of Jesus, I have a mission to care for those in need; it requires not just my will, but my material participation and my faith that Jesus will provide the abundance I lack.
Willing an abstract good to the abstract needy is not enough. I cannot outsource this mission to missionaries, the Church, or the government. To love as God loves is to come face-to-face with need, suffering, despair, and to do what I can to relieve it.
I’ve been comfortable too long. How about you?