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Father Cantalamessa on Multiplying the Loaves

A Commentary by Pontifical Household Preacher

ROME, JULY 30, 2005 (Zenit) - In his commentary on this Sunday's readings, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, suggests how all Christians can be multipliers of the faith.

* * *

Matthew (14:13-21)

All Were Satisfied

One day Jesus withdrew in a boat to a lonely place apart, on the Sea of Galilee. But when he went ashore, he saw a great multitude awaiting him, "and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick."

He spoke to them of the kingdom of God. Meanwhile night began to fall. The Apostles suggested that he send the crowds away, to go into the villages and buy food for themselves. But Jesus surprised them, saying in a voice so that all could hear: "You give them something to eat!"

Disconcerted, the disciples responded: "We have only five loaves here and two fish!" Jesus ordered that they bring them to him. Then he ordered all to sit down. He took the five loaves and the two fish, prayed, gave thanks to the Father, and then ordered that they be distributed to the crowds.

"They all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over." There were five thousand men, not counting the women and children, says the Gospel. It was the most joyful picnic in the world.

What does this Gospel passage teach us? First, that Jesus is concerned and "feels compassion" for the whole man, body and soul. Jesus distributes the word to souls, and cures and nourishes bodies. One could, therefore, object: Why doesn't he do so also today? Why doesn't he multiply bread for so many millions of hungry in the world?

The Gospel of the multiplication of the loaves has a detail that can help us find the answer. Jesus did not click his fingers and make loaves and fish appear as though by magic. He asked his disciples what they had; he invited them to share the little they had: five loaves and two fish.

He does the same today. He asks that we share in common the resources of the earth. It is well known that, at least from the point of view of food, our earth would be capable of sustaining billions more human beings than those existing at present. But how can we accuse God of not providing sufficient bread for all, when every year we destroy millions of tons of food supplies, which we call "surplus," so as not to lower prices? A better distribution is necessary, greater solidarity and sharing: therein is the solution.

I know: It's not so simple. There is the craze for armaments; there are irresponsible rulers who contribute to maintain many populations in hunger. But part of the responsibility also falls on the rich countries. We are now that anonymous person (a boy, according to one of the evangelists) who has five loaves and two fish; except that we hold them tightly and take care not to share them among all.

By the way it is described -- "and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples" -- the multiplication of the loaves and the fish has always made one think of the multiplication of that other bread which is the body of Christ. Because of this the most ancient representations of the Eucharist show us a basket with five loaves and, on the sides, two fish, as the mosaic discovered in Tabga, in Palestine, in the church erected in the place of the multiplication of the loaves, or in the fresco of the Catacombs of St. Priscilla.

In fact, what we are also doing at present is a multiplication of the loaves -- the bread of the word of God. I have broken the bread of the word and the press has multiplied my words, so that more than five thousand men, also this time, have eaten and are satisfied. A task remains: "to take up the pieces left over," to have the word also reach those who have not participated in the banquet -- to become "repeaters" and witnesses of the message.

[Italian original published in Famiglia Cristiana]

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