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Feed Them Yourselves

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Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi, 2022

“Give them some food yourselves” (Luke 9:13).

Can you imagine the looks on the Apostles’ faces when Our Lord said these words to them? Here they were, twelve men who had left everything behind to follow Jesus (Luke 18:28), and now faced with the presence of an immense and hungry crowd of those who followed him, starving to hear His presence, thirsting to hear His voice, the twelve find themselves at a loss. “Send the crowd away,” they pleaded with Jesus, “so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place” (Luke 9:12). I would submit that these words of the Twelve contain within them the attitude that all fathers are called to live this day and everyday.

Of course, I am not referring to the first line, “send them away so they can get something to eat for themselves,” although I am sure that, faced with a multitude of responsibilities at work and home, many a father has felt this way multiple times. In fact, sadly, many do just that, send their families away to fend for themselves either by walking out on their families literally, or emotionally, sitting on the couch because after all, it’s “evening” as the Apostles say, or it’s the weekend, and I have put my 40 hours in, so let mom take care of it or let them take care of it themselves, whatever they are dealing with. A look around our society today tells demonstrates the results of such an attitude. But Jesus rejects this mentality, taking up instead a full-throated “no days off” mentality. You see, Jesus was training these Twelve to be the first Twelve spiritual fathers of the Church, and there was to be literally no days off for them from here on out until the day they had exhausted themselves in spiritual fatherhood to the nascent and burgeoning Church (with the exception of Judas that is).

That said, as the Truth, Jesus also recognized the Truth in the Apostles’ plea, He knows that it stems from their recognition of their poverty, but He wants them to recognize it to by naming it directly. And so He says to them, “Give them some food yourselves” (Luke 9:13). At this point, the Apostles state the obvious, there is no way they can feed all these people! “We have no more than five loaves and two fish–unless we are to go and buy food for all these people” (Luke 9:13). The disciples seem to be being a bit tongue-in-cheek here, how were these twelve men who had left everything behind supposed to buy dinner for about five thousand people (Luke 9:14)? But the response is what Jesus is looking for. Precisely, you don’t have the means to feed them with, Jesus is saying to them, but I do, so “Make them sit down in groups of fifty” and bring what you do have to me (Luke 9:14).

This is the attitude every father must have. I do not have the means to take care of these people I have been given. It matters not whether you scrape up the money to make it through the day, week, or month, or you are gainfully employed, own your own business, and have not a financial care in the world. The reality is the same. In absolute terms, human fathers in and of themselves are all alike in abject poverty. Stop and think, in absolute terms, “what do you have that you haven’t been given?” (1 Cor. 4:7). And it all starts in the most basic of ways, your very life. Not a single one of us can give ourselves that, and everything that builds from there is based on that primordial gift. So, what do you have that you haven’t been given? (1 Cor. 4:7).

To realize one’s poverty is an important recognition for everyone. But it’s even more important for fathers (and mothers of course). For as parents, fathers and mothers have been entrusted to be co-creators with God, “cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives” (Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 8). This is an extremely important point to recognize about fatherhood (and motherhood), not even this, the seemingly most biological and basic of all realities, according to the Christian faith, is accomplished by humans alone. Without an echo of the first fiat that brought something into existence from nothing being uttered by God, not a single one of us would be walking the face of the earth. Each and every single one of us represents a resounding Yes from God, let it be. And so, every human father, in looking upon their children ought to feel deep within the core of their very persons: I cannot account for you, I see you, with your own mind, your own will, and I know I did not and could not have given that to you, you are, in the end, a mystery. The mystery that is the human life ought to weigh heavily on human parents, fathers and mothers alike. Because in recognizing the mystery we at once recognize the gift. Father’s Day, perhaps more than any other day of the year ought to prompt fathers to look themselves in the mirror and ask, what do I have that I have not been given? My children? No way.

And so, if human fathers aren’t ultimately the source of their own children even in the most basic sense, it is highly unlikely they will have the resources to give them anything, on their own. So Jesus says to us, bring what you do have, what you have been given, to me. He takes it into His hands and sets to work, doing only what the Creator can do, bringing something into existence from nothing. He takes the five loaves and two fish, a meal fit for a few, blesses them, breaks them, and feeds thousands (Luke 9:16). He takes a man, nothing but dust and ash, blesses him, breaks him, and makes him a father. Yes, just as He once did to the five loaves and two fish, Jesus blesses and breaks us each and every single time we participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Christian fatherhood, no less than the spiritual fatherhood we call the sacramental priesthood (although in distinct ways), finds its source and summit in the Eucharist. And it must, because both have been called to make present the One Father, present to their families through unity with Christ. “Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father,” Jesus says to Phillip (John 14:9). By making us one with Christ, the Eucharist empowers us to make the very Fatherhood of God present to the world, through Its Humility, Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Courage, all various manifestations of the One Eternal Self-Giving Love.

We come there to a startling realization. The Eucharist, no less than fatherhood, presents us with a task. You see, it is no good to be called a father and then not to give oneself completely for one’s family. Neither is it any good to receive the Eucharist if we fail to expend ourselves completely to live as Christ did. Both would constitute grave abuses of something most august. Fatherhood no less than the Eucharist finds its end in something else, in someone else. The Eucharist finds its end in transforming us into the very presence of God in the world, the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1325); fatherhood finds its end in aiding children in becoming saints (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, suppl., q. 49). Finally, both find their end in drawing those to whom they are directed into the eternal embrace of the Father. The difference is, of course, the Eucharist can do this because the Eucharist is the Son, human fatherhood has no ability to gift children with the care needed to become sons and daughters of God. Consequently, just as no man can consecrate bread and wine on his own volition so that it might become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ apart from the sacrament of Holy Orders, so too, no human father can make the love of God present to his children apart from the Eucharist. Only with the Eucharist, only by living in unity with Christ can we even approach becoming what it truly means to be a father that is worthy of the name.

In explaining what the Eucharist meant to his parishioners, St. Augustine of Hippo had this to say:

What you can see here, dearly beloved, on the table of the Lord, is bread and wine; but this bread and wine, when the word is applied to it, becomes the body and blood of the Word…Because, yes, the very Word took to himself a man, that is the soul and flesh of a man, and became man, while remaining God. For that reason, because he also suffered for us, he also presented us in this sacrament with his body and blood, and this is what he even made us ourselves into as well (St. Augustine of Hippo, s. 229.1).

It is most providential and felicitous that this feast of Corpus Christi coincides with the celebration of Father’s Day this year. For, it is a stark reminder that it is in the Eucharist that human fathers both see what it means to be a father, and are given the means of being what they are. What it means to be a father is nothing less than the call to live a radically Eucharistic life by becoming ever more perfectly united with Christ in His complete sacrifice of self-giving love day by day. Only then do we have the means of giving children something to eat, for we ourselves will have become the Eucharist they are offered.

Your servant in Christ,

Tony

One thought on “Feed Them Yourselves

  1. Beautiful reflection, Tony. So many lines resonated with me. This one in particular: “ He takes a man, nothing but dust and ash, blesses him, breaks him, and makes him a father. ” So much to unpack here. What a Eucharistic gift our parenthood is. Demanding and strengthening. I pray to “ponder this in my heart” and to remember to offer my parenthood to the One Who gave it to me. Thank you. And happy Father’s Day.

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