I stood listening to the Gospel at Mass yesterday. It was the famous reading, taken from Saint John, about the feeding of the five thousand people using only five loaves and two fish. Over the years I’ve put various interpretations on this passage but I don’t think I’d really understood it clearly.
After the Gospel, the Priest spoke about a deeper meaning of this Gospel passage – which, he said, wasn’t really about feeding people or anything as obvious as that. Rather, he said, it was about the ability of the Lord to take something small and insignificant and to do something incredible with it. In other words, we are listening to an account of the power of the grace of the Lord to transform us – our personal insufficiency notwithstanding, the meagreness of who and what we are proving no obstacle, the grace of God can make us into something – someone – worthwhile and meaningful. Put another way, the Lord takes us as He finds us and – assuming our co-operation with His grace – transforms us into the people He intended for us to be. Such is the power of divine grace.
If we really take this Gospel reading to heart and ponder it carefully there, we realise that Saint Paul was perfectly correct; where there is sin, there is even more grace. Our sinfulness, our wilfullness, our weakness – all of these are burned away like chaff if we simply allow the grace of God to transform us. And when we do so, the Lord takes care of everything else.
One of the features of the world today is a sense of despondency, a “what is the point?” attitude that affects all we are and all we do. The trouble with that attitude is that it is founded on self-reliance; and as all the Saints constantly remind us, self-reliance is the antithesis of personal sanctification for it relies on us, not on God. It sees us as being in control – or, more frequently, out of control – and allows God to do nothing with us. God always respects our free will and will not force grace on us except in exceptional cases. And so this particular Gospel passage seems to offer an antidote to the self-perceived and quite erroneous sense of personal authority which can confuse us, the belief that we – not God – are leading. Such a belief is doomed to failure.
Thinking about all of this, it struck me that the final prayer of the Divine Mercy Chaplet touches on this when we pray the following words –
“Look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us that, in difficult moments, we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence, submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is love and mercy itself”.
Reliance on the divine will – it really is as simple as that. Stop clinging to our self-will, to our pride, and rely on God alone and on the transforming power of Divine Grace.
And then, from our meagre offering, He will work miracles of grace in and around us and truly transform us in the process, as He did with five loaves and two fish.