I’ve had a lot of time to think lately about sacrifice and I’ve been pondering one aspect especially—How do I know if I am effective in offering up my suffering? I mean in my heart, I really want to be brave and to offer this suffering to God so that all would be for His glory, and He can transform it into something beautiful, but I still cry out in pain when it gets beyond what I can bear, I still get frustrated when I can’t do something myself, I’m still annoyed at not being able to do much other than lie on the couch, and I still feel sorry for myself when I hear the neighborhood kids playing outside enjoying the last days of summer and here I am childless and on bed rest…so can I really even begin to think that I am honestly offering my suffering to God?
I’ve prayed a lot on this over the past few days. Sometimes wondering do I really have anything to offer up anyway? I mean is my suffering really all that significant? There are others out there with far worse sufferings than mine. Bigger fish to fry so to speak.
This brought me back to the Gospel reading from last Sunday, July 26th , John 6:1-15. It struck me and it hit me in a new way then, but it has only been after this past week, more prayer and then hearing the same story at daily mass today (Matthew 14:13-21) that it really started to make sense to me. To get the full context, here are the Gospel readings from both masses:
After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (of Tiberias). A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, "Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?" He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little (bit)." One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?" Jesus said, "Have the people recline." Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted." So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, "This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world." Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
~ John 6:1-15
When Jesus heard of [the death of John the Baptist], he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, "This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves." (Jesus) said to them, "There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves." But they said to him, "Five loaves and two fish are all we have here." Then he said, "Bring them here to me," and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over --twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.
One of the first things to stand out to me was how Jesus was suffering here and yet still looked beyond Himself. Jesus had just lost someone so dear to Him, namely John the Baptist, and was trying to get away to grieve on His own. Yet the crowds heard about this and followed Him. He so easily could have just barked at these needy people “Go away, I want to be alone, I just want to cope on my own for awhile,” but He didn’t. Instead, Scripture says His heart was moved with pity for them and he cured their sick. Even in the midst of His own suffering at the loss of something dear to Him, He did not withhold Himself from the will of His father, nor take a break from His vocation to love. Even in His suffering, He offered His life to the mission of the Father to heal and love those before Him…may we each have the grace to do the same.
But what really hit me in a new way this week was what Andrew said (John 6:8-9), “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” For the first time in my life, I started to look at this Gospel from the boy's perspective. What was this experience like for him? Out of the entire crowd of five thousand men not counting women and children, he was the only one that had food that day. Why was he the only one with food? I have heard homilies on this Gospel saying that most likely, like any child of the day, his mother had sent him out that morning with a snack for the day and he had not yet gotten around to eating it. Did no one else bring a snack that day? Had they all already eaten theirs? Perhaps he was hanging onto his snack for the the time when he might "really need it." It is quite possible then that he was very hungry by this time of evening. And what type of loaves and fish were these exactly? I heard another homily once stating that these five barley loaves were probably something similar to our modern day Triscuits and that the two fish were most likely very small, maybe sardines. That puts an entirely new twist to this story for me. So here we have one young boy in the midst of a huge crowd and he is the only one who has anything to offer and all he has are five Triscuits and two sardines. It really wasn’t much…or was it? It was everything he had (at least we assume that is was everything)...so doesn’t make his offering enormous? He gave it all. But I mean seriously, how did this all go down? Did the apostles ask the little boy for his food ( If so, did he immediately give it up, or did he do so reluctantly?) or did he come up to the apostles and freely offer it? Either way, what did that conversation in his head look like before surrendering all that he had to Jesus? Did the little boy ask himself, as Andrew asked of Jesus “what good could these be for so many?” This little boy could have easily taken what he had in his possession and done what his humanity told him was most beneficial for him (to eat the snack himself) but instead, he chose to turn everything he had over to Jesus out of love and trust for Him. That’s the only thing that makes sense…and in the end, look what Jesus could do with so little…He feed so many. FIVE THOUSAND men, not including women and children. Translated, that means five thousand families! Are you getting the magnitude of this? Are you letting this sink into your soul? Five thousand families were fed that day, with 12 wicker baskets of left-overs remaining (enough to symbolize the 12-tribes of Israel--i.e., the entirety of humanity--maybe?). All because one little boy dared to look beyond himself and his own needs and to trust that Jesus could do far more with what he had than he could.
And here my friends is where I have found the answers the many questions that I have been pondering over the last week. How do I know if I am successful in offering up my suffering? Well, luckily, it’s not about me. Jesus didn’t ask the little boy to be successful in feeding the multitude, He just presented an opportunity for him to give of himself. It was the desire of the little boy’s heart that was important, and that is exactly what Jesus is looking for from me…and from you. Do we desire to give everything over to Him? Do we trust Him that He can do far more with it than we can? Do we try at all times to say, “Jesus, I give this to you freely, do with it what you will.” And as to the second part of my question, about whether I really have anything worth offering up since so many others have more to suffer than I? I guess all I can say with that is look what He did what five Triscuits and two sardines….yes, even the smallest offering can be turned into something miraculous and glorious when given freely to Jesus.
May God grant each one of us the grace to see the Triscuits and sardines in our lives and to give them freely to Jesus, trusting in His infinite love and mercy, and resting in peaceful assurance that He will take care of us. Amen.
Things I’m grateful for today:
* I got to morning mass today and was able to walk up and receive our Lord in the Eucharist.
* I was able to see (unexpectedly) friends from Mother of the Redeemer Retreat Center in Bloomington, IN that I had not seen in three years.
* Aislinn babysat me while I took my first shower and then drove me to get my hair washed. Ah…I’m a new woman.
* I was able to walk from our front step to the corner stop sign and back.
* Our friends finished putting on our new storm door on the front of the house –more light and more cool summer breezes!
* Ryan and Ashley Kreager brought us dinner tonight. No cooking or dishes for me.
* My godson Michael Ryan’s sweet and euphoric giggle when he sees me. Man, I love that baby!
* Free First Monday Redbox rentals…I have five movies to watch tomorrow!
* That I will be granted the grace to identify my own Triscuits and sardines in my life and that I will freely give them to Jesus and trust in Him explicitly.
* That I won’t get to down about making progress and the sliding backwards. I am struggling with the two steps forward, one step back routine of this recovery. It seems that I make good progress during the day, but then something happens at the end of the day that negates the improvement. Tonight it was choking on lime Jello. I was lying down enjoying dessert when I got some down the wrong pipe. I had a strong coughing reflex to get it up, but didn’t have my stomach splinted in time. The end result was a 9.5/10 on the pain scale, feeling that my stitches were ripping out (which thank God they didn’t) and that someone had lit my ovaries on fire. It was incredibly painful and took a long time to subside. This is such a frustrating experience and combined with the fact that these things (like the laughing yesterday) seem to happen at the end of the day when I’m tired, my defense mechanism is down and I’m exhausted and so it’s harder on me emotionally.
* That when I talk to the doctor’s office tomorrow, we can find a pain management solution that will be enough, but not too much. (Believe it or not, the Percocet isn’t really doing much other than knocking me unconscious).
* For women considering abortions and are scheduled to meet with the abortionist in town here tomorrow, that by divine intervention, they will choose life for their child.