18th Sunday of the Year A

There are times in all of our lives when we need to be left alone – not necessarily out of selfishness or escapism, but to recharge, solitude is necessary to absorb the impact of a traumatic event. To be left with family alone in a time of bereavement, to have the space to be away, to shed a tear when no-one is looking. We often hide our grief from public view, we are too self-conscious and it is nobody’s business to see our tears and our momentary vulnerability. We in turn all value the need for friends and colleagues to grieve.

This is the mood as the news of John the Baptist’s awful death must have shaken the disciples who now turn their loyalties and hopes in Jesus. John had predicted his own death saying of Jesus that ‘He must increase, I must decrease’. The disciples’ time with John is over. Now, with Jesus they seek to be alone to cope with their grief. Jesus knows, and perhaps the disciples suspect, that a similar fate awaits Jesus too.

But even at the time of bereavement and a funeral we know there is a time to withdraw and leave the family by themselves. At a removal we often depart the mortuary chapel to allow the family to close the coffin on their loved one for the last time.

In the Gospel Jesus and His disciples are given no time for any of the above. As they try to get away, the crowds press even closer and make demands on Jesus to heal their sick. How mercifully selfless Jesus is in forgetting His own cares and putting others first!

But interestingly, after some time the place of solitude is experienced as ‘a lonely place’ and hunger rears its head as appetites return. Jesus is concerned for their material bodily needs as well.

The feeding of the crowds of the loaves and fish is an anticipation of Jesus feeding us in the Eucharist, and the Eucharist is the foretaste, promise and pledge of heaven.

St Paul, in the Second Reading, beautifully describes how nothing in the visible or invisible world can form a barrier to Jesus’ love for us. People may pledge: ‘Nothing will ever come between us.’ Many human friendships, relationships, marriages often begin on this hopeful note, but these can fail as people drift in and out of ours and others’ lives. If we are lucky we have been able to sustain certain relationships with others through thick and thin. St Paul experienced much hardship in his own life, but there was one constant in His life, one person who would and could not ever let him down – Our Lord Himself.

For us this loving relationship with Jesus Christ is sustained by the vital communication we call the life of prayer and by reunion which we call Reconciliation and Communion. When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist we are strengthened in the midst of the sorrows, trials and sicknesses of life. We encounter Jesus the Healer who nourishes us with His Body and Blood. Only Jesus has the answers we seek, as the crowds knew who followed Jesus. He healed them and fed them. Each time we approach Jesus and receive Him in Holy Communion we too are healed and nourished at the deepest level of our being. This is what we know from the experience of faith, and perhaps a reason to explain to others who have lapsed form their faith why we continue to go to Mass on Sunday.

Happy are those who are called to His supper!

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