|From the Church of the Multiplication|
Last Saturday night, I somehow managed to pop out a couple of ribs. I was not doing any strenuous activity, so I joked Sunday morning at Mass that 36 is the new 80. I can tell you that I was very aware that something was wrong (even before I knew exactly what it was). At the same time, I was due for confession and arranged to meet Fr. Jim Rolph after Mass on Sunday. We joked that, even though my soul had the more serious pain from my sins, the pain in my body was crying out for more attention.
In our readings today, we see a distinction between the physical and the spiritual realms. Isaiah in the first reading and Jesus in the Gospel are dealing with physical realities. Isaiah says that if we are thirsty, we should come the water of the Lord. If we have no money, we can still approach the Lord and eat. And Jesus, after healing people’s illnesses, recognizes that they will need food, and He cannot simply send them away to their homes, but gives them bread and fish, multiplied in a miraculous manner from five loaves and two fish.
Often times when it comes to religion, we focus on the spiritual only. And the spiritual is important. But Catholicism deals not only with the spiritual, but also with the bodily needs. The Letter of James says, “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” We can’t simply ignore the needs of the poor and think that we’re living as a disciple of Jesus. After all, in Matthew 25, Jesus condemns those who did not provide for the physical needs of the least of his brothers.
As followers of Jesus, we should look for opportunities to assist those who are in need. We cannot simply say that it’s only the work of Catholic Charities or of the government to help the poor. To the extent that we’re able, we are called to help those who need help. I know that sometimes there are scams where people claim to be in need, but aren’t, and that makes it hard to know when to give to others. One good piece of advice is, if a person asks for money, and you’re not sure if they truly need it, offer to go buy them a sandwich or a drink from a local restaurant and give it to them. If they’re truly in need, they’ll take the help.
If you listen to the Holy Spirit, you can also tell whether God is nudging you to assist others. Just a few weeks ago I was at McLaren getting some blood work. As I was waiting, a woman probably in her 50s was talking about how the lab had given her the wrong test for her illness, and this was her second trip to the hospital that week. She talked about how she had to use extra gas to get back to McLaren and get the new test, and I could tell that it was a hardship for her. At that moment I felt that nudging in my conscience to offer to assist her. I asked her if I could help her with gas money, and handed her a $5 bill. I know it only got her a couple of gallons, but she said it would help her make sure that she could make it back home without getting stuck on the side of the road. I don’t say that to brag, but just to illustrate how those circumstances can happen.
But at the same time that we are required to assist others with bodily needs, we’re not simply fighting a physical battle. St. Paul reminds us that, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Those are all spiritual things, at least for the most part. St. Paul says elsewhere that we don’t battle so much against earthly powers, but against spiritual ones. It’s not only the things that we notice with our senses, there are so many more things happening on a spiritual level of which we need to be aware. When we abstain from meat on Fridays, or do some sort of physical penance, it’s not the steak or the drumstick that we’re fighting against. We’re fighting against our fallen humanity which wants to give in to whatever desires the body has at any given moment. And the fallen angels are trying to push us to give in.
The Church on earth is described as the Church Militant, because we’re in a fight. And while we do sometimes face oppressive governments that want to hamper our faith life, more often than not we’re fighting spiritual battles that want to take us away from God. We can’t pretend that we’re not at war, any more than a soldier could pretend in Normandy, or Korea, or Vietnam, or Iraq, or Afghanistan that he wasn’t in a battle that meant life or death. Pretending the battle isn’t happening means losing the battle. So each day we need to put on the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
Humans are a union of body and spirit. Both are important and need care. Often times, we are more attentive to the needs, desires, and pains of the body. But we can’t forget the spiritual realities, either. Our call, as followers of Jesus, is, to the best of our ability, to address whatever bodily needs we can, as well as fighting those spiritual battles, equipped with all the spiritual defenses and weapons that God gives us.