On the other side of Pope Francis’ visit, I reflected on some of the central themes of his young pontificate. Caring for the poorest of the poor. Having that elegant blend of being challenging and gentle when speaking about the most ardent of Catholic teachings.
That said, I had thought of that beautiful, paradigmatic tale of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with a few measly pieces of barley and a couple of tilapia.
There is a small, random, detail that caught me this time around: the boy. I mean, what is the boy doing there, in the first place? It makes you wonder the circumstances that allowed this boy—and I have always imagined him being 8-years-old—to be on that hill in the first place.
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?”
When thinking and praying about this passage, I am reminded of my father. More specifically, I remember the viewing, the evening before his funeral Mass. This was over ten years ago.
It wasn’t a proper Catholic vigil, mind you, but took place at the funeral home. The place was small and sparse. Innocuous brown carpet with black border lining. Warm, wood paneling. Up near the front stood a plain, dark wood podium, a matching cross, and dad’s casket, his body encased inside.
My mother walked to the casket, seeing my father’s face for the first time in over a week. Her first glance was met with twisted consternation: “Those glasses—where are those glasses from? He is not going to like to be buried in those glasses.”
My little second cousins grouped with their parents, as was the entire extended family. Two of them came up to my father’s remains with their Tonka Toy Trucks and Legos in their hands. Their parents paced behind them, slowly, pensively, uncomfortable in their bodies and in their formalwear.
The children lined up, one by one, to pay respects. However, after one little child looked at my father’s face, he turned around, and waved his sister over. After they chatted, shook their heads and jilted and jangled from a few moments, they looked at each other and they nodded their heads most severely. The boy started stamping his foot and the girl hopped on one leg. Quietly, quickly, they called on their father. He looked at them, then at me. I couldn’t help but smile…I mean, they’re children, right?
My cousin, their father, turned to me. He was a proud father, and this was a family moment. He held a squelched smiled on his face, his arms swaggering, like an athlete ready to beat out his next opponent.
He asked me, “The kids want to give their toys to your dad as a going away present.”
And so they did.
Two little children give their favorite toys to their uncle, my father, as a going away present. A little boy gives his little lunch to Jesus in order to feed 5000 people. It’s not much, but it means much more than no one could have ever predicted.
And that is the thing with our life with Jesus. We really don’t that much to offer—let’s be honest. We have been given everything by God our Father, so the only thing that we have, really, is our sinfulness. Not a great gift.
However, as little, and measly, as this gift is, we are still called to give it. Like the little boy with the barley loaves, like the little children with their Tonka Trucks and Legos, they give to someone of importance what little that we have.
It challenges me. Despite my vow of poverty, I find myself with boxes of stuff. Books, memorabilia, liturgy supplies, boys, icons, books, trinkets, Harry Potter stuff, books.
The only thing, really, that I have is my sinfulness. Not a great gift to God.
But…nonetheless, it is this little, annoying gift that I am called to offer. Despite myself, even this is a gift which I am called to offer to my God.
Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!