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-Pope Benedict XVI
-Pope Benedict XVI
Sunday, August 31, 2008
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.
If you remember several Sundays ago, the gospel was about the famous miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. It had been a long day for Jesus – he had just heard of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, and he needed time to be alone. But his heart was moved with pity for the crowds who had followed him on foot all the way to that deserted place (according to John’s gospel, Bethsaida), and he couldn’t ignore their needs. So he disregarded his original plan to be alone, and began ministering to the people until it was evening. However, they needed to eat, and when the disciples brought this up to Jesus, he ordered them to give the people food themselves. I can imagine how the disciples must have panicked! It was certainly a big logistical nightmare to feed more than five thousand hungry people in such short notice in the middle of nowhere. Why would Jesus give them this seemingly impossible task? They must have searched desperately among the crowd for food. But in the end, all they could come up with were five loaves and two fish, and they must have been exasperated and disheartened when they came up to tell Jesus that they failed.
What Jesus did next was extraordinary. He took whatever they had, said a blessing, broke the loaves, and gave it to the disciples to distribute. The disciples must have been skeptical, but they did it anyway, and to their amazement, the food was more than enough to feed thousands of people.
Some say it was a miracle of sharing – that the food came from the people themselves, who earlier did not tell the disciples about it because they were unwilling to share. Others say it was Jesus who indeed miraculously multiplied the loaves and fish. Whatever the case may be, I’m sure we can relate to the disciples whenever we get caught in a situation where something big is expected of us and we feel inadequate or unqualified to do it. Perhaps we are pressured to do well in school, or perhaps we have suddenly found ourselves with a major responsibility. And of course in the Legion, we are expected meet the highest standards in our work. Sometimes, as in the case of the disciples, we may feel like our best efforts may not be enough to meet these expectations. We may look far and wide only to find a mere five loaves and two fish.
Should we give up and concede that we have failed? The gospel reveals to us a powerful message: as long as we offer our best efforts, God takes whatever we have and uses it to bless us and others bountifully. Take note that Jesus sent the disciples to look for food first before the miracle could occur; He didn’t just conjure the loaves and fish out of thin air even if he probably could. So it is with us today – we must do our part before God can work through us. This is echoed in the Legion handbook: while it is true that we must remain dependent on Mary, we must still always put in the greatest efforts we can muster in whatever work we carry out. We cannot think that because our capabilities are nothing compared to Mary’s limitless power, our own efforts are unimportant and unnecessary. It is precisely because we are working in union with Mary that we must offer her nothing but our choicest and best efforts. It is not the job of Mary to do what we refuse to do. We are not mere instruments of Mary – we need to actively cooperate with her in our work for souls. We must contribute the entirety of our intellect and abilities, just as Mary contributes all of her purity and power in accomplishing the work of God. Mary desires to give her all to a generous soul.
Even if it were true that the fruits of Mary’s influence are independent of our own efforts, we should keep in mind that nothing is wasted in whatever work that we sincerely do for her. This is because we do not work for results. As is stated in the handbook, we “work for Mary quite irrespectively of the simplicity or the difficulty of the task; and in every employment the legionary must give the best that is in him, be it little or be it great. Thereby is merited the full co-operation of Mary, so that even miracles are wrought where they are needed. If one can do but little, and yet does it with all one's heart, Mary will come in with power and will give that feeble movement the effect of a giant's strength. If, having done all that he can, the legionary is still a million miles from success, Mary will bridge that distance to carry their joint work to an ideal conclusion.”
The fruits of our cooperation with God are boundless. Just as there were twelve wicker baskets full of leftover food, so can we never be sure of how far exactly we will be able to affect and bless the lives of people around us once we fully live out our alliance with Mary and allow the Spirit of God to work in us. Our best efforts may be weak compared to the immensity of the work before us, like the five loaves and two fish of the apostles, but with our generosity as well as our full trust in Mary, we can be sure that we will be able to achieve things well beyond our human capacity, even if we are not aware of it. Let us not deprive Our Lady of the fullest extent of our efforts in carrying out our legionary works, so that the Almighty may be able to work marvels in us and our legionary service may be brought into perfection.