Ave Maria Meditations
To be realistic in a supernatural way is to rely always on the grace of God.
A great multitude follow Jesus into the desert. They follow him without giving a thought to distance, heat or cold, because their needs are great. They sense that they are welcome. They listen attentively to those words which give meaning to their lives, so attentively that they neglect life’s necessities. They have brought no food to eat and there is no place to buy any food out there. This problem does not seem to have bothered them, nor does it seem to bother Jesus. When the disciples become aware of the situation at dusk, however, they go to the Master and say, This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves. This is a statement of fact which is evident to all. But Jesus knows of a higher reality, of possibilities which even his most intimate disciples cannot discern. And so he answers them, They need not go away; you give them something to eat. The disciples, being keenly aware of their lack of provisions, reply, We have only five loaves here and two fishes.
The disciples see objective reality. They know that this small amount of food will not suffice to feed the multitude.
This is what may happen to us when we take stock of our own strengths and possibilities. The difficulties before us may appear larger than life and beyond our power to influence. Mere human objectivity can lead us to discouragement and pessimism. It can cause us to forget the radical optimism which is part and parcel of the Christian vocation.
As popular wisdom would have it: He who fails to include God in his reckonings does not know how to add. He does not know how to add because he leaves out the most important factor. The Apostles made a very precise count of all their resources. They counted up the exact number of loaves and fishes available. But they forgot to consider that Jesus was at their side. And this fact radically alters the situation. The real reality is something different from objective reality. In apostolic undertakings it’s very good – it’s a duty – to consider what means the world has to offer you (2 + 2 = 4). But don’t forget – ever -that your calculations must fortunately include another tennet: God. To neglect this reality is to misread the true situation. To be supernaturally realistic, we need to count on the grace of God.
Christian optimism is rooted in God, who says to us: I am with you always, to the close of the age. With him we can do anything. We are victorious even when we are defeated. This is the optimism so characteristic of the saints. Saint Teresa of Avila would often repeat, with her good humour and supernatural spirit: Teresa can do nothing alone. Teresa and a maravedf (a penny), less than nothing. But Teresa, a maravedf and God can do anything.
It is the same with us: Cast away that despair produced by the realization of your weakness. It’s true: financially you are a zero, and socially another zero, and another in virtues, and another in talents…but to the left of these zeros is Christ. And what an immeasurable figure it turns out to be!
How this realization changes our entire outlook at the hour of beginning an apostolic work, at the moment of personal conversion, in the realities of ordinary life!
A Christian’s optimism is the result of faith.
Christian optimism is a result of faith, not of circumstances. The Christian knows that the Lord has his best interests in mind. The Lord knows how to draw fruit from even apparent failure. At the same time, He asks us to use all of the human means at our disposal, leaving no stone untumed. We should count on the five loaves and the two fishes. By themselves they won’t make much of a meal for so many hungry people at the end of a long day, but they nevertheless play an indispensable part in the working of the miracle. The Lord sees to it that failures in the apostolate (someone does not respond, someone turns hhis back on us, etc.) serve to sanctify us and sanctify others.
Nothing is lost. On the other hand, what will never give any fruit are omissions and excuses, behavior like throwing up our hands before a hostile environment. The Lord wants us to put our loaves and fish to good use, while placing our trust in him with rectitude of intention. Some fruits will come at once. Other fruits will come at the time and in the way the Lord wants. One thing is beyond doubt – fruit will always be forthcoming. We have to convince ourselves that we are nothing, and that we do nothing without Jesus at our side. He, to whose power and knowledge all things are given, protects us by means of his inspirations against all foolishness, ignorance, wild tantnuns or hardness of heart.
A Christian’s optimism gets strong reinforcement from prayer. Christian optimism is not a sugary optimism; nor is it a mere human coincidence that everything will turn out all right. It is an optimism that sinks its roots in an awareness of our freedom and in the sure knowledge of the power of grace. It is an optimism which leads us to make demands on ourselves, to struggle to respond at every moment to God’s calls. It is not the optimism of the egoist who seeks only his personal tranquillity, who closes his eyes to reality, saying ‘Everything will work out in the end’. He uses that as an excuse so that he will not be bothered. He goes so far as to deny the evil in others in order to avoid worries and responsibility. The radical optimism of one who follows Christ closely does not delude him as to the nature of reality. Quite the contrary; the Christian is able to confront the whole truth without being demoralized by it.
The Christian knows that his Father God will never leave him. He believes that abundant fruit will be harvested from that field – those circumstances, those friends – in which it seemed that only weeds could grow. The Christian is confident that the work of the good is never destroyed, but that in order to bring forth fruit, the ear of corn begins by dying in the earth. The Christian knows that the sacrifice of goods is never in vain.
Our optimism is rooted in the Communion of Saints.
Monsignor Knox points out that Jesus worked this miracle not just for anybody, but rather for people who had been following him for days, people who had earnestly been searching for him. According to Knox, the multitude is a prefiguring of the Church.
Those five thousand seated on the hillside were united as followers of Christ. They fed upon the same bread, that foreshadowing of the Holy Eucharist, which came from the hands of Christ. How naturally a common meal serves for a symbol of fraternity; how easily a scratch party of guests get on together if you take them out for a picnic in the open air! Just imagine what it must have meant, later on, if one of those five thousand met, by accident, one of the others; what fellowship must have been imposed on them by their common store of reminiscences! ‘Yes, don’t you remember, Peter – or John, or James, or Judas – came round with the crust which looked as if it could never satisfy more than two; we both seemed to be in starvation corner, didn’t we? And then when he got to the end of the row the crust was still there.’
We can take part at the same table, at the same Banquet. We can receive the same Bread, wherein Christ comes to us, which is multiplied without ceasing. Those who follow Christ are united by a very strong bond. Recognise in yourself a limb, a branch of Christ, (the body, the vine) living, grafted-on and ingrowing, nourished by his strength and grace.
The Communion of Saints teaches us that we all form one Body in Christ. Through this communion we can help one another in a most efficacious way. Somewhere, at this very moment someone is praying for us, someone is helping us with sanctified work, with prayer, with suffering offered up. We are never alone.
The Communion of Saints serves as the constant fuel of our optimism because we can always count on the mysterious but very real help of those who partake of the same Bread. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those, who ate were about five thousand men.. besides women and children.
We are moved by Christ’s generosity to appeal to him with confidence. We too have spent many days with him. Ask him without any fear, and insist. Remember that scene of the multiplication of loaves we read about in the Gospel. Notice how magnanimously he says to the Apostles, How many loaves do you have? Five? How many are you asking for? And he gives six, a hundred, thousands … Why? Because Christ sees all our needs with divine wisdom, and with his almighty power he can and does go far beyond our desires.
Our Lord sees much farther than our poor minds can discem and he is infinitely generous. He will once again perform miracles as soon as we place the little we have at his disposal. He thinks in terms which greatly exceed our poor human calculations. What a shame if we were ever to hang on to the five loaves and two fishes with which the Lord would readily work miracles!
Fr. Francis Fernandez (In Conversation with God)