Mass of the Seventeenth Sunday of the Year
26 July 2015
St. Macartan’s Cathedral, 12.30pm
My dear friends,
The Gospel reading of today’s Mass tells us that Jesus climbed the hillside and sat down there with his disciples. Four friends once climbed a hill in Orkney, the island off the north-eastern tip of Scotland. They wanted to view the sunset from the hill-top but they were too late. The sun had just set. One of the four wrote down the following thoughts:
“It was a lingering twilight in mid-August. All behind us was vacant wine-red moor. Across the moorland, rolled the sound of the Western sea – a long low croon that reminds us of the vastness of eternity. We saw a kestrel cutting a superb graph of flight against hill and sky. We lost him in the hollows. It was all a magnificent sight and from the point of view of being aware of the presence of God, it was like being in Church. It was a moment of wonder and awe, a moment of worship”.
These words were written in 1951 by George Brown, a poet, playwright, novelist and short-story writer who was born and lived in Orkney for most of his life until his death in 1996. They are taken from his piece “From Brinkies Brae” which George Brown wrote celebrating the life and history of his native place in a collection of his prose and poetry entitled “Northern Lights.” To gaze upon the grandeur and beauty of the hills and mountains at sunset or to see them at dawn is to catch a glimpse of the mystery of God. Brown was a man of deep Christian faith and in another piece which he wrote he quoted Wordsworth’s description of a mountain as “part of God’s vision.”
The Gospel reading takes us to another hillside, this time by the Sea of Galilee. Among the great crowd who have followed Jesus to this place is a small boy with five barley loaves and two fish. We do not even know his name but the little fellow represents all those to whom Jesus has been sent to bring the Good News. From the small amount of food he carries, Jesus provides for the needs of as many as five thousand. There is even food left over.
This great event evokes memory of Elisha’s multiplication of barley loaves. It looks back too to Mt. Sinai and the covenant which was made through Moses and it looks forward to the new covenant which Jesus will make at the Last Supper before his journey to the Mount of Olives and his death on the hill of Golgotha.
The multiplication of the loaves and fishes stirs a belief in the people that Jesus may be the prophet foretold by Moses and a general desire rises to make him their king so that this can be effected as soon as possible. But their enthusiasm is born of an earthly vision and they have not recognised the spiritual meaning of what he has done. His kingdom is not of this world which is the context in which he withdraws into the solitude of the hills.
From time immemorial people of religious faith have seen the mountains as a place where heaven and earth meet. On Mt. Sinai, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. At Mt. Horeb, God was revealed to Elijah not in mighty wind, earthquake or fire but in a gentle breeze. Jesus went into the hills to pray and fasted in a mountainous wilderness. He was transfigured on a mountain and preached the Sermon on the Mount.
When the small boy gave Jesus the loaves and fishes, heaven and earth came together again on a mountainside. From his relative poverty, the boy gave all he had and Jesus transformed his offering beyond recognition. Elsewhere Jesus tells his listeners that unless they become like little children they would not enter the kingdom of heaven. Through the little boy, God tells us what it is possible to achieve and how our lives can be enriched beyond measure if we are open and generous and we allow Jesus to keep us on the path intended for us.
+Liam S. MacDaid
26 July 2015