Mass of the Eighteenth Sunday of the Year
2 August 2015
St. Macartan’s Cathedral, 10.30am
My dear friends,
The key word in the readings in this morning’s Mass is obviously bread. We all know what bread is – we bake it, we slice it, we butter it, we toast it, we eat it. But we also use this word with many other meanings. Some refer to money as bread and it is used in the Gospels in many ways such as meaning nourishment.
Not many years ago, we read an extraordinary story in our newspapers about a man called Bernard Madoff. He was a New York stockbroker, who swindled thousands of unsuspecting investors out of more than $60 billion. It was one of the biggest financial frauds ever recorded. Stunned investors found their portfolios, retirement savings and college funds gone when Madoff was arrested on the morning of the 11 December 2008. Madoff quickly pleaded guilty and is now serving a prison term of 150 years. The courts are trying to recover as much of the money as possible but most of Madoff’s investors have little hope of ever seeing much of their money again.
The lives of Madoff’s investors are divided in two – one part before they came in contact with him, the second the part after they met and did business with him. After doing business with him, many retirement plans have been shattered, homes have been lost and many marriages and families irreparably damaged and broken.
Take the example of one couple, he is 75 and she is 66. He retired in 2004 after selling his research business and placing the proceeds with a Madoff linked fund he had heard about at the country club where he had a family membership. The couple had planned a comfortable retirement with skiing in Vermont and frequent visits to their children and grandchildren in New York City. But they lost more than 80% of their assets in the Madoff scheme. They were forced to sell their home in New Jersey, they unloaded their Florida condo at a loss and their share in a ski chalet in Vermont.
The couple now live in a much smaller house in a Vermont community where they have established many friendships. Their new home is too far from New York to allow for frequent visits to their daughter and grandchildren. Overnights stays in Manhattan Hotels cannot be afforded. They are not now in a position to help their son financially in furthering his fledgling artistic career. They have no idea when or if any of their money will be recovered.
Still, they realise that what they have lost has not affected the safety or the health of their loved ones. “When your life is altered overnight, you realise you don’t have to keep doing everything you used to do” says he. You don’t need to belong to a country club, or drive an expensive car or buy expensive jewellery. You certainly don’t have to own three separate places to live. A recent visit to their old country club for a friend’s wedding turned into a long conversation about all that stuff. It made them realise how much not only had their circumstances changed but how much they had changed themselves. “That’s not who we are anymore”, she says. “Besides, if I had never entered into that country club, I would never have heard the name Bernie Madoff.”
In the first reading of today’s Mass the Israelites on their way to the promised land are still complaining of hunger, failing to recognise and acknowledge the food that God had provided for them to eat. We never have enough bread.
In the Gospel reading Jesus rebuked the people for following after him just because he filled their tummies. He told them they would have to be more discerning and wiser and not be blinded by flash or bright lights. If they want to do and live as God would wish them to they should accept Jesus Christ his son as God’s definitive messenger who came to teach and instruct them. This is the answer to all questions.
Jesus has come to bring bread to all. He has brought bread to nourish us. He has come himself, the ultimate gesture in self-giving, the definitive bread, the bread which nourishes the entire human being, body and spirit. As the couple in the Madoff story discovered a life of true joy and meaning, they are not now driven by “perishable” material things and fleeting experience but by “non-perishable” values. Perhaps the most difficult challenge of our time is to accomplish the work of God while trying to establish ourselves and succeed in our careers, to make a place in our homes and hearts for the bread that is Christ amid the fast food which is shoved in our faces from all directions. May God give us the wisdom to live lives grounded in the food that endures beyond the fleeting and the perishable, the bread of God that feeds and nurtures us for our own life’s journey towards the dwelling place of God.
+Liam S. MacDaid
2 August 2015