17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Published: July 26, 2015

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at the Church of St. John the Baptist in Hot Springs on Saturday, July 25, 2015 and during the Arkansas Catholic Charismatic Conference at the Wyndham Hotel in North Little Rock and Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock on Sunday, July 26, 2015.

Bishop Taylor

When you were a baby, you were totally dependent and yet your needs were met. The reason is divine providence. God gave us parents, and especially a mother, to provide for us. And they provided for us not merely out of duty or out of pity, because we were so helpless, but also out of love. Indeed, mainly out of love.

We learned to trust our mother to provide milk and warmth and relief from a dirty diaper. We experienced divine providence without even thinking about it — God was providing for us through her. It was the world we knew, and naturally we took it for granted. Part of the process of maturing involves separation from direct parental protection, which if handled poorly can lead us to distance ourselves from God too.

Have you noticed that rebelling against parents and rebelling against God often go hand in hand? When we mature, forgetful of divine providence, we can easily begin to imagine that everything is now on us, that our successes and failures are all our own doing, that we have to provide for ourselves at all times. So we end up forgetting about our ongoing dependence on God and others for meaning and purpose and all the other most important things in life.

Do you trust Jesus enough to hand over to him your five loaves and your two fishes, confident that he can use your gift of self to continue to provide for his people even today?

In today's readings we have stories of divine providence. In our first reading, Elisha — through God's providence — is able to feed 100 people with just 20 barley loaves, and when they had eaten, some was left over. God not only provided, he provided more than was needed. That miracle prefigured the even greater miracle of divine providence that we have in today's Gospel: Jesus feeds 5,000 with just five barley loaves and two fish, and when they had eaten, 12 wicker baskets of fragments were left over.

God not only provided, he provided far more than was needed. Fifty times more than in the case of Elisha, with one-fourth as many loaves of bread. In this case, Jesus did so by using the contribution of a young boy, the owner of those loaves and fishes, a youth who with seeming recklessness gave up the certainty of being able to provide a good dinner for himself, in order to do what he could to help meet the needs of others. He trusted in Jesus, that if he did what Jesus asked, God would see to it that his needs would be provided for.

This Year of Consecrated Life is a time to thank God for the way he has provided for so many of us through the religious sisters, priests and brothers who have served the Church so faithfully and with such generosity all these years. This awareness of divine providence through them has special meaning for me because when I was a child, our parochial school was staffed by the Sisters of Divine Providence of San Antonio.

They were wonderful women and through them God provided me with an excellent education rooted in our Catholic faith. As you may remember, in this year's CASA (Catholic Arkansas Sharing Appeal) recording I focused on the need to promote vocations to religious life and in particular female religious vocations, because compared to men, female vocations have been lagging behind for some time.

One of the things that underlies our success in attracting seminarians is that young men are starting to believe again, not just believing the words of the creed intellectually, but belief on a much more personal level, belief in divine providence, that if I step out in faith, God will use my five loaves and two fishes to feed thousands.

We need to communicate that truth to our young women as well. That if we, with seeming recklessness, give up things that the world says are necessary for happiness in order to do what we can to help others, that if we do what Jesus asks, God will see to it that our needs will be provided for. And our young men are discovering what I have experienced throughout the 35 years of my priesthood so far, that God not only provides, he provides far, far more than is needed: 12 wicker baskets worth extra!

So I ask you today, do you believe in Jesus or do you just believe things about Jesus? Do you trust Jesus enough to hand over to him your five loaves and your two fishes, confident that he can use your gift of self to continue to provide for his people even today?