Fr. Charles Irvin
2 Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15
What is the worst four-letter word your child can use? (Pause) Well, I can imagine some of the words that must have come to your minds. Let me now suggest that the worst four-letter word your child can use is the word can’t. The child who believes he can’t do math will likely not be able to be skilled in mathematics. The child who thinks she can’t compete in sports will likely not try. Both will miss out on the pleasures of success they might otherwise enjoy. Other four-letter words are vulgar and obscene; “can’t” is a deadly word… it deadens one’s spirit.
If we tell ourselves that something is impossible then we will in practical effect make it impossible. If we tell ourselves we are unattractive, ugly and unlovable … well, that’s the
way we will act and in doing so make our selves unattractive to others. If we face life’s tasks with a predisposing despair, we will never be able to stop smoking, lose weight,
overcome alcoholism, drug addiction or any of our other obsessive and compulsive behaviors.
Today’s Gospel account deals with the problem of despair. Jesus was faced with the task of feeding five thousand people. He asked His apostles to help, but at first they were no help at all. Philip responded to Jesus with no faith, simply giving up. “All we’ve got, he declared, “is five measly barley loaves and two fish. What good is that?”
All of us face seemingly impossible challenges in life. We find studying to be difficult so we give up on learning. We think we can’t get along with others, so we don’t even try, becoming difficult people to live with along the way, never developing charm and grace in our relationships with others, some of us then falling into various addictions that cut our lives short.
Having said all of that, we must be honest and admit that there are certain things in life that we cannot do. We cannot, as Jesus did, cure someone born blind, or in the twinkling of an eye straighten out twisted limbs, or bring calm to a fearsome storm. And lets face it, we can’t get along with everybody. Even Jesus had His Judas. Jesus wanted to get along with Judas; after all He made Judas one of His twelve apostles. But Judas wouldn’t have it.
Nor did Jesus want to have enemies; yet his enemies were determined to do Him in. So even Jesus had to deal with some things that He couldn’t accomplish. And when all was said and done, after devoting His life to loving, healing, helping, curing and teaching people, He ended up in agony on a cross with only His mother, a converted “woman of the evening, and an idealistic teenaged boy named John standing with Him under the Cross. As He died, that’s all that Jesus Christ had to show for His efforts.
But Jesus did leave us His teachings and the example of how He lived. And then He showed us that there is a Power greater than our selves, a power greater than all of the forces of hell, a power greater than all of the powers in the universe, a power that wants to use what we give Him and then do marvelous things with them, turning them into things of infinite value.
Recovering addicts know that. They live by the famous Twelve Steps, admitting they are powerless over alcohol (or whatever their addition is), and that their lives were unmanageable. They came to believe that a Power greater than themselves could restore them to sanity. Then they made a conscious decision to turn their wills and their lives over into the care of God. You have seen and experienced the miraculous results in the lives of people you know.
When I was a young man I never dreamed that the Berlin Wall would come down. I never dreamed that the Communist Empire would collapse. I never thought that black folks and white folks would ever be able to get along with each other. I never dreamed that polio would be eradicated, or than a man would walk on the moon. Even the comic book writers with their fantastic dreams never envisioned something called the Internet.
Do we think AIDS will never be conquered? Or cancer? Do we think we will always have wars? Do we think that our medical care system is doomed? Or that the Social Security System will collapse by the time we retire? If enough people think that way then these things will never be fixed.
Perhaps we think we will never be good enough for God, that God will not forgive our sins, or that we’re so rotten, and such no-goods that even God will not care for us. There are those who think that going to church doesn’t accomplish much. “I don’t go to Mass, Father, because I don’t get anything out of it,” they tell me. My answer? “Why not go to Mass and give God what little you’ve got, and then see what happens? After all, the apostles only had five barley loaves and two fish. They gave what little they had. God took it, blessed it, and look what happened!”
God is forever taking little mustard seeds, little armies, little people, and making infinitely valuable and wonderful things out of them. In a backwater village named Nazareth God took a little virgin’s “Yes” that summed up her willingness and her faith, and made her into the mother of His Son. God took little David and with him slew Goliath. God has taken countless numbers of little, insignificant, and seemingly useless people and made them into saints. Did you ever wonder what Mother Theresa of Calcutta was like as a novice nun? But look what happened to her!
There are a lot of things in this world that ought to be done. There are a lot of things in the lives of each one of us here that ought to be done. There is much that needs to be accomplished in our world and in our lives. Often we feel that we don’t have anywhere near what’s needed. Paralleling the apostles, each one of us feels like all we have is five barley loaves and two fish facing the task of feeding five thousand people. Perhaps we don’t have what is needed… but God does. He wants to share His powers with us. What’s needed is not an inventory of what we’ve got; what’s needed is for us to place our faith in God.
God is asking great things of each one of us here. God has great expectations of each one of us here. God is calling each one of us here to be His useful and productive servants in revealing His Kingdom. What are we going to say to Him? With all of the countless wondrous things He has given each one of us, are we going to look Him in the eye and tell Him that we just can’t do it? Are we going to start talking to God about all that’s not possible?
So what’s the worst four-letter word we can use when God is trying to reach us, asking us to do something for Him? What’s the worst response we can give Him? It’s to throw the word can’t at Him. Just what are we going to give God? Our despair? Or are we going to give God our hope, our faith, our trust, and our love … and then let Him go to work in what we give Him? If we do, everything can change.