17th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Readings: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 144; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15
This World Day that we are celebrating today can help us to understand that all of us, young and old, grandparents and grandchildren, whether or not we belong to the same family, are “one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call”. This awareness comforts us and shapes us as a people as we gather around the altar on which the Lord multiplies the bread of life and the Word of our salvation. The elderly − like the young − are important. Without them the body of the Church lacks something. That is why it is necessary for them to have their rightful place within each of our communities. It is crucial that we share in the lives of older people in the same way that the Lord, in giving us his Body and Blood, has made us sharers in his own.
Gathered together as a people around the Lord, we discover the beauty of being part of the same family and of being able to feel that we are all children − even those of us who are advanced in years − beloved of the one Father. So, we understand that, as the Pope says in Fratelli Tutti, we are not saved alone. This is what those five thousand gathered around Jesus experienced, and it is clearer today to all of us who live at a time still affected by the pandemic. The elderly are not saved by themselves alone because they need strong legs on which to make their dreams walk. Young people are not saved by themselves alone because they need someone to tell them that even from a dark night, the sun of a new dawn can rise.
The scene presented in the Gospel helps us to understand how, even in everyday family life, whatever each of us possesses can be a great resource for all of us. In the passage we have heard, a boy brings to Jesus “five barley loaves and two fish”; today it is more common for grandparents to possess material goods. But what counts is not having a little or a lot, but presenting it to the Lord who multiplies our bread and ensures that it satisfies the desire of every living person (Ps 144). Grandparents, then, have the specific task of transmitting the faith to the younger generations and accompanying their grandchildren with their wisdom. They need to help them to avoid losing touch with their roots and to build their lives on solid foundations.
Sometimes what we possess is not material. If we think of our grandparents, what they often bring to our families is precisely the gift of gratuitousness. Their way of loving and pampering their grandchildren, to the point of spoiling them, may seem exaggerated to us, but exaggeration is the only measure of love. St. Ephrem the Syrian comments on this passage from John’s Gospel in words that seem to describe the attitude of a grandfather towards his grandchild. He writes, “Not only has he showered us with his gifts gratuitously, but he has also pampered us with affection. […] He has drawn us with this food that is pleasing to the palate to draw us towards that which enlivens our souls…”.
The Church is mother to a people who gather around the Lord and who do not seem to be able to feed themselves. It needs each and every one of us. Just as we heard in today’s Gospel how the Lord allowed a boy to assist, today it seems necessary to multiply the faith and wisdom of the elderly. In their spiritual depth there is a treasure to be discovered. The Pope has often spoken of this. On the occasion of the conference “The richness of many years of life” organised by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, he said that the elderly “are the indispensable link in educating children and young people in the faith.
We must get used to including them in our pastoral horizons and to considering them, in a non-episodic way, as one of the vital components of our communities. They are not simply people whom we are called to safeguard. They can be the protagonists of a pastoral evangelizing ministry, privileged witnesses of God’s faithful love”.
Even the most impoverished and frail of us possesses those two fishes of love and prayer. To pray is a vocation accessible to all. In his message for this World Day, the Pope quotes Benedict XVI when speaking of prayer as a specific mission of the elderly: “the prayer of the elderly can protect the world and help it perhaps more incisively than the toil of so many. Your prayer is a most precious resource: it is a lung of which the Church and the world cannot be deprived (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 262). Especially at this time […], your intercession for the world and for the Church is not in vain, but shows everyone the serene confidence of having a firm foothold”.
In the parallel passage in Mark (6:41), the Lord Jesus entrusts the disciples with the task of distributing the loaves to the crowd. It is a task that he continues to entrust to the Church today. We alone cannot perform the miracle, but Jesus needs our hands so that the bread can feed those who need it. Let us think of how many elderly people in our parishes are ministers of the Eucharist or have other ministries, and how precious this is for the life and the liturgy of our communities.
With thanks to the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.