Dominica Quarta in Quadragesima [Fourth (Lætare) Sunday in Lent]: March 31, 2019
Delivered by Most Reverend Roger LaRade, O.F.A.
Beloved Disciple Eucharistic Catholic Church, Toronto
© Roger LaRade 2019
Galatians 4: 22 – 31, John 6: 1 - 15
Saint Augustine, Christ and the Fulfillment of the Law
“This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
This realization contained in today’s Gospel passage causes the Church to rejoice on this Fourth Sunday in Lent. This Sunday is known as “Lætare” Sunday. This title is taken from the first word of the Introit antiphon of today’s Mass: “Laetare, Jerúsalem, et convéntum fácite omnes qui dilígitis eam : gaudéte cum lætítia, qui in tristítia fuístis…”; “Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and come together all you who love her: rejoice with joy, you who have been in sorrow…”
All the chants of today’s Mass focus our attention on Jerusalem, on the New Jerusalem; that is, the Church, the people of God as followers of Jesus. At this time in Lent, we recognize that Easter is near, and we remember that in fact every Mass is Easter. And, we remember as well that, in every Mass, the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes – two primary symbols of the Eucharist – is every time repeated. This is the reality with which we are presented today. And this is why we are called to “Rejoice…”
This week, we find ourselves once again on the mountaintop, that “privileged place of divine revelation”. Today, we have, once again, a manifestation – an epiphany – of God’s love in the person of Jesus. At the Transfiguration, which we recalled two weeks ago, as it had been at the Baptism of Jesus, a voice from the cloud is heard saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved…” Let’s recall that the voice from the cloud is “a Jewish image of God’s presence”.
Today’s miracle of the five loaves and two fishes is akin to this experience. It also is a manifestation of Jesus’ divinity. Everything in this Gospel passage points to confessing Jesus as the Christ, as the long-awaited Messiah. This is summarized in the verse: “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” The voice of God finds an echo in the voice of those fed by Jesus. It is to this confession of faith that we have bound ourselves through our baptism; it is to this confession of faith that the Eucharist continually binds us.
There can be little doubt that this passage from the Gospel of Saint John is Eucharistic in nature, and so it focuses our attention on the core meaning of Jesus’ life and mission. In fact, later in this same chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, Jesus will speak to the biblical verse: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat”, what is known as the Eucharistic discourse. The multiplication of the loaves and fishes leads up to this discourse, prepares for it, if you will. The parallel to Moses, and to the sending of manna from heaven is what is being built upon. In the Book of Exodus, Chapter 16, we read that God said to the Hebrews during their escape from Egypt: “I will now rain down bread from heaven for you”. This is then recalled in Psalm 78: “God rained manna upon them for food and gave them heavenly bread”, and in Psalm 105: “…and with bread from heaven God satisfied them”. Jesus, in the multiplication of the five loaves and two fishes and in His Eucharistic discourse, tells us that He himself is this bread from heaven. He himself is the source and sustenance of our life in God: our Baptism and our Eucharist.
Saint Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo from 354 to 397 and one of the four Western Doctors of the Church, looks at the present Gospel passage with this in mind. He sees in the five loaves of bread the five books of Moses, the first five books of the Jewish scriptures, the five books of the Law. Saint Augustine notes that the five loaves are made of barley. He writes:
You know from the nature of barley that only with effort do we reach its inner fruit. For this is covered with a husk of chaff, and the chaff is so close fitting and tenacious that it is not easily removed.
Saint Augustine’s point is that getting to the marrow of the barley is not easy. And, the marrow of the barley, of course, is Jesus. Saint Augustine sees in this a further sign of the five loaves as representing the Old Testament Law. It signifies that God’s revelation in the Old Testament is not complete. The expected One is not yet fully revealed. Jesus breaks this open, as He breaks open and distributes the bread, and reveals the true nature of God’s love. This breaking open of the bread, of course, is but a sign of His breaking open His own body, of His sacrifice on the Cross.
“This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When this is spoken by the people, they do not yet fully understand what they are saying. The understanding of their minds is still focused on the appearance of an earthly Messiah. And so, we read that “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
At every Mass, Jesus – the Infinite Love of God – gives Himself to us in the Eucharist as bread from heaven. Jesus feeds us with the food of God’s love for our lives. Do we force Jesus to “withdraw again to the mountain by himself” or do we fully confess that He “is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world”? As we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, may He become ever more present to us, may our belief be deepened, so that we may truly “Rejoice”.
 Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Third Edition, Edited by Michael D. Coogan (2001: Oxford University Press, Oxford).
 See Dr. Pius Parsch, The Church’s Year of Grace, Volume 2: Septuagesima to Holy Saturday (1953: Collegeville, MN.: The Liturgical Press), p. 216.
 Matthew by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, Dianne Bergant, C.S.A. & Robert J. Karris, O.F.M., General Editors (1989: The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN), p. 886.
 Ibid., p. 886.
 See The Gospel According to John by Bruce Vawter, C.M. in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., and Roland E. Murphy, O.Carm., eds. (1968: Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ), p. 435-6.
 John by Neal M. Flanagan, O.S.M. in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, Dianne Bergant, C.S.A. & Robert J. Karris, O.F.M., General Editors (1989: The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN), p. 991.
 See The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Volume Two: From the First Sunday in Lent to the Sunday after the Ascension, translated and edited by M. F. Toal, D.D. (1964: Henry Regency Co., Chicago), p. 119-125.
Our blog offers information on our monthly liturgical services, special events, news, and donation requests for our church and missions. It will also contain homilies for reading or printing.