"The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs." (Psalm 146:6)
Last Thursday was one of those days. Back and forth to the hospital. Six different sick calls. People pulling me in different directions. I didn't mind. I live for days like this. But as the day went on, it began to take it's toll. Each sick call was more heart breaking than the one before. I was finishing up at the hospital late in the day when I went to visit one more patient, except she wasn't there. There was a little old lady out for a stroll with her walker outside the room, and I asked her if she was the patient I was looking for. She said with a thick Polish accent that the lady I was looking for had been taken downstairs for some tests, so I stopped at the nurses station to catch my breath and to go over my list of patients while this little old lady stood in front of me. "You're a father?" She asked as I looked down at perfectly black clergy suit. "Yes, I am." I smiled back at her. "If you're a father, then you should know what this is," and she pointed to her arms. At first, I thought she was pointing to her medical bracelet, so I leaned forward and caught I glimpse. "It's your medical bracelet," I said. "It says your name is Millie." "No, no," she responded with frustration, "what is this?!?!" She pointed to some markings on the skin near her left elbow. They were faded blue, and at first I thought of something but immediately put it out of my head. It looked like a faded tattoo, but I didn't want to say that because they also looked like veins. I'm not a skin expert, so I didn't want to guess incorrectly because she was growing increasingly frustrated. "I don't know what that is," I answered sheepishly. "You a father! And you don't know what this is!" She got very agitated as I continued to shrug my shoulders. "This is problem if a father doesn't know what this is! This is why everyone forgets!" She kept pointing to her markings, "This is from Holocaust!" My heart sank into my stomach. I had seen those markings before. I tried to find an appropriate excuse for my ignorance, and I told her that I should have known this because I had met Holocaust survivors before. At this point the entire hospital seemed like it didn't exist and that it was just Millie and I in that hallway. I engaged her in conversation and asked her where she got those markings: "The very worst of all--Auschwitz!" Probably the most evil word in the English language. She went on to tell me that she was the only one to survive from her family. She lost her mother and father there. And now she didn't have anyone to visit her. We spoke for about 20 minutes and it seems, I hope, that she slowly started to take a liking to me. I tried to speak to her about hope and overcoming adversity. At the end, she finally told me, "you nice priest." And she let me go on my way. But for the rest of the evening I could not forget about my encounter with Millie. Up until the moment I met her, I had been complaining about how hectic and exhausting my day had been, but then I met someone who dealt with and to a certain extent was still dealing with great adversity. My petty problems seemed trivial. Here was a woman who after 66 years was still crying out to God hungering and thirsting for justice. Yet, she overcame probably the darkest hour in the history of humanity and still managed to make it to Synagogue to pray to God for peace.
It doesn't matter how many obstacles life throws at us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God as St. Paul tells us in today's second reading. He invites those who are thirsty and those who are hungry to come to him. This is exactly what I told Millie when I took my leave of her. I gave her a kiss on the forehead and asked her to pray for me. "I will," she answered, "and you pray for peace." In the face of the greatest problems the world can throw at us, we can always turn to God. As we hear in today's responsorial psalm, he feeds us and he answers all our needs.
Each of us walked into this church today with our own problems, burdens, anxieties, and we can either let them become obstacles that overwhelm us, or we can place them here at this altar at the feet of the Lord. Our God provides for us in our moment of need. He fed the hungry people in today's gospel, and he stands ready to feed each of us as we gather around this altar. The gospel says that the five thousand ate and were satisfied. They were satisfied because they left everything behind to follow Jesus into a deserted place. They did not bring their problems with them. They went in search of the living God and were fed by his mighty hand. Too often we let life's obstacles stand in the way of our relationship with Christ, and we think that maybe somehow God has abandoned us. This is something Millie admitted to me. But it is precisely in those dark moments that we must turn to Romans 8:38-39: "For I am convinced, that neither death,nor life, nor angel, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Like those markings are permanently tattooed on Millie's left elbow, this verse must be permanently tattooed in our hearts so that we may never feel discouraged, stressed out, or abandoned. Our God is a loving and generous God. Today he invites us to be fed at this table, but we must place our burdens at his feet and allow him to take care of us. It is only then the we can freely eat and be totally satisfied. It sometimes takes the Millie's of the world to bring proper perspective to the problems we carry with us and to remind us of how much God truly loves us. I prayed for her that night, and still can't get this little old lady of our my head. A living reminder of God's might hand. A reminder that the hand of the Lord does feed his people, and he indeed answers all our needs.