Gathering Fragments by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, "Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?" He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, "Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little." One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish'; but what good are these for so many?" Jesus said, "Have the people recline." Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, "Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted." So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, "This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world." Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.
It seems a curious command: “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted” (Jn 6:12). Jesus had just performed one of His greatest miracles – the multiplication of the loaves and fish. He feeds thousands with five loaves and two fish . . . and yet He worries about fragments of bread? Yes, He does. He is concerned about such things – about the small, the seemingly insignificant . . . about fragments.
Perhaps we think that because God is infinite and all-powerful He considers only the big picture and has no concern for the little things. In fact, He desires that details be employed in His service as well. Every little thing – every fragment – can be gathered and given to God, so that nothing will be wasted.
This command has something of a preventative measure. He calls attention to details to keep us from neglect and carelessness. It would have been an act of ingratitude if the crowd had just thrown out all the fragments. He guards against that by having the fragments gathered. More importantly, this attention to details is in the nature of love. Those who love pay attention to details. They want things to be “just so” for the beloved out of love; Our Lord pays attention to the details and calls our attention to them as well.
“Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” These words help us understand the importance of the details – the fragments – of Mass. The Mass has many seemingly minor details: vestments, veils, bells, candles, folded hands, bows of the head and so on. We may be tempted to see these as insignificant and so disregard them. What more do we need than bread and wine? But the details are important for us, as the fragments were for Our Lord. They are external actions that form us interiorly. By these little things – the striking of the breast, bowing during the creed, etc. – we are sculpting our souls into the likeness of Christ.
“Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” The command has clear application to the reception of holy Communion. How we receive Communion may seem to be an insignificant detail, a fragment. But Mother Church – following her Lord’s concern for details – gives specific instructions how to receive. She does not just say, “Everyone come up.” She asks us to fast for one hour – a small thing, really, but a reminder that as we approach heavenly food we should not be glutted with earthly food.
She invites us to receive Communion on the tongue. Which is an odd thing to do, as adults do not receive any other food that way. And that is precisely the point, the detail. Mother Church has us receive in this way to make us more aware of whom we receive – to teach us that in the Eucharist we do not feed ourselves, but we are being fed.
The option to receive holy Communion in the hands also calls for attention to details. Both hands should be free to receive Our Lord – one hand over the other. Not grasping for the sacred host, not lazily opening our palms, but lifting our hands and opening them to receive Our Lord. Consider how mother Church requires her ordained ministers to care for the fragments of the host after distribution holy Communion – taking care that the vessels are properly purified. Such a detailed instruction for priests and deacons should serve as a reminder to all the faithful of the sanctity of these literal fragments.
These may seem to be just minor details . . . fragments. Indeed, they are . But we should gather them nonetheless – as a guard against carelessness or neglect – and as an expression of our love for Him. So that nothing will be wasted.
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index