As we read the Gospels -- and, to a lesser degree, the Acts of the Apostles -- we cannot help but be impressed with the miracles worked by our Lord during the period of His public life. There are enough of them that they cannot be dismissed as mere "luck" or "chance" -- that many sick people could not have had psychosomatic illnesses -- and some of them were already dead; Lazarus for four days. And some of the miracles, like the one we read about today, are on too grand a scale for us to even consider the possibility that they were no more than the "parlor tricks" of a stage magician. Turning seven loaves of bread into seven baskets of left-overs would have been pretty impressive, even if the four thousand people had nothing at all to eat.
Usually, commentators on the Scriptures tell us that our Lord worked miracles (and enabled some of His disciples to do so), partially out of His compassion for the suffering people whom he encountered, but primarily as a demonstration of His divine authority (and the authority of the Church he founded on sometimes-miracle- working Apostles). We read, for example, that in changing water into wine at Cana: "He manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him."2 We read that after He calmed the sea while in a boat caught in a storm, even His disciples were moved to consider: "What manner of Man is this that even the wind and the sea obey Him?"3 Given the state of technology and the healing arts in our Lord's time, His miracles were sure proof of His divine authority.
Sometimes, the magnitude of these miracles makes modern Christians express a sort of disappointment -- and maybe even a feeling of unfairness -- that they have been left out. "What a shame it is," some will say, "that Jesus is not here with us today to heal the sick and feed the hungry." "What a shame it is that we cannot see His great power for ourselves, but must rely on the testimony of other men, long dead."
Oh, to be sure, we still hear of major miracles being worked occasionally through the intercession of the saints, or even at the command of some holy person. But such miracles are relatively rare -- most of us have never personally witnessed one, and still must rely on the testimony of others. Some are well substantiated, like the medical miracles that take place now and again at Lourdes -- but some are less compelling, being more subject to personal opinion and interpretation.
But to lament over the fact that such "major miracles" are relatively rare in our times, is to miss a very important point. The fact is that most of our existence is a miracle! That a farmer can transform a few acres of dirt into the wheat necessary to feed four thousand may not sound as spectacular as today's Gospel, but it is miraculous nonetheless. The fact that we can transform bread and wine into our own body and blood may be less significant than the miracle of the Eucharist, yet it remains a miracle. Or consider the most basic miracle of life itself -- that men and women bring forth their own kind, and impart their skills and their knowledge to the next generation before their time on earth is through. Consider the intellect that is somehow stored in the heads of people, so that each year we become more and more capable of healing our sick and feeding our hungry. To be sure, all of these things take human effort and activity -- but all of them point beyond human-kind to its Creator. It was God who made the dirt and designed the wheat; God who made the multitude of things suitable for digestion; God who creates a rational soul in cooperation with human procreation; God who fashioned the amazing technology of the human mind. So please do not say that our age has been cheated of its share of miracles!
Consider, also, that the miracles are spiritual as well. Consider that in spite of our physical mortality, and the human propensity to reject the supernatural gifts that would raise us above the natural level of that mortality -- God always and everywhere extends Hiss graces to make us His adopted sons and daughters, so that we may know, love, and serve Him in this world, in order to be happy with Him in the next. Look at today's Epistle.4 He reaches out with the gift of Faith so that we can be baptized and united in the Resurrection of His Son; that we may be sanctified in His grace, literally becoming His temples on earth. When we fall from that grace He picks us up and restores His graces through the Sacrament of Penance. He nourishes His grace within us, not with seven loaves but with seven Sacraments -- the chief of which, Holy Communion, physically unites us to His infinite Being. What could be more miraculous than human flesh, made (in time) out of the mud of the earth, being joined for eternity with God.
We have absolutely no reason to feel cheated or distanced from the miracles of our God!
But, let me close with a reminder that in these continuous "minor miracles" that God works, He has delegated a great share of His power and authority to us mere mortals. He has given us the power, so it is our responsibility to heal the sick, and feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, and so forth. It is our responsibility to bring forth our children in love and to teach them to know God. It is our responsibility to hand on the Mass and the Sacraments, the doctrine and the morality that has been given to us by God Himself, made Man.
It is awesome indeed to recognize that God has given us dominion over His creation; dominion, ultimately, even over His miracles. We have become partakers of His divinity, who humbled Himself to become partaker of our humanity.5
1. Gospel: Mark viii: 1-9.
2. Gospel for 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, John ii: 1-11.
3. Gospel for 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, Matthew viii: 23-27.
4. Epistle, Romans vi: 3-11
5. Blessing of the water to be placed in the Chalice for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.