The multiplication of the loaves: on Laetare Sunday


O Jesus, true Bread of eternal life, appease my hunger.


This Sunday there is a pause of holy joy and spiritual comfort which the Church, like a good mother, gives us in the middle of the Lenten austerity so that we may renew our strength. “Rejoice, O Jerusalem,” the introit of the Mass sings, “and all you who love her, leap with joy and be filled with the abundance of her delights.”

What are these delights? The gospel (Jn 6:1–15) answers the question by the narrative of the multiplication of the loaves, the great miracle by which Jesus meant to prepare the people for the announcement of a much more startling miracle, the institution of the Holy Eucharist, in which He, the Master, would become our Bread, the “living Bread which came down from Heaven” (Jn 6:41) to nourish our souls. This is the cause of our joy, the source of our delight. Jesus is the Bread of life, always at our disposal to appease our hunger.

Although Jesus appreciates spiritual values much better than we, He does not forget or despise the material necessities of life. Today’s gospel shows Him surrounded by the crowd which had followed Him to hear His teachings. Jesus thinks of their hunger, and to provide for it, performs one of His most outstanding miracles. With His blessing, five loaves of bread and two fishes suffice to feed five thousand people, with twelve basketfuls left over.

Jesus knows that when a person is tormented by hunger or material needs, he is unable to apply himself to the things of the spirit. Charity likewise requires of us this understanding of the bodily necessities of others, a practical understanding which translates itself into efficacious action.

“If a brother or sister be naked and want daily food, and one of you say to them, ‘Go in peace’ … yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit?”

Jm 2:15–16

The Apostles had suggested to the Master that He dismiss the crowd “that they may buy themselves victuals” (Mt 14:15). Jesus did not agree but provided for them Himself. We, too, must strive, as far as we are able, to show ourselves solicitous for the needs of others.


yBefore performing this miracle, Jesus asked Philip, ”Whence shall we buy bread wherewith to feed these people?” And the evangelist observes, “He said that to try him, for He knew what He was about to do.” There is no difficulty in our lives for which God does not know the solution. From all eternity He has foreseen it and has the remedy for each case, no matter how complicated the situation may be. However, sometimes in difficult circumstances He seems to leave us alone as if the outcome were to depend on us, but He does this only to test us. He wants us to measure our strength against the difficulty — which makes us more aware of our weakness and insufficiency — and He wants us also to exercise our faith and our confidence in Him. The Lord never really abandons us unless we forsake Him first. He only hides Himself and covers His actions with a dark veil. This is the time to believe, to believe firmly, and to wait with humble patience and complete confidence.

The apostles tell Jesus that a young boy has five loaves and two fishes, that this is very little, in fact, nothing at all for feeding five thousand men. But the Lord asks for this nothing and uses it to accomplish a great miracle. It is always thus: the all-powerful God, who can do everything and create from nothing, when dealing with His free creatures, will not act without their help.

Man can do but very little; yet God wants, asks for, and requires this little as a condition of His intervention. Only the Lord can make us saints, as only He could multiply the small supplies of the young boy; still He asks for our help. Like the boy in the gospel, we too must give Him everything in our power; we must offer Him each day our good resolutions, renewed faithfully and lovingly, and he will bring about a great miracle for us also, the miracle of our sanctification.


“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, on the Cross, with Your arms extended for the redemption of all men, drank the chalice of unspeakable sorrows, deign to help me today. Poor am I, but I come to You who are rich; in my wretchedness I present myself to You, the All-merciful. Ah! grant that I may not leave You, empty and deceived. I come to You hungry; do not let me go always fasting. Weak, I approach You; do not turn me away unstrengthened! And, if I sigh with hunger, grant me the grace to be nourished.”

St Augustine

Yes, I hunger for You true Bread, living Bread, Bread of life. You know what my hunger is — hunger of the soul, hunger of the body — and You will to provide for the one as well as for the other. By Your teaching, by Your Body and Blood, You strengthen my spirit; You strengthen it abundantly, withholding nothing, except what I myself keep by the coldness of my love, the smallness of my heart. You have set a rich and abundant table for me, beyond anything imaginable, which I have only to approach in order to be fed. You not only welcome me, but You Yourself become my food and drink when You give Yourself wholly to me, wholly in Your divinity, wholly in Your humanity.

In Your infinite goodness, You have even set a table for my body, and Your providence feeds it, clothes it, and maintains it in life like the lilies of the field, and the birds of the air. You know my needs, my pains, my preoccupation with the past, the present, and the future; and You provide for everything with a paternal love. Lord, why do I not confide in You, why do I not cast all my cares on You, certain that You will find a remedy for all of them? I entrust my life to You, the life of my body, my earthly life with all its needs and its labours, as well as the life of my soul with all its necessities, its pains, its hunger for the infinite. Only You can fill up the emptiness in my heart, only You can make me happy. You alone can bring about my ideal of sanctity — union with You.