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Simple Messages in Complex World: Bishop Deeley Celebrates Sunday Mass in Portland

“Jesus does not just give food for the needs of the body.
He gives food for the soul and spirit.”---Bishop Deeley

PORTLAND---“A warm welcome. It’s certainly nice and comfortable in the cathedral this morning,” joked Bishop Robert Deeley as he spoke to the assembly on a hot and humid Sunday in Portland.

As the calendar turned to August this weekend, Bishop Deeley began his six month of Sunday Masses at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, weekly celebrations that began shortly after the pandemic spread to Maine during March. Per usual, a large gathering of participants viewed the live-streamed Mass at home while the allowed 50 people participated from the cathedral, socially distanced in alternate pews.

During his homily, Bishop Deeley pointed out how the morning’s Gospel began with a simple sentence that, like so much of Scripture, contains a wealth of meaning and remind us of something very profound about the depth of God’s love for us. 

“‘When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew to a deserted place by himself.’ John the Baptist was not just the preacher who came before Jesus. They were related. They knew each other and had probably spent time together as youngsters,” said the bishop. “Jesus has lost someone special to him, and, like any one of us, he needs to withdraw from the crowd and grieve his loss. Is that not what we all would want to do? But there is something else that Jesus needs to do as he withdraws by himself. He also needs to pray, to connect with his Father. In the death of John, Jesus sees his own fate. He needs, therefore, to renew his relationship with the Father so that he will have the strength to continue his mission, and to know how he might continue to do what the Father had asked of him.”

That human moment of grief displays the love that Jesus brings to us. 

“He shares our life, including its difficulties, in order to assure us of God’s care for us. That is a message of hope we can pray over during this week as we continue in this time of uncertainty and dislocation,” said the bishop. 

Bishop Deeley also told the in person and online gathering that a later piece of today’s Gospel, the multiplication of loaves and fishes, offers further hope and guidance. 

“This story is often the inspiration for reminding Christians of their need to care for one another, to show forth Jesus’ care in feeding this crowd. This is not just a miracle story where Jesus multiplies what is available and feeds the folks. Before he acted, he raised his eyes to heaven. He blessed the loaves and fishes. He knows of the generosity of God. Jesus honestly believes that the Father will find a solution, and indeed he does. That is the miracle. The miracle is the reminder of God’s kindness, graciousness, and his great love.”

A miracle that inspires the timeless social teaching of the Church. 

“Jesus shows the disciples to take what they have and do what they can to help those who need help,” said Bishop Deeley. “And that is an important part of who we are as Catholics and Christians. We care for one another. Food pantries and providing meals, Catholic Charities, immigration assistance, counseling, education, schools, and many others. Those are all programs we fund and sponsor through the Catholic Appeal, and in our respective parishes and communities. And, in these days of our pandemic, the need is great, and the call on these charitable resources is tremendous.”

But there is more the faithful can offer those in need than just physical care and resources. 

“Jesus prayed first, confident that the Father would take what he and the disciples had to offer and make it into something more. The prayer is an act of faith, and a reminder that our presence here together at Eucharist where Jesus feeds us is the place where we come to know Jesus’ message of God’s love. Jesus does not just give food for the needs of the body. He gives food for the soul and spirit,” said the bishop. “That food, that nourishment, is the foundation of faith in the message of Jesus which is what grounds us in doing our good works. In feeding us, Jesus reminds us that we are loved and empowers us to bring that love into our lives as we extend it to others.”

Coming together for Mass is a way in which we renew ourselves in that love. 

“We bring not only our loaves and fishes but our faith, our conviction that the Spirit of God is with us,” said Bishop Deeley. “Our charity is not just our own action for good. It is the Spirit of God whom we find here in Eucharist working through us for the good of those we serve. Our lives are richer because we know ourselves as loved by God, and we seek to share that Good News.”

And today, the world is in particular need of that sharing.

“People refuse to listen to each other. It is as if we are more influenced by the virulently negative advertising we see constantly before us leading up to November’s election. I suggest we listen to the Lord Jesus in the Gospel today. He shows us a way of life which brings us to each other, and calls us to listen to each other with respect, and seek ways in which we can better our world by our care for each other,” said the bishop. “Be mindful in all things that God is with us. That is because he loves us.”

The Diocese of Portland is offering continual updates on its Coronavirus Response page (www.portlanddiocese.org/response-coronavirus). Offerings include public and live-streamed Mass schedules, “Rediscovering the Joy of the Family” initiative, recaps of Bishop Deeley’s Masses during the pandemic, online giving to help your parish, and more.