The events of today's Gospel, we are told, took place around the time of the Passover, perhaps a year before the Last Supper and the Crucifixion of our Lord.1 It is one of two times that are recorded in Sacred Scripture that our Lord multiplied loaves of bread to feed an enormous crowd. If we continue reading the account as given in St. John's Gospel, it seems clear that our Lord chose this particular way of feeding the crowd as a means of preparing them for the statements He would make in preparing them for the institution of the Blessed Sacrament. He goes on to say that He would give His flesh and blood to be the food and drink of those who would have eternal life. This miraculous multiplication of loaves helps us to believe that His body and blood are indeed present in the Eucharist -- that, just as He made five barley loaves present to five thousand people, He makes His body and blood present in all the tabernacles of the world.
This sacramental presence of Christ amongst us is the inheritance that Saint Paul speaks about in this epistle that he wrote to the Galatians.2 Abraham was, of course, the father of the Jewish nation. His wife Sarah, unable to have children, gave her servant girl to him to be the mother of his first son Ishmael. Later on, through God's intervention, Sarah was able to give him his second son, whom we know as Isaac.
Paul is telling us that as Christians we are the spiritual descendents of Abraham through his legitimate wife Sarah, and their son Isaac. And the inheritance that we have is the possession of our Lord Jesus Christ through our Faith, and in the Mass and Sacraments. He wrote this particular letter precisely because certain influences were trying to downplay the importance of the grace of Christ, and were trying to get the Galatians to follow the outward practices of the law of Moses.
Paul was very insistent: Everyone had to follow the moral law -- the "Commandments," if you want to call them that. That law existed in the hearts of men since the time of Adam and Eve, and will continue to govern us until the last person on earth draws his dieing breath. But the ritual prescriptions of the Law were another matter.
The ritual prescriptions of Moses do not justify a person; they do not make him holy in the radical sense that faith in Christ does. Even if the Jews had kept the Law in its most minute prescription -- and Paul says most of them did not -- it still would not have transformed their souls in the same way that we are transformed by the following of Christ. He was so insistent, that he even went so far as to rebuke St. Peter, who had been pretending to go along with those who wanted the Galatians to follow the Jewish practice. "I withstood him to his face, because he was deserving of blame."3
Now, it is important to note that Paul was not saying that the Law of Moses was bad. Paul had been a doctor of the Jewish Law. Certainly, that Law had kept men holy for centuries, and Paul knew that some of the most important martyrs of the Old Testament had given their lives rather than disobey the Law given by God to Moses in the desert. Paul is saying that the Old Law is inadequate; that it is merely a figure or a prediction of things to come. The Old Law was all that his forefathers had possessed. Circumcision, abstaining from certain foods, the sacrificial offering of animals in the temple, and the other prescriptions of Jewish ritual were all that God had given them.
But as Christians we are different. We have been redeemed by the perfect sacrifice, the offering of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. No animal sacrifice can compare. Indeed to cling to the old sacrifices seems to be a rejection of Christ. Holy Communion has replaced the Passover lamb; baptism has replaced circumcision -- to continue the outmoded practices would be wrong. "I have died to the Law that I may live to God. With Christ I am nailed to the cross."4 The Law was, perhaps, to lead the Jews to Christ. Having found Christ it no longer served a purpose to them or to the Gentiles -- indeed it was a source of confusion and falling away from the faith.
The Faith of Christ is to be kept absolutely pure. The Gospel of Christ must not be perverted. Right at the beginning of this letter to the Galatians, Paul says, "Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel to you other than that which we have preached to you … which you have received, let him be anathema!"5 Literally: let anyone who perverts the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ go to hell!
Now, the Galatians were people who lived in St. Paul's time in what we would call modern Turkey, half way between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. But, I would submit to you that Paul is writing at least as much for our benefit, here at the end of the 20th century. For we live in a time when everyone wants to "get along." That would be a good thing in itself, but it is also a time when people are willing to down play their most important beliefs if that is what is necessary to "get along." We are told to look at the religious beliefs of others and see only what is good and true in them, while ignoring the errors they may contain, and the hostility they may have for the Faith of Christ. And, not surprisingly, the Catholic belief that is most under fire -- the one that the ecumenists would most like us to forget -- is the one that is at the heart of our Christian inheritance, our belief in the fact that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
Just like the Law of Moses, the other religions of the world contain many good things. But they are not the Faith of Jesus Christ. And we may never compromise that Faith, for to do so is literally to lose one's soul. So, together with Saint Paul, we can ponder this inheritance which we have -- the inheritance that comes to us from Abraham and his true wife -- the inheritance that is our Catholic Faith and the possession of our Lord in the Mass and Sacraments. "Even if an angel from heaven should preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!"