Sunday, August 16, 2009
Bread of Life
There is an ache and a restlessness that haunts us throughout our lives. We can reach a certain degree of happiness and fulfillment, but there will always be something missing from it. We always want to be more and to do more. The widespread abuse of alcohol and drugs, the breakdown of marriages and the aimlessness of so many young people testify to the fact that people everywhere are groping for more in life but do not know where to find it.
As Christians, we interpret this restlessness as our desire for God. We believe that when God created us he ripped a hole in our soul that only he could sew back up. He left an emptiness within us that only he could fill. We also know that during our lifetime this emptiness will never be filled until we are with God in our heavenly homeland. In fact, one of the reasons why religious women, brothers and priests do not get married is so that they can stand as signs of the truth that we cannot find total fulfillment in our earthly lives.
The Bible describes this emptiness as a hunger and uses many images of food and of meals to show how God alone can satisfy that hunger. In the first reading, Wisdom is pictured as a woman preparing a banquet for all those tired of seeking happiness in foolish pursuits. The psalm response, "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord", speaks of God's beauty and goodness in terms of delicious foods. Though the second reading from Paul's letter to the Ephesians does not talk specifically about food, he hints at the same idea. When he warns us not to get drunk on wine but to be filled with the Holy Spirit, he is saying in effect, "Do not turn to alcohol to cure your loneliness but turn to the Spirit who alone is capable of filling that emptiness." Finally, in the gospel reading, Jesus calls himself "the living bread come down from heaven." He is the one sent by God to fill up this hunger we all suffer from. He tells us that his flesh is "real food" and his blood "real drink" meaning that it alone can really satisfy that emptiness that God left within us.
The Scriptures also use the image of food to describe our relationship with God because it is so vital to our lives. Just as we cannot live without food, so we cannot live with God. Just as our body requires bread to sustain it, so our souls require God to nourish the gift of eternal life.
This theme is also weaved throughout today's gospel. Jesus promises that whoever eats the bread of life - a bread which is his very body - will never suffer death. That is quite a claim to make! No wonder the crowd listening to Jesus found it hard to understand and accept. Could anyone seriously offer a cure for death, a promise of immortality? Could anyone offer an escape from what we fear most? But that is exactly the bold claim that Jesus is making: "Whoever eats this bread will live forever."
What is the eternal life Jesus promises us who eat his body and blood? What is this life that even survives death? It cannot be a human life because human life does not last forever. If it is an eternal and comes from Jesus, it must be God's life, a divine life already living in us, already at work within us who have believed in his only Son and received his Body and Blood. For that reason, we can make the claim that we are God's dear children. Sons and daughters receive life from their parents. They have their parents' blood running in their veins. Just so, we are God's sons and daughters because we have the life of our heavenly Father living in us.
Besides the gift of life, children also receive many of their characteristics from their parents. They look like them, have many of their same talents and often act similarly. Just so, we who are the children of God, who have received eternal life through him, are to be imitators of God. We are to be people who follow the way of love that Jesus followed. The eternal life we receive from the Father manifests itself when we choose love rather than hate. When we have been hurt we do not seek revenge but to forgive. Following Jesus' way of love means that a man and a woman wait until they are in the committed relationship of marriage before making love rather than risk using the other as an object. To love as Jesus loved means we give to those around us the attention and care we would like others to show to us. We know that Jesus is truly living within us and that God's life is really at work in us when everything we say and do is marked by love.
We come to Jesus at this Mass today simply because we need him. Nothing else can satisfy the deepest craving of our heart for the love and life of God the Father which only Jesus can bring us. Our heavenly Father has prepared a banquet for us, the Body and Blood of his Son, given to us out of love. And yet it is not enough for us to receive that love. We must also give it away to all those we meet. As God has fed us, so we are to feed others. Then the love and the life of God can take root in our hearts, and we can know the great joy that our hearts were created to contain.