FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD!
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflections 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B August 9, 2009
A NOTE TO MY PHILIPPINE, TAGALOG READERS: MY KALAKBAY AT KATOTO TAGALOG REFLECTION FOR THIS SUNDAY IS AS MUCH A PAEAN TO THE EUCHARIST AS A WORD OF APPRECIATION TO SOMEBODY WHO EMBODIED AN EXTRAORDINARILY DEEP FAITH IN THE EUCHARIST - FORMER PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT CORY AQUINO. PLEASE CLICK TO THE LINK AT THE RIGHT COLUMN OF THIS PAGE.
Food, traditionally, has never been equated with pouting, with sadness, or anything that smacks of being on the downside emotionally speaking. Food has always been associated with joy, with camaraderie, sharing, togetherness, oneness and overflowing happiness. Food is associated with sustenance, replenishment of lost energy, eroded enthusiasm, and dissipated resolve to do what ought to be done.
Elijah was despondent after a day’s journey, the first reading tells us. Praying for death, he lay down under the broom tree. But the Lord Yahweh himself, through an angel fed him and nourished him and “strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb” (1 Kings 19:8).
It was not simply food, however, that lifted up the spirits of Elijah. It was food that came from no less than God, food that came from heaven, food that went beyond nourishing mere physical hunger and mere material want. It was food that was meant to enliven one’s total being, meant to offer a whole lot more than just replenishment of lost energies, but the fulfillment of one’s deepest longing.
We are reminded today of this real food, this “living bread that came down from heaven,” that is being given to us in this Eucharistic celebration. Today, we are once more face to face with the promise: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
For the life of the world … Now, this is far beyond mere fellowship, mere pleasure and mere earthly, though admittedly legitimate, fulfillment. The Lord promised bread for the life of the world!
Perhaps talking about what the Lord did not promise can make us appreciate what it was he promised. The Lord did not promise a good time with one another today. The Lord did not promise beautiful singing in this Mass. The Lord did not promise resolution of all our problems, big or small. Neither did the Lord promise that we shall henceforth live in peace with everyone we meet in our daily lives. He did not promise camaraderie, fellowship, at-homeness with each other in this assembly. He did not promise any of these things, although if they do come and are given along with the one single important promise, we would do well to welcome them and appreciate them, legitimate joys as they really all are.
The Lord promised life eternal to all those who eat of his body and drink of his blood. The Lord promised bread “for the life of the world.”
There is definitely so much death and dejection in this world as we know it. And there is more than sufficient reason for so much disappointment and lack of fervor. The world as we know it is now deeply steeped in so much evil and uncaring attitudes, that there are so many reasons why so many women and men refuse to live life fully and well. Selfishness that abounds everywhere … corruption in and out of government … so little appreciation for the value of life … so much neglect and abandonment of one another … the list is legion. There is more than enough reason for one to be dejected, be sad – even be angry, and both be aggressive and passive about so many things at one and the same time. The world, though experiencing a surfeit of abundant food, is really hungry for what really matters more than victuals. There is so much food, but so little genuine nourishment. So many fat people in fact, but so little genuine health at the same time. The world could be overfed but really emotionally, psychologically – nay more – spiritually, undernourished. The world pines for food that lasts, food that really fulfills, and not merely fills.
If the world is really fulfilled, then why is there still so much “bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling?” Such are the things that ought to be “removed from [us] along with all malice.” The surfeit of negativity constitutes the empty fullness of the world that has not “tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord.” But it is really those who are “kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving [to] one another,” who are really filled with genuine nourishment from above.
There is need for all of us to discern what it is we are really aiming at and ordinarily looking for. Are we fed and nourished by the things that we fill ourselves with or are we really drained? Can we honestly say we are being enriched by our mad rush from one gimmick to another, by the time we spend on looking out to become number one, by the efforts we expend at trying to become what we really are not called to be, by our self-centered efforts at filling our sense of emptiness with so much noise, clutter and glitter? Are we indeed becoming the interiorly joyful Christians we are meant to be?
The Scriptural evidence today from St. John’s gospel alludes to people who merely received material bread, assuaged in their merely earthly and physical hunger. They were still sad and they still sulked and pouted. In fact, they “murmured” among themselves. Indeed, we people really have no satisfaction at all. There is something more than just material food that we need. Merely being satisfied with bread out in the desert did not make the erstwhile excited followers of the Lord really committed disciples of the same Lord. Satiated, they still complained. Satisfied, they still went on asking for more.
This is the story of each and everyone of us.
The ending of the story though is something we now have in our hands to control. The answer lies in our hands. This for practical reasons… For one, we might want to ask ourselves, what is it we have brought to this Mass? Did you come here with full or empty hands? Did you come here to give or to get? Did you come here to be consoled or to meet the God of consolation? Did you come here only to receive or did you come to this Mass to fill others and thus be filled by God and by others in turn? Fulton Sheen said years ago: so many people get nothing out of the Mass simply because they bring nothing to it in the first place. Eating manna alone will not guarantee one’s not dying. “Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died.”
What then, ought we to bring? The rest of the Lord’s statement clinches it: “this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” What then ought we to bring? Faith in him who has come down in flesh … faith in him come down as flesh become bread for the life of the world.