Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Ya Gotta Eat
If you watch a lot of sports, like I do, you probably have seen the newest routine a lot of athletes go through after they make a great play, hit a home run, or whatever. You might have seen the athlete in the dugout, on the side of the field or even on the basketball court start making believe that he or she is eating. I’m not completely sure what they are trying to say, but it must be something that compares their athletic prowess to feeding a beast of prey, like a lion or bear.
A while ago a hamburger chain used to advertise that you should go to one of their stores because, after all, “Ya Gotta, Eat.” I’ve always thought that they are saying that no matter how bad their food may be, still it’s food, and you have to have food.
Sometimes, I see parishioners when I’m doing some food shopping. They might be surprised to see me there, so I’ll just say, “Hey, ya gotta eat.”
Today’s Gospel, the second of our five Sundays on the sixth chapter of John, takes place the day after Jesus had fed the five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish. Some people sought the Lord out, not because they wanted to hear His teaching, but only because they could get some more free food. Jesus used their desire to eat to raise their need to an infinitely higher level. He told them that they seek food that perishes, but that he could give them food that never perishes. They spoke about the manna that God provided in the days of the Exodus, and Jesus told them about the bread the Father gives that is greater than manna. This bread doesn’t just satisfy physical hunger, but gives life to the world. They asked for this bread, and Jesus said that he is the bread of life. “Whoever comes to me will never hunger, whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
We have to eat. If we don’t eat, we’ll starve to death. We have to eat to maintain our physical lives. We have to eat to maintain our spiritual lives. Jesus himself is the food we need. He is the Bread of Life. We need Him. We need our union with the Lord. We need to let Him guide our ways. We are restless in life. We hunger for more than this life can offer. He gives us what we need. He gives us God. He is God.
He gives us the Eucharist. We need to receive communion. The Eucharist is not just one of the many pious practices of our faith. It is the heart of our faith. The Eucharist is our union with Jesus offering Himself to the Father for us. We need the Eucharist as our spiritual food. The Eucharist is the very Body of Christ.
We receive the Bread of Life. The life offered is certainly not life as we usually use the term. It is not referring to physical life. We eat the Bread of Life and die from cancer, heart attacks, accidents, etc. The Life offered is the Life of Christ. It is the spiritual life that we receive at our Baptism and which remains after our physical death. The Bread Jesus gives nourishes this life, helps us grow stronger spiritually and makes us powerful in the battle for the Kingdom of God. So we come before the Lord this and every Sunday, or perhaps for some of us, every day, and we say to the Lord, “Feed me.”
But do we really want to be fed? The food that God gives demands a total commitment to Him. When we go to communion we are bound by the Presence within us to live His Life in a way that gives evidence of His Life in the world. You see for us committed Catholics, religion is not a sometimes affair, not a once a week happening. For us religion means being bound to Christ. The very word religion comes from the Latin work ligare which means to be bound. Our faith is who we are. We are people bound to Christ.
Many people, hopefully none here, but many people will disagree with this. They will say that a person shouldn’t take his or her faith too seriously. Or that decisions should not be based on faith but on what is expedient, pleasurable, etc. There is some of this in each of us. There is that dark part of us that wants to believe that we can put our faith in a corner of our lives, but do not have to let it determine our lives. It is the part of us that longs for the fleshpots of Egypt, even though we know that the price of fleeting pleasure is slavery. Think about that. When we choose pleasure where God is not present, we become slaves to that pleasure. And yet, there is a part of us that goes to Church on Sundays but thinks it is quite alright to get drunk on Fridays. It is that part of us that really does not want to be fed with the Bread of Life.
But there is another part of us, hopefully it is the dominating force within us. This is the part of us that truly wants to grow in the Life of the Lord every day until we die. It is the part that always wants more of Him. It is the part that wants to wake up in His Presence, go about our daily routine in His Presence, and sleep in His Presence. A brilliant Father of the Early Church wrote: “A Christian is not his own master. His time is God’s.” Do you know who wrote that? St. Ignatius of Antioch, our patron, wrote that before he died. There is a part of us that knows in the core of our being that this is true. It is the part of us that cries out with the people in the Gospel, “Lord, give us this bread always.”
And He does. And we come to a deeper understanding that there is nothing we can gain in life that has value except that which comes from Jesus and returns to Him.
And so we receive communion. We have to eat. We need Jesus. He is the Bread of Life.