In today’s Scripture readings, people are tired, exhausted, depressed, and full of complaints. Does this sound like God’s chosen people? Perhaps these folks need to read and enjoy Pope Francis’s letter on THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL. Perhaps they need to sing the beautiful hymn to the God of all hopefulness, the God of all joy.
In the first Scripture reading, the prophet Elijah sat under the broom tree and even prayed for death. This was his hour of darkness. Fleeing for his life from the evil queen Jezebel, Elijah sought refuge and rest in the desert under a broom tree. So broken in Spirit was Elijah that he literally prayed for death. Elijah was basically telling God, ‘Enough!’ I’ve had it! Just let me lie down and die! Here and Now!
Most of us find situations in life when we can identify with Elijah’s desert experience under his broom tree of despair. Were Elijah’s times all that different from ours? Given the disillusionment with too many of our political and spiritual leaders, given the variant personal lifestyles of too many people, there is enormous pressure on us to be faithful. Like Elijah, sometimes we question whether our lives have any lasting meaning, whether we have failed to make a difference in the world.
Like Elijah, we can have a pity party for ourselves. Personally, our family life may not be what we would like it to be. Illness may be an unwelcomed and unplanned visitor to our life. That right job just doesn’t to be on the horizon.
Elijah, faithful to his mission but utterly discouraged, is depressed to the point of wanting to sleep and sleep. And yet, “Touched” by the divine, Elijah’s spirit was renewed and sustained for the 40 day-and-night journey to Mount Hereby. Elijah needed the kind of bread that only God could provide.
We too long to be “touched” by the mystery of God’s love, to be taught by God. The truth of our lives is God longs to touch us with his amazing grace. When we trust in God and God’s care for us, we can leave behind the broom trees of our despair and live in hope. Hope in God, hope in the bread of life, hope in the One who prepares a weekly feast and is revealed anew in bread and wine.
Elijah’s story provides a fitting context in which to reflect on the Eucharist. The people listening to Jesus in the Gospel began to complain because he claimed to be the bread that came down from heaven. People murmured when Jesus declares that He Himself is our bread for the journey. This murmur echoes the reaction of some to the real presence of Jesus in the mystery of the Eucharist, the mystery of God’s self-sacrificing love revealed in Jesus, and this mystery that enables diverse people near and far to live as brothers and sisters in one human family, children of one heavenly Father.
We must honestly ask ourselves if we are witnesses to the profound Eucharistic mystery? Do we intellectually believe in the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine that has become the Body and Blood of Christ? Equally, are our hearts open to receiving God’s love and mercy?
In their murmuring, the first disciples said: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his mother and his father? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven.’ Maybe that is our equivalent of the Mass becoming such a routine part of our lives. Homilies cease to inspire. We have lost the wonder. We have lost the mystery. The Mass is too ordinary, too routine.
As a Eucharistic people, we are fed and nourished with the bread of life and the cup of salvation; our lives are transformed by the love of Jesus within us. On the day of your child’s First Communion, there is a wonderful expectancy, the joy and hope is so apparent in our First Communicants and their families. Indeed, this is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it.
The process of Eucharistic conversion for all of us is the deepening of the awe, the expectancy of being fed by the bread of life and the chalice of salvation.
If the Eucharist is only a Sunday morning thing, if there is anger and hatred in our hearts toward others, if our attention is only mixed at best, if we are hassled about many things, we have not opened our hearts to the transforming love of God revealed in the Eucharistic mystery.
To unlock the mystery of John’s Bread of Life discourse from his sixth chapter, we need to plummet the last line of today’s Gospel. “The Bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Jesus’ crucified body is bread? It is hard to imagine how Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross actually feeds us. The cross is a place of glory for Jesus. It is on the cross that Jesus will draw all people to himself.
In the second Scripture reading, Paul writes to the Ephesians, who likewise appear to be tired, and even broken in spirit, Paul has heard of the bitterness and anger that some community members feel toward each other. The situation has apparently deteriorated and there was “shouting,” “reviling,” even “fury” among community members. In his advice in handling this tension, Paul tells the Ephesians to “be imitators of God.” The divine will is to love and forgive. Bitter rancor is to be avoided; compassion and forgiveness are to become holy habits of those who profess to belong to God.
The only way for us as disciples to be imitators of God is to center our lives in the cross of Jesus. I absolutely love how Jesus on the cross is such a dominating part of our Church sanctuary. May the cross of Jesus be at the center of our hearts as well. As we now celebrate the mystery of the Eucharist, the bread that is my flesh for the life of the world, may we be immersed in the great mystery of God’s unending love for us.