For the next several weeks, we will be making our way through the section of John’s Gospel that speaks of the Bread of Life. Many regular Mass-goers are still trying to regain our footing about attending the Eucharist. We have fears of contracting the virus and social readjustments to being around people again. Some people might be wondering about the differences between attending Mass virtually and in person. Hopefully, if you or your loved ones have been away from attending Mass, you might be willing to re-examine your choice to come and be a part of the gathered community of God’s people.
Obviously not every detail or description of the importance of the Eucharist can be done in one column or one series of articles. But I will attempt during these next several weeks to walk through with you the lasting value of partaking of the Bread of Life that is Jesus. My hope is that we all re-examine and recommit ourselves to sharing in the Eucharist in a deeper way than ever before. As many have said before me, if we really believed that the Eucharist was Jesus, truly present, would we choose not to be with Him?
This Scriptures for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time remind us about a very fickle part of human existence. Using the example of the Israelites being brought out of Egypt by Moses, we witnessed them grumbling about the lack of food and drink in the desert and not remembering the freedom that they have obtained from slavery. When Jesus notices people following Him after the multiplication of the loaves, He wonders if they’re following Him just to feed their bellies, or if they really want more of Him.
When Jesus claims to be the Bread of Life, people are startled and confused. Jesus promises that anyone who comes to Him will never thirst or hunger again. Taken literally, that is impossible to believe. We each know that we need nourishment to stay alive. But what Jesus is asking us to consider is more than what our bellies feel. He’s asking us to look at what sustains us both now and beyond the grave. We have all had the experience of thinking that something will truly satisfy us only to find that it is not true in the end.
Do you believe that Jesus sustains your life? Try to answer that as clearly and honestly as you can. If everything else was taken away from you, but you could still receive the Bread of Life, would that be enough for you? Or would you still be seeking something or someone else? We know for sure that during the life of Jesus, many people decided to follow Him, but when it came to the end, almost everyone abandoned Him.
When Jesus sat at a table with His disciples on that last night of His life, He was sitting with sinners, betrayers and skeptics. He chose to make that the occasion to pledge Himself to them and to us. This choice could have great power in our decisions about our belief and practice surrounding the Eucharist. Do you ever feel unworthy to receive the body of Christ? Do you ever feel hypocritical when you listen to the Scriptures at Mass and then get in line to receive Communion? It seems that you and I are in great company if we experience those feelings.
We need to remember the words of St. Paul as he reminds us that Jesus gave us that gift and continues to give us that gift while we are still sinners. Those words could erase any of our excuses for being too bad of a person to participate in the Eucharist. Those words also could have the power to erase any arrogance or sense of superiority that we have about others who might appear to be sinners.
I look forward to exploring more of the mystery and the gift of the Bread of Life as these weeks go by.
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.