“Have trust in Him”
by Fr Martin Loftus SDB
When I was growing up, there were always houses where you’d never ever get a cup of tea! They’d remind you of the time, alright. “You’d better be going home, now,” they’d tell you, “Your mother will be expecting you for the tea!” Worse still, they’d offer you the tea, when you were about to go! Just when you’d be going out the door, they’d say: “You won’t wait for your tea, will you? or “A pity, now, – and you could have had your tea, and the length of time you were here!” You know, the generality of Irish people always took a dim view of such meanness! however, the first thing that strikes you about today’s readings, is that they are the very opposite of such mean tightness!! The first reading, from Wisdom, invites us to “Come and taste the wine and food I have prepared! And in the Gospel, Jesus invites us to “take and eat!” “And when you eat this bread, you will live for ever. So, sit down, and eat!”
It is in that spirit, this morning, that Our Lord invites us to his table. And he offers us friendship, and a relationship of a very special kind, in terms of its permanence, and especially in its trust! Doesn’t he say, that the relationship he is offering will last, not just for THIS life, but for the life to come? For this Gospel also asks a deep question – and that question IS: “What is your relationship with God?” And the only way to respond to that, is to say: “Well, what is my relationship with other people?” We all have to say that my relationship with other people has to rest on some kind of trust, even during perplexing and strained times! We know that relationships are imperfect! They are not based on guarantees – but on trust! Like between husbands and wives; and partners; brothers and sisters; and friends and lovers; with all the unfairness of life, they have to trust each other – or die inside themselves! And when you are in relationship with him, like with somebody you love, then you have to trust him. You have to trust his word. With people you love, you stick with them! You hang in there, even when you see no end, and no light at the end of the tunnel. That’s why, this morning, we pray:
“Lord, increase our faith and our trust in you! That you won’t send us away disappointed and empty-handed; That you won’t send us home, without our tea, without that Bread from heaven! But that you will give us that Bread, and that we will live with you, for ever! Amen.
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Proverbs 9:1-6
Wisdom has built herself a house,
she has erected her seven pillars,
she has slaughtered her beasts, prepared her wine,
she has laid her table.
She has despatched her maidservants
and proclaimed from the city’s heights:
‘Who is ignorant? Let him step this way.’
To the fool she says,
‘Come and eat my bread,
drink the wine I have prepared!
Leave your folly and you will live,
walk in the ways of perception.’
Are we ready to meet Lady Wisdom at the doors of her house? Today we are invited to sit and reflect on the significance of Lady Wisdom’s heavenly banquet, especially since it is set in opposition to a banquet set out by Dame Folly. Lady Wisdom has everything ready and has sent out her messengers and her invitations. Do we listen to people of true wisdom? Can we hear them inviting us to sit at her table? Can we hear her encouraging us to grow in understanding, to let go of our illusions of wisdom and recognise our fundamental foolishness? The meat and the wine represent Lady Wisdom’s good teaching, a teaching that is both palatable and profitable for those who sit at her table. But many find the sham set in play by Dame Folly much more attractive. There is a fatal attraction at work here, something we can see all around us. What is at play is nothing less than the dance of spiritual life and death. Whose house shall we enter? With whom shall we dance?
LORD, Adonai, I come before you with open hands and open heart. I come into your presence seeking guidance and discernment. I come seeking food and drink for my spirit and my soul. Touch me with the Wisdom the sits by your throne. Let her teach me your way and your truth, especially when I face stark choices and tough and testing situations. Thank you for the people who speak words of truth, holy words, words that liberate, words that encourage. Save me from pride and arrogance. Save me from my own folly. Grant me a wise heart today, a heart of discernment, a heart of wisdom. May your light and your truth guide my steps. May I treat all with compassion and deal fairly with all. May I walk in your ways of justice and love. May your purpose prevail in all I do and say. Now and forever. Amen.
A marvellous prayer of thanksgiving, our psalm invites us today to journey deeply into the living depths of God’s unimaginable goodness. Taste and see, the poet encourages us, that the LORD is good! The poet teaches us how important it is to sing our hope-filled praise, more especially when times seem dark. How do you glory in the LORD? Does your time with God make you radiant with joy? If so, why blush? Those who sit with this rather long psalm soon recognise that it holds out to us a vision of life to be lived in the realities of the world. Like Lady Wisdom, the poet wants us to walk with God living a good life and developing a wholesome character. The choice, as always, is ours. Are we up to the challenge?
LORD, Adonai, how many times have I tasted and seen your goodness and glory! How wonderful you are in all your ways! Let me taste more deeply of your loving presence today! May I see your beauty in a flower or in a stranger’s smile! Help me to constantly rediscover that your love is better than life! I take refuge in you, Holy One, Sovereign One, Loving Shepherd, Lifter of my head, my Deliverer! I bless you! I praise you! I glory in your love! I rejoice in your radiant light! Hear the poor today! Listen to the hungry and the homeless! Send comforters and healers to all who are distressed! Now and forever. Amen.
2nd Reading – Ephesians 5:15-20
Be very careful about the sort of lives you lead, like intelligent and not like senseless people. This may be a wicked age, but you redeem it. And do not be thoughtless but recognise what is the will of the Lord. Do not drug yourselves with wine, this is simply dissipation; be filled with the Spirit. Sing the words and tunes of the psalms and hymns when you are together, and go on singing and chanting to the Lord in your hearts, so that always and everywhere you are giving thanks to God who is our Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Are we going to listen to Lady Wisdom and make the most of our time or are we going to follow the dark ways of Dame Folly that lead us into debauchery and drunkenness? Such is the question Paul puts to the Ephesians today. If we are wise, we will open our eyes and deal with our spiritual ignorance. In other words, we will begin again to take our spirituality and our spiritual practices seriously. We will pray the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and minds with holy wisdom and joy, to inspire us to chant and pray our psalms and hymns and spiritual songs alone and with others. We will become genuine followers of Christ. Sit with the thought that, in the Spirit, to pray is to play music to the Lord in the cave of a heart overflowing with gratitude!
Lord Jesus, teach me to live in your wisdom. Help me recognise my selfish pride, my emotional immaturity and foolishness. Help me recognise and step beyond my angry reactions. Show me the way beyond the hurt I so easily take when people speak unkindly. Open me again to your self-emptying way of compassion and thoughtful care. Free me from uncaring ignorance and unawareness. Fill me with your Spirit! Fill me with your Light! Fill me with your Love! Show me again the wisdom way! Let my heart dance in your presence today! Let me sing new songs of gratitude and praise in the power of the Spirit! May Abba-God be blest in your Holy Name! Now and forever. Amen.
Gospel Reading – John 6:51-58
Jesus said to the crowd:
‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’
Then the Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood
has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’
Our gospel today takes us into a very deep reflection on Christ and the Eucharist. Two things stand out. The Eucharist is more than a simple meal of bread and wine, more than a celebration of Christian fellowship. It is an encounter with Love made flesh in the world. It is an encounter with Oneness. The Bread and Wine are One with Christ and all who participate become One with him. We are no longer in a space shaped by bread and wine, or even friendship. We are in a space created by the very Flesh and Blood of the risen and ascended Christ. John moves beyond a meditation on an agape or fellowship meal in today’s gospel. He takes us by the hand to Eucharist proper: to an encounter with Christ’s sacrificial surrender on the Cross to God’s saving will for all. Do you wish to be saved? Take and eat! Come apart, kneel and pray in the very presence of the Risen One. Become One. Let the barriers between you and the Holy One fall. Become blood of the Blood, flesh of the Flesh. Open your life to Life. Embrace Fullness. Become One in Him. Let the reality of resurrection life touch the very core of your being. Be utterly transformed.
Lord Jesus, I hear you saying, “Abide in me as I in you”! You call us into the heart of Eucharist! You call us into awesome oneness with you! You draw us into oneness with love made flesh! You draw us into one with your overwhelming sacrificial surrender on the Cross! You draw us into the heart of risen and ascended life! You want to abide with us! You want us to abide with you in true oneness! Help us to open ourselves, our whole being, to you. Help us to let go of our egocentric visions of reality, our illusions of separateness. Help us transcend our sense of duality and difference, of disconnection with you. Infuse every part of us with your love and presence today. May we be completely in your love and presence. May we be completely one! Make one heart of your heart and ours, one life of your life and ours! Help us know that in you, in oneness with you, our whole lives are enveloped by your grace and love. From that breathtaking place of oneness may blessings for the Church flow. May blessings rest in abundance on all who suffer: the lost, the sick, and those who mourn, the trafficked, the enslaved, the oppressed. May places riven by conflict and violence arise anew in peace and justice. May life blossom in oneness with you! Now and forever. Amen.
At one time or another, we have all had the same experience. Even if we do not expect much from life, it always seems that what we receive is less than what we expect. The feeling of being completely satisfied is rare and does not last long. Our day-to-day life leaves us disappointed, our best hopes are not met. The longer we live, the more we would like to live. It is true that we are able to buy what we want and we are satisfied with the things we like. However, this does not give us the happiness we desire, nor does it assure us of life in the days ahead. We need people more than we need bread, people who will stand close to us when we are in need. Even if we enjoy an abundance of good things, we still need tenderness and love, and these are precisely what Jesus offers in the Eucharist.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
This dialogue is part of a much longer discourse (Jn. 6, 1-58) which is of great importance in the fourth Gospel. After the multiplication of the bread as a sign (Jn. 6, 1-15), Jesus explains its significance in the discourse that follows (Jn. 6, 26-58). However, what he says does not clarify things but confuses his listeners. It raises difficulties that will require further clarification (Jn. 6, 52). A hitherto unheard-of element emerges in the discussion: it is not enough for his listeners to believe in him, they must also be nourished by him. The bread he offers is his flesh (Jn. 6, 51). The way to be united with Jesus now is very specific and very unusual. To believe is to eat; faith is nourishment.
The manna in the desert did not bring eternal salvation. They must eat the bread that comes down from heaven (Jn.6, 51). This bread is the flesh of Jesus (Jn. 6, 52), flesh which is given for the life of the world. (Jn. 6, 51).
When he is speaking of his own person, Jesus prefers to speak of his flesh, not of his soul (cf. Jn. 10, 11.15.17; 13, 37-38; 15,13). In John’s Gospel, flesh is the form of presence of the Logos in the world (Jn. 1, 14). The purpose of the incarnation is now revealed – redemption through the death of Jesus. The revelation of God is a task – to give his life for the life of the world.
Obviously, his listeners’ failure to understand leads to protest, even scandal. The difficulty lies in the statements made by Jesus. The Jews realize the profound meaning of what he is saying, and the proof of that is their difficulty in accepting it. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they ask.
The evangelist takes advantage of their objection to concentrate further on what Jesus has said. As usual, Jesus does not clarify the question. He repeats and develops what he has said, causing further scandal and rage. Eating and drinking have their function in preserving life. The difficulty here is the food that is needed to remain alive – the flesh and blood of the Son of Man. This is the way Jesus offers us to receive him. It accomplishes the function of giving life because it satisfies our hunger and thirst for life in a genuine manner – it is real food and real drink (Jn. 6, 55). It satisfies us because it is human, fragile and mortal. Flesh and blood refer precisely to the humanity of Jesus.
Drinking blood was something particularly revolting for the Jews. For them, blood is life and only God is master of life. The realism of the statement means that we must not spiritualize what Jesus says. The repeated use of the verb ‘eat’ (Jn. 6, 54.56.58) refers to the Eucharist in which we eat the flesh of Christ, the Lamb of God. He alone, through his flesh and blood, gives life that satisfies our hunger and thirst.
The life given by the body of Jesus is not transitory, as was that of the Israelites in the desert (Jn. 6, 58). Anyone who eats the flesh of Jesus remains in him, in his life (Jn. 6, 56). Instead of just assimilating it as food, anyone who eats his flesh remains in him. The one nourished remains in the food that nourishes. The relationship is one of immanence, not just of closeness. This is the definition of eternal life, present in whoever believes in Jesus and eats his flesh.
The relationship established between the believer who eats, and Christ the true food, is similar to the vital relationship that exists between the Father and the One he has sent. It is not one of identification or fusion, but of permanence through communion of life, and this life is precisely the link that unites the three: the Father, the source of life; the living Apostle sent by the Father, and the believer who will live because he is nourished with Him.
Jesus is not talking about a simple spiritual belonging. The faith required of the believer is not a sentimental awareness or disposition. It is an intimate union, a bodily reception, association by appropriation. a sharing at table with Christ. The people who eat at Christ’s table are not like the people of Israel who died after being nourished with manna.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
After the multiplication of bread, Jesus led his listeners to an acceptance of his person. The one who gave them bread in abundance is himself the bread that assures them of life. The man who one day saved them from hunger will save them from death forever. Jesus draws attention to the difficulty the Jews have in eating him: unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood they will not have the life that overcomes death. It is difficult to imagine: the assimilation of Jesus as a condition of salvation. This is more than just ideology or sentiment. It is not enough to accept his ideas and make his sentiments our own. It is a matter of dwelling in him, living through him and allowing his being, his flesh and blood, become the substance of our personal life. Only those who fail to understand will be scandalized. The real miracle was not that they had their fill of bread that perishes. The real miracle is having Christ as food and drink. He is our viaticum now and the banquet of eternal life.
Even if we have not bread to satisfy our need, Jesus offers himself in the gospel as the bread of life, and we can count on him always. It is not easy to accept Jesus as the food of our lives. We first of all have to experience the scandal that the Jews experienced that day when they heard Jesus saying that he himself was their bread and their life. It is very hard to believe that a man, even if he is divine, can satisfy all our needs and our most intimate desires. We are unable to believe that he can satisfy our hunger and meet all our needs. Our desires have become greater and almost unreachable. It seems that nobody is capable of meeting them completely. We forget that God, who made us with a desire for the infinite, and created us with all our imperfections, has given us a promise. He will not leave us unsatisfied forever. Jesus is the bread that satisfies our hunger for life.
His listeners understood well. What the Jews found difficult to accept was not the fact that he spoke of himself as the bread of life and life for the world. In the course of history, many people have claimed to be the definitive solution to all the evils that afflict society. The problem lay in the way that Jesus said he would satisfy their hunger. It was unheard of and unbelievable. Jesus is not just offering himself as an ideal of life to be followed, but as bread to be eaten. Unless we eat his body and drink his blood we cannot have life. Jesus promises to give life to anyone who dares to receive him bodily, and offers himself as daily sustenance to anyone who tries to live without fault.
It is normal to feel repugnance at Jesus’ proposal. It is all right for him to offer himself as the answer to our most intimate questions, or as a powerful help to resolve our problems. It would still be acceptable if he were to offer himself as a model for us to follow, or as a teacher from whom we can learn. But to claim that he is flesh that satisfies our hunger, or drink to quench our thirst for life, seems a bit too much! And yet we do well to listen to him, instead of continuing to nourish our life with new desires, and drinking from any source we find until we quench the thirst for life that is within us.
It makes no sense to continue to look for little things to satisfy us, which do nothing but prolong our hunger and our pain, when we know that he is the one who can satisfy our needs completely. We should at least try and see if Jesus can satisfy our hunger and thirst. We have nothing to lose by trying. We cannot control our desire for life, and the life we already possess is slipping away. If we try Jesus the bread of life, we will not be disappointed.
Before we fall into difficulty in trying to nourish ourselves with the body and blood of Jesus, we ought to see what exactly we need in life, what is the cause of our deepest dissatisfaction, and why do we seek to satisfy our hunger with desires that no one can satisfy. If there is no bread for these desires, then we condemn ourselves to death. The Jews were disappointed with Jesus because they were looking for bread, and they did not realize that he was offering them himself as the bread of life. They had no hunger for him, and consequently they did not accept him.
Sometimes we think that we need someone in life other than God. Christ remains for us the great unknown, unwanted bread. Only someone who hungers and thirsts for God can receive Jesus as viaticum, food for the journey. He is our food and sustenance, and guarantor of eternal life. But if we notice that Jesus is absent from our lives, we should not despair. He is accessible to all and it is for this that he has become bread. When we eat his body, we are filled with God. If we deprive ourselves of the Eucharist not only do we not alleviate our hunger, we make it worse. We know very well that mere participation in the Eucharist does not satisfy our needs, and frequent communion does not heal our weakness, but it eases it and makes it more bearable. Above all, it helps us to see that our weakness is not forever. Jesus did not promise to make life easier for us, but to give us another life, which is eternal. We can bear with our limits here because, if we eat his body, we are sure of a life without limits and without needs, forever. We can overcome our hunger if we do not neglect to nourish ourselves with the bread that God has given us to satisfy our needs – the body and blood of his Son.
It is a mistake to stay away from the Eucharist or to take part in Mass without approaching the Lord’s table. What would we say of someone who goes to a banquet and then does not sample even a morsel? Is it not strange to be hungry and not to eat? But this is what happens to a great number of Christians at Sunday Mass. They continue to nourish their hunger for God and to deepen their desire for life, while at the same time they lessen their desire for the bread of God, Christ in the Eucharist. No one has any right to complain about God, and no one can be happy as a Christian, if he fails to satisfy his hunger and thirst with Christ, the bread of life and drink of salvation. The certainty of resurrection after death depends on our acceptance of Christ in our lives. The pity is that our need is so great, and yet we do not make him our bread of life and the source of our resurrection. This is what he wants to be for us!