Dear friends. While on holiday in America a few years ago, I met a man who had an interesting story. He was born Catholic but then drifted away from the Church in his teenage years. He then became a Lutheran and was ordained a pastor in the Lutheran Church. He was successful in running a large parish and Sunday services were well attended. He was highly regarded by everyone and loved much. Then, one day out of the blue, he announced that he was returning to the Catholic Church. He is now head of Adult Faith Formation at a huge parish in Melbourne, Florida. When I met this man, I asked him the obvious question. He had been a Catholic, then left and finally came back. Why? His answer – the Eucharist.
In the Scriptures these weeks, we have a number of texts that teach us more about the Eucharist. Last week was the first with the miracle of the loaves and fish. This week, Jesus identifies himself as the Bread of Life who gives life to the world. These beautiful texts take us back to the gift of the Eucharist and what it means in our personal lives and in the life if this parish community.
There is so much that could be said about this so I will limit myself to one message from the readings for this Sunday: the Eucharist connects us with a strength and a power greater than our own. It connects us with the life of God. We need this strength for without it, the journey of life will become too weary and heavy. Through the Mass we connect in a unique way with Christ’s presence and his love that gives us the strength to keep going on the journey. All of us are on a journey, whether we believe or not, whether we are saints or sinners. On that journey, we have many desires and needs that do not always pull in the same direction. Neither are all those desires on the same level.
The greatest moment of conversion in anyone’s life is when we realise that our greatest hunger or greatest desire is not for things but for God Himself. This is the conversion of minds and hearts that Jesus invites the people to in the Gospel today: not to look for the things God provides but first for God himself. If we try to fill our desire for God with anything less than God then it will lead to unhappiness and frustration. This is exactly what happens in the first reading when the people start to complain about being hungry. They become tired, restless and angry. This is how we become if God is not first place in our lives. We become tired, weary, irritable and lose our inner joy and strength. It is like having only finger-food when what we need is a good dinner. The ‘spiritual revolution’ St Paul talks about in the second reading is to put God back at the centre. When God is at the centre, only then can I know what I really need compared to what I think I really need. This is what Jesus means in the Gospel today when he tells us that ‘the one who comes to me will never be hungry and the one who believes in me will never thirst’.
The greatest sign of this union between ourselves and God is the sublime and sacred moment when we receive the bread of life in holy communion at the Mass. It is the moment when the strength and power of God comes into our lives in a special way. It is when we receive a strength greater than our own and the ability not just to survive on the journey of life but to thrive on it as well. It is the moment when our hunger for love and acceptance is satisfied in a way nothing else or no-one else can satisfy. It is the moment when I know I am not alone and walk forward with the Lord to face the week ahead whatever it holds.
I conclude with an advertisement I heard on the radio several times during the week by the Road Safety Authority urging drivers to pull over and rest for tiredness kills. For us the Eucharist is a rest time and space for our spirits where we can stop and rest and eat the food that gives us strength for the journey ahead. It is the bread of life, and here today we receive it with gratitude and joy.