Here for Him: 18th Sunday OT

This is the second of five weeks of readings from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. Last week was the set-up, the story of the feeding of five thousand from a few loaves and fishes. It’s a great miracle; like I said, one of my favorites! But that miracle was only a foretaste, only a shadow of what is coming next.

George Pedro, Jesus Speaking to a Crowd
Because what’s coming next, as the sixth chapter of John continues, is that Jesus begins teaching about the Bread of Life.

Since that miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus and the Apostles have travelled back to Capernaum, but the people follow them there. You may have noticed this is kind of a pattern. Why? This great crowd that is following Jesus around everywhere, what are they seeking? That's where He begins the conversation today. He challenges their reasons for following Him around. What are they looking for?

We could ask the same question of ourselves, right here, right now. We’ve got a crowd here, come to gather around Jesus. A full church, a beautiful sight! Why have you come? Why have I come? Me personally, I’d be in pretty big trouble of a very practical and worldly kind if I skipped Mass. But of course it would be pretty pathetic if that were the only reason I showed up! You don’t have to be here, in the sense that some big worldly consequences would follow if you weren't. But you do have to be here in a spiritual sense; we talk about the Sunday ‘obligation’ and that's a thing. Sometimes maybe that’s part of what brings you to Mass. You know and believe that you have a real obligation, a responsibility as a baptized Catholic, to worship God not just alone on your own terms but as a member of the Body of Christ, gathered around His Altar to do what He commanded us to do in memory of Him. Meeting an obligation is a good thing. That reason isn’t a bad one... but of course you’d hope to have more reason for being here than just a sense of obligation.

Another reason: if you’ve been going to Mass for years and years, after a while there’s just a force of inertia. Inertia, meaning that once something’s going, it tends to keep going. If you’ve been to Mass every weekend for basically ever, it’s not likely that you’re going to break that pattern today. It’s a habit. Maybe you didn’t even make a conscious decision, like it’s not even a question you ask yourself, it’s just what you do. You don’t even consider not coming. Well, that’s a great habit to have! A virtuous habit is a fantastic thing. So that's not a bad reason, but again, you’d hope to have more reason for being here than only habit.

We could go on down the list and, really, it’s hard to name a bad reason to be at Mass. Maybe you find it helps your week go better. Maybe you’re anxious to avoid the sin of skipping it. Maybe you enjoy the company and the chance to see your neighbors and talk. Maybe you find the music or the message inspiring. Maybe there’s a particular intention you’re praying for. Maybe you’re hoping to take away some lesson that will make you a better person, or make your life better. Maybe in a way you can’t fully explain, it just feels right and good.

Those reasons are all good! It’s just that… they aren’t quite good enough. Not by themselves. The crowd following Jesus weren’t wrong to seek more miracles, more worldly benefits. But Jesus wants more from them. He wants them to want more for themselves.

He wants them to want Him.

Don’t chase the ordinary bread the world offers.  Jesus tells them, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” The Bread from Heaven, the Bread of Life. At this point the crowd tip their hand, and ask Him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert.” That’s so relatable, isn’t it? I want that all the time! Give us a reason, Jesus, show us something spectacular. Do a neat trick. Show a sign. Be impressive.

But no trick will change our hearts, no sign will leave us convinced forever, no impression will last in the darkest times. That kind of bread might delight and satisfy for now, but we’ll always get hungry again. We’ll always come back wanting another trick, another sign, another big impressive proof. Jesus wants to give us the bread that satisfies our hunger, now and forever, and that is Himself and nothing less. “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

One really common phrase you hear when people stop going to Mass is “I’m not being fed.” It’s true that many Catholics aren’t offered the effort they deserve in preaching, or the beauty they deserve in liturgy. But anybody who leaves Mass thinking “I’m not being fed” has a Eucharistic blind spot bigger than Texas. It’s such a ridiculous thing to say it would be funny if it wasn’t blasphemy. To receive as food the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, and then to claim you weren’t fed! I saw that same blind spot in another way when a Catholic told me he’d stopped going to Mass because they had a new priest he had trouble understanding. He asked me, “What’s the point of going to Mass if you don’t understand the priest?” Anybody who can ask that question has no concept whatsoever of what the Mass really is.

That’s a challenge and a message for all of us who crowd around Jesus. We do come to Mass, we’re here! But just as Jesus examined the hearts of the crowd in Capernaum that day, what does He see when He looks in our hearts right now? If we’re here for inspiration or life help or a positive experience, that's great, hopefully we’ll find all of that... but we’ll always hunger for more. That alone won't satisfy us. And, just to be direct about it: we’ll be easy pickings for Satan when the going gets rough. It won’t take much to peel you away from the Body of Christ. You get mad at the priest, probably justifiably, maybe not. Or the music or the style changes and you don’t like it as much. Or you realize that all the people in here are — surprise, gasp! — just a bunch of sinners. Whatever… it won’t take much to peel you right away. For some people it happens with no particular reason at all. They decide one weekend to skip Mass, uncharacteristically, and lightning doesn’t strike them and the world doesn’t end and it’s easier next time, and easier yet the time after that.

But if you’re here for the Bread of Life, if you’re here for Jesus, then you’re here for good. You will be satisfied. You won’t be let down. And nothing could ever drag you away.

Everything there is to be said and understood about the Eucharist begins and ends with this: it is Jesus Christ, our Savior and our God, giving us Himself. Every word of theology ever written about why ‘transubstantiation’ is good doctrine and ‘consubstantiation’ is bad doctrine is in service of this basic truth. All the philosophical language about the substance of bread and wine being changed while the accidents remain the same, it’s all about upholding this truth. Jesus gives us Himself in the Eucharist. He isn’t giving us a symbol. He isn’t giving us a memory. He isn’t giving us a representation. It’s Him.

It’s so easy, when we do this week after week, some of us almost every day, it’s so easy to lose sight of what’s actually happening here. It’s hard to be astonished by something that is routine. And the Eucharist is routine, in the sense that we do it regularly and often. But let’s ask the Holy Spirit for His gift of Wonder and Awe in the Presence of God, His gift of Understanding, His gift of Reverence… because it is astonishing. It’s God Incarnate making Himself our food. That would be a great prayer to include in your preparation just before Mass. "Jesus, you give Yourself so freely and so often that it's easy for me to forget how amazing this is. Help me receive You with the gratitude and wonder You deserve."

What does Jesus see in your heart? Why has this crowd gathered? Do we want a rousing speech, stirring music, a sense of peace and purpose? Fine, but what else? Do we want to check off a box that says we’ve met our obligation as practicing Catholics? Fine, but what else? Are we keeping the habit of many years, honoring the tradition of our family or how we were raised? Fine, but what else?

Come through this door hungry. Genuflect before this Tabernacle to honor the Presence you believe is truly here. Listen to His Words and ask Him to change your heart. Come hungry. Come desperate. Come in need of the true Bread from Heaven, which gives life forever. You will be satisfied. Your miracle will happen, every time. He’s here for those who want Him. Here’s here for those who are here for Him.


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