Our Gospel this weekend is a continuation of the Sixth Chapter of St. John’s Gospel, what has come to be known as the “Bread of Life Discourse.” As I mentioned last week, every three years the Church gives us this five week series in which we focus more intentionally on the mystery of the Holy Eucharist in the words of Christ Himself.
Last week we began with the miracle of the loaves and fish, when Christ fed the 5,000 with just a small amount of food. You may remember the reaction of the people, how they were so enthusiastic and filled with spiritual fervor that Christ had to withdraw because He feared that they would take Him by force and make Him king!
This week the fervor and enthusiasm of the crowd has somewhat…dissipated. They are not quite as fired up as they were last week…Let’s not get carried away here, they might be thinking. Nonetheless, they are still seeking and searching for Christ.
St. John tells us that they did not find Jesus there where the miracle took place, and noticing that His disciples had gone over to the other side of Lake Galilee, they started to move in the same direction. You can picture that scene: hundreds, if not thousands of people, cramming into boats and travelling in search of Christ. And sure enough they find Him!
Yet Christ, always the realist, always seeing things exactly as they are, is quick to size up the situation:
You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
They were not so much seeking the God of miracles as they were searching for the miracles of God. Their stomachs being well fed they desired to continue this good thing that they had stumbled upon in Christ. Instead, He tells them:
Do not work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of man will give you.
Clearly now Christ has outlined the tension between being satisfied and fed here in this life and being satiated and content for eternal life. But importantly, we have to realize that He is not being critical of the first scenario. Jesus Christ is not saying we shouldn’t turn to Him for our physical and earthly needs.
§ On the contrary, God wants us to seek Him out for the food that sustains our bodies; by all means we should ask God for food on the table.
§ In this current economy we should be asking for economic stability and financial security. There is nothing wrong with asking for heavenly assistance in building up our bank account so that we can live with peace of mind and be able to retire without having to worry about the future.
§ When it comes to our health we should be seeking God for healing if we are sick and for strength to endure difficulties and setbacks. God wants us to seek Him out for those things.
§ Perhaps most importantly—regarding our spiritual lives—God wants us to search for the things that will give our souls peace and joy even right here and now on this earth.
The danger that we find in the Gospel this weekend is that we will seek out only those things. We seek to be fed and cared for in this life only, and risk losing out on the greatest Gift that God has in store for us: Himself now and for all eternity.
Do we really seek and search for God in the ways that He wants to make Himself known to us, or do we also tend to seek Him out on our own terms, to want more so the comforts of God than the "God of all comfort" (see 2 Corinthians 1:3)?
Here in Rhode Island we live in the most Catholic state in the entire country. I believe we are over 60% Roman Catholic; 6 or 7 out of every 10 people around you are Catholic. Yet if you go to any of the major commercial bookstores—and I do, because I enjoy those places immensely—and you look in the Religion/Spirituality section, what will you find? Comparatively speaking there are very few distinctively Roman Catholic books there.
Some of the books in those sections are nonsense and fluff, or perhaps even dangerous diversions which could draw one away from faith in Christ. Many, however, are inspiring and interesting and help to build up our faith and can teach us about God and His word.
Nonetheless, there are so few books which focus on the primary way that God is revealing Himself to us here each and every week; there are so very few books on the Eucharist. Yet here the Church spends five consecutive weeks, five Sunday Gospels, delving more deeply into that very mystery. It is that important. We need to open our ears and our hearts when we encounter so central a mystery as the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
There is a beautiful children's book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery called The Little Prince (I am sure you can find it at one of the bookstores I mentioned above; it’s a well known and beloved book). It tells the story of young prince from another planet who comes here to this earth and befriends a small boy. They become fast friends and go on all kinds of adventures together. At one point they find themselves in the desert, days away from civilization, and they are thirsty. They search diligently for water, just as the people in the Gospel this weekend searched for Christ. Suddenly they come across a well right there in the middle of the desert! There is a rope and a pulley connected to a small bucket. They hoist up that bucket and taste the deliciously cold water and are completely satisfied. The little prince then turns to the boy and with great wisdom says:
“The men where you live raise five thousand roses in the same garden—and they do not find in it what they are looking for.”
The boy agrees with his observation and then the little prince continues: “And yet what they are looking for could be found in one single rose, or in a little water.”
So many of us spend our lives searching for and seeking a happiness that can be so elusive and we often end up less satisfied and less fulfilled than when we started. We have televisions with over a hundred channels, new movies that come out every week, and thousands of ways that we can entertain ourselves for hours on end. We search for peace and happiness in our relatives and friends, in our work and leisure, but we are never satisfied because what we are seeking and searching for cannot be found in the things of this world.
On the contrary, what we yearn and long for, seek and search for more than anything else in the whole world has come into this world and found us. That is what the Gospel is about this weekend. Thousands of people rushed into boats and sailed across the sea to find Christ but they failed to see that He had already come down from heaven to seek and search for them. He crossed eternity to come to them and give them His body and His blood. They are on the verge of missing that; let us not make the same mistake!
Today Christ comes here looking for us, and He says to each of us what He said to those who were searching for Him after the miracle of the loaves and fish:
I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.