Faith in the Bread
By Archbishop Francesco Follo
Ex 16,2-4.12-15; Ps 78; Eph 4,17.20-24; Jn 6.24 to 35
X Sunday after Pentecost
1) Bread offered for love.
The last Sunday’s Gospel presented the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Contemplating Jesus who gives food to a multitude of people, we have learned from him how to share food with compassion.
Today’s Gospel shows us Jesus who does not give bread, but who gives himself as bread. Christ is the true Bread that gives life forever and implements the law of life, which is the gift of self “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life “(Jn 12: 23-26). “I am the Good Shepherd …; and I lay down my life for the sheep “(Jn 10,14s).
Today, Jesus repeats to us the highest expression of his desire to donate “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst … He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life … For my flesh is real food and my blood is true drink “(Jn 6, 126.96.36.199). In the Holy Mass the greatest words of Jesus are repeated “Take and eat it: this is my body given up for you” (cf. Mk 26:26; Lk 22:19). Therefore, our Christian existence like that of Jesus, must be lived as an offering of love up to the total sacrifice of ourselves to serve the world.
In this regard, Saint Paul writes “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God1 which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12.18 to 21). These words may seem paradoxical, because sacrifice normally requires the death of the victim. St. Paul, however, says that those who sacrifice himself, live and that this new way of life ” is your spiritual worship.”
He also defines this new way of living. With these words the Apostle doesn’t indicates a sacrifice less concrete than the ancient one, but he wants to talk about a more concrete and realistic worship , a worship in which man himself, as a being endowed with reason and heart, becomes adoration, and glorification of the living God. With these words the Apostle of the nations helps us to understand or deepen the meaning and the value of the offering of our lives to God, which is the basis of our Christian existence. The exhortation to “offer your bodies” refers to our person; in fact, in Romans 6, 13 St. Paul invites us to “present yourself”. Moreover, the explicit reference to the physical dimension of the Christian coincides with the invitation to “glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20). It is a question of honoring God in the most concrete daily existence. In fact, to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, does not mean only to suffer or to die or do something special, but to give oneself to the love of God, to live as God wants and to consecrate to God our bodies and also our feelings, the people we love and the work we do. It means letting God in our lives and thus give a deeper value to everything we do.
If to live the offering means to celebrate a spiritual worship, then we can no longer live the Eucharist as something detached from our lives and from what we do every day. On the contrary, our day should be an extension of the Eucharist, a living in the Eucharistic way.
We simply have to learn to do in our day the same steps that we are called to do in every Eucharist. It is the sacrifice of communion that allows to be a communion, receiving the presence of Christ in us. This implies that our hearts are open and that we bring to the altar the “yes” of our love. It is a “yes” (= Fiat, Amen) that is our offering to the altar and the offer of ourselves to Love. This opening ourselves to experience a profound and real encounter with Jesus in the Mass, allows us to open up to others and to meet others in God. To live the moment of the consecration of the Eucharist, teaches us to consecrate to God all our work, every meeting, every thought or project. Then, to receive the blessing of God is to awaken in us the call to be a blessing. Everyone should know how to transmit the blessing to people we meet every day. If we take these steps in everyday life, then we will experience the beauty of the offer of ourselves together with Jesus in the Holy Mass, and we will feel that really Jesus brings up to the Father all that we have experienced and tried to offer in our day.
2) To imitate the Host, Bread of Life and Mercy.
If we want to examine in depth ‘the invitation of St. Paul to offer our bodies as a sacrifice pleasing to God, we can contemplate the passage of St. Gregory Palamas who, to the question of when we live this offering, responds “When our eyes have a mild look, and draw to us and send to us mercy from above. When our ears are open to the divine teachings, not only to the listening, but to the remembering them to carry out his precepts (cf. Ps 103.18). When our language, our hands and our feet are at the service of the divine will. ”
If we then draw from the heritage of the Latin theologians, we find St. Thomas Aquinas that offers us a very good starting point to deepen our imitation of the Host “The smallness of the Host means humility, his roundness the perfect obedience, its subtlety virtuous sobriety, his whiteness purity, the absence of yeast benevolence, his cooking patience and charity “(Sermon for Corpus Christi).
It is clear that what Jesus proposes is not simply a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He proposes the life of the Son that is what we are celebrating in the Holy Sacrament of the bread of life. This bread is a sign of the love of the Father for all his children, it is an effective sign of the body of the Son given to all his brothers and sisters. It is a sign of our shared life with everyone. To us here is where we live the bread, and this is the food that does not perish. To explain the importance of eating this bread of mercy to become what we eat and to be able to offer us together with Jesus, it is useful to take the example of what happens to a child who has made a mistake and in whose eyes does not dominate the image of him who broke anything, but the mother who looks at him with a smile and the father who picks him up. Rather than look at ourselves and to our own fragility of sinners, it is more correct to look at Christ who offers himself to us as the Bread of Life, rich in mercy. More than looking to ourselves, is right to turn (=convert) to Christ who forgives and feeds giving himself as true Bread.
The greatness of man, image of the One who created him, is to be a gift. The law of the human existence, like that of God, is love in its dynamic reality that is the offer of self. As Jesus said “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9, 24). There is thus emphasized the paradoxical nature of this law: happiness through sacrifice. But the more one accepts it, the more he experiences already in this world a greater completeness. The consecrated Virgins in the world are an example of this. These women with the total offer of their life through consecrated virginity announce to the world that Christ can really fill all their (and our) life. He is the divine that makes humanity blossom. The bread that contains everything needed to maintain life (love, respect, freedom, courage, peace, beauty) and makes it last for eternity. The Bishop during the prayer of consecration elevates this invocation: “O God, who hast pleasure of living as in a temple in the body of the chaste and favor the pure and pristine souls… Look down, O Lord, on these daughters who in your hands lay the intention of virginity, of which you are the inspiration, to make to you an offer devoted and pure “(Rite of Consecration of Virgins, n. 64).
They show with their life that to believe is like eating bread, It should be tasted in the mouth and it must be assimilated so that it can spread in all the body. Living imitating Jesus as virgin hosts they show that Jesus is a body that sanctifies and transforms into the heart, warmth, energy, thoughts, feelings and song. Christianity is not a body of doctrine, to which to add continuously some new dogmatic or moral definition, but it is a divine life to assimilate, Love to let in so that the heavenly man that is in us may reach maturity for love and freedom to bloom in time and eternity.
1 Saint Paul uses these three adjectives to describe this way of life that is the sacrifice. The first of them – living – expresses vitality. The second – holy- recalls the idea of holiness not linked to places or objects but to being Christians. The third – pleasing to God – that recalls the biblical expression of sacrifice “a sweet-smelling oblation ” (cf.. Lev 1,13.17; 23,18; 26,31; etc.).
St. John Chrysostom
“Then said they unto Him, What shall we do,1 that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent. They said therefore unto Him, What sign showest thou then, that we may see and believe thee? what dost thou work?”
[1.] There is nothing worse, nothing more shameful, than gluttony; it makes the mind gross, and the soul carnal; it blinds, and permits not to see clearly. Observe, for instance, how this is the case with the Jews; for because they were intent upon gluttony, entirely occupied with worldly things, and without any spiritual thoughts, though Christ leads them on by ten thousand sayings, sharp and at the same time forbearing, even thus they arise not, but continue groveling below. For consider; He said to them, “Ye seek Me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the bread, and were filled ”; He touched them by the reproof, He showed them what food they ought to seek, saying, “Labor not for the meat that perisheth”; He set before them the prize, saying, “but that which endureth unto everlasting life”; then provided a remedy for what might have been an objection, by declaring that He was sent from the Father.
What then did they? As though they had heard nothing, they said, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” This they said, not that they might learn and do them, (as the sequel shows,) but to induce Him again to supply them with food, and desiring to persuade Him to satisfy them. What then saith Christ? “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” On this they asked, “What sign showest thou, that we may see and believe?” Jn 6,31. “Our fathers did eat manna in the wilderness.”
Nothing more senseless, nothing more unreasonable, than these men! While the miracle was yet in their hands,2 as though none had been done, they spake after this manner, “What sign shewest thou?” and having thus spoken, they do not even allow Him the right of choosing the sign, but think to force Him to exhibit none other than such a one as was wrought in the days of their fathers; wherefore they say, “Our fathers did eat manna in the wilderness,” thinking by this to provoke Him to work such a miracle as might supply them with carnal nourishment. Else why did they mention none other of the miracles of old, though many took place in those times, both in Egypt and at the sea and in the wilderness, but only that of the manna? Was it not because they greatly desired that one by reason of the tyranny of their bellies? Ye who when ye saw His miracle called him a Prophet, and attempted to make Him a king, how is that now, as though none had been wrought, ye have become thankless and ill-minded, and ask for a sign, uttering words fit for parasites, or hungry dogs? Does the manna now seem wonderful to you? Your soul is not now3 parched up.
(Mark too their hypocrisy. They said not, “Moses did this sign, what doest thou?” thinking it would annoy Him; but for a while they address Him with great reverence, through expectation of food. So they neither said, “God did this, what doest thou?” that they might not seem to make Him equal with God; nor did they bring forward Moses, that they might not seem to lower Him, but put the matter in an intermediate form, “Our fathers did eat manna in the wilderness.” He indeed might have replied, “I, but now, have wrought greater wonders than did Moses, requiring no rod, having no need of prayer, but doing all of Myself; and, if ye call to remembrance the manna, see, I have given you bread.” But this was not the season for such speeches; and the one thing He earnestly desired was, to bring them to spiritual food. And observe His infinite wisdom and His manner of answering. Jn 6,32. “Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.”
Why said He not, “It was not Moses that gave it to you, but I”; but putteth God in the place of Moses, and Himself instead of manna? Because the infirmity of His hearers was great. As is seen from what followeth. For not even when He had spoken thus did He secure their attention, although He said at first, “Ye seek Me, not because ye saw the miracle, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.” (Jn 6,26). Now because they sought these (carnal). things, He would have corrected them by His succeeding words, yet not even so did they desist. When He promised the Samaritan woman that He would give her “the water,” He made no mention of the Father. What saith He? “If thou knewest who it is that saith unto thee, Give Me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given unto thee living water” (Jn 4,10); and again, “The water which I shall give.” He referreth her not to The Father. But here He maketh mention of The Father, that thou mayest understand how great was the faith of the Samaritan woman, and how great the infirmity of the Jews. Was then the manna not from heaven? How then is it said to be from heaven? In the same manner as Scripture speaketh of “fowls of heaven” (Ps 8,8); and again, “The Lord thundered from heaven.” (Ps 18,13). And He calleth that other the “true bread,” not because the miracle of the manna was false, but because it was a type, and not the very truth. But in mentioning Moses, He doth not compare Himself to him, for the Jews did not as yet prefer Him to Moses, of whom they still had a higher opinion. So that after saying, “Moses gave not,” He addeth not that “I give,” but saith that The Father, and not Moses, giveth. They, when they heard this, replied, “Give us this bread to eat”; for they yet thought that it was something material, they yet expected to gratify their appetites, and so hastily ran to Him. What doth Christ? Leading them on4 little by little, He saith, Jn 6,33. “The bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.”
Not, saith He, to Jews alone, but to all the “world,” not mere food, but “life,” another and an altered “life.” He calleth it “life,” because they all were dead in sins. Yet they still kept downward bent, saying, Jn 6,34. “Give us this bread.”
Then He, to rebuke them, because while they supposed that the food was material they ran to Him, but not when they learned that it was a spiritual kind, said, Jn 6,35-36. “I am the bread of life; he that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, that ye also have seen Me, and believe Me not.”