Saturday, August 4, 2018

What are you hungry for?


A priest friend of mine tells a story of a time a few years ago when he was asked to preside at a very fancy wedding in Rhinebeck, New York. The wedding was as lavish as you would imagine, with all the bells and whistles. After the ceremony, he went to the reception to lead the guests in grace before the meal. The reception was held on the grounds of a grand mansion under a beautiful tent. Laid out before the guests was the most sumptuous buffet you could imagine. There was a large table as long as the eye could see with an ice sculpture in the middle, and arrayed around it were piles of lobsters, shrimp, and shellfish of every kind. As he was about to say the prayer, the shy little flower girl stood by his side trying to see what was on the table. The girl asked what was going on and Father explained that everyone was getting ready to enjoy all the delicious food. The little girl then stepped on her tip-toes to get a better look at the table. She saw all of the lobsters, shrimp, and everything else and said, “But, when does the good food come out? When do they bring out the Fruit loops?”

We find ourselves today in the midst of a four-week cycle that invites us to reflect upon the incredible gift of the Eucharist. Last week we saw the multiplication of loaves and fishes; next week Jesus tells us that He is “the bread of life;” and the week after that He will remind us that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood “has eternal life.” While these weeks focus naturally on the material of the Eucharist – this bread from Heaven, this manna in the desert, this flesh and blood – today reminds us that there is more to eating than food. Jesus said, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” In other words, Jesus is asking a simple question, and it’s the same one really that the flower girl was asking: what do we hunger for?

Jesus offers us the most incredible food ever – a food that feeds not merely the body for a moment, but the soul for eternity; but he wants to know if this is what we want to eat. We know that we are faced with many competing hungers – things that get in the way of God like hungers for wealth, power, material goods, or popularity; and of course other hungers that come from God like the hunger for love, truth, holiness, happiness, and everlasting life. In our Gospel, Jesus addresses this issue with those who pursued Him after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves that we heard last week. He wants to know – are they merely seeking signs and wonders? Do they just want more bread? Are they simply hungry for things which satisfy the body today or are they really hungry for what matters – the things that can satisfy the heart and soul? Jesus echoes the question posed by the prophet Isaiah: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”

We are reminded that only God can satisfy the spiritual hunger in our heart and soul – the hunger for truth, for holiness, for completeness, for wholeness, for happiness, and for love. So, what are we hungry for? Jesus wants us to be hungry for a life of love and service, the kind of service He modeled during His time among us. He wants us to be hungry for forgiveness that connects us to God's mercy and kindness. He wants us to be hungry for a life of holiness and purity that reflects God's own holiness. And, He wants us to be hungry for a life of obedience to God’s will and trust in God’s plan for our lives, which gives witness to the wisdom of God. In other words, we are called as St. Augustine said to “become what we receive.” This is what the Eucharist is all about – not that we merely consume the Body and Blood of Jesus today, but that we become it; that we become Christ in our world, to one another; that we become what we receive today.

It all comes down to that question we began – what are we hungry for? Are we hungry to be fed on the bread that the world offers? That is a false bread, and will only satisfy for a moment but leaves us ultimately incomplete. Or do we hunger for the bread that comes from heaven; the miraculous bread-become-Body and wine-become-Blood made present in our midst on this altar? Do we thirst for the words of everlasting life?

The crowd we see in today’s Gospel clamor for Jesus not because they want holiness and eternal life; they just want more bread. They want to make him a mere king who fills the stomach. But Jesus chastises them for missing the opportunity before them: “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” Because of this, Jesus hid away from them. He did not want to be identified primarily with feeding stomachs. He wanted to be seen as One who has come to nourish the human spirit with the food that satisfies every hunger of the human heart, the food that does not perish but that gives life eternally.

The Lord wants to know today, what do we hunger for? Do we hunger for Him and Him alone? He is ready to feed us once again today and everyday. Are we hungry for what only Jesus can give?

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

May the Lord give you peace.

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