18th Sunday (B)

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

Today’s readings challenge us to trust in the providence of a loving and caring God and to hunger and thirst for the Bread of eternal life – the Holy Eucharist.  As human beings, we hunger for many things besides food and material possessions. We live in a culture that is governed by wantsand unfortunately they are unlimited. These craving desires for more and more are only intensified by countless advertising campaigns and the belief that the only things worth having are those that are new and novel. Pope Francis in his general audience on August 1, 2018 emphasizes the human craving for power, wealth, position and other material things, which are idols that enslave our life. We hunger to be recognized and honored, to love and be loved, to be listened to and to be appreciated, to help, console and encourage people and receive gratitude.  But only God can satisfy our various forms of spiritual hunger.  St. Augustine said: “O God, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You”

MYSTIC OR UNBELIEVER: Karl Rahner, one of the famous German theologians of twentieth century, made the statement that there would soon come a time when each of us will either be a mystic or a non-believer. What’s implied here? At one level it means that anyone who wants to have faith today will need to be much more inner-directed than in previous generations. Why? It is because of the changes that have come to our present generation in the secularized world. There was a time when the culture helped to carry the faith. We lived in cultures (often immigrant and ethnic subcultures) within which faith and religion were part of the very fabric of life. Faith and church were embedded in the sociology. It took a strong, deviant action not to go to church on Sunday. Today, as we know, the opposite if more true, it takes a strong, inner-anchored act to go to church on Sunday. We live in a moral and ecclesial diaspora and experience a special loneliness that comes with that. We have few outside supports for our faith.

The culture no longer carries the faith and the church. Simply put, we knew how to be believers and church-goers when we were inside communities that helped carry that for us, communities within which most everyone seemed to believe, most everyone went to church, and most everyone had the same set of moral values. Not incidentally, these communities were often immigrant, poor, under-educated, and culturally marginalized. In that type of setting, faith and church work more easily. Why? Because, among other reasons, as Jesus said, it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

To be committed believers today, to have faith truly inform our lives, requires finding an inner anchor beyond the support and security we find in being part of the cognitive majority wherein we have the comfort of knowing that, since everyone else is doing this, it probably makes sense. Many of us now live in situations where to believe in God and church is to find ourselves without the support of the majority and at times without the support even of those closest to us, spouse, family, friends, colleagues. That’s one of the things that Rahner is referring to when he says we will be either mystics or non-believers.

But what is this deep, inner-anchor that is needed to sustain us? What can give us the support we need? What can help sustain our faith when we feel like unanimity-minus-one is an inner center of strength, meaning, and affectivity that is rooted in something beyond what the world thinks and what the majority are doing on any given day? There has to be a deeper source than outside affirmation to give us meaning, justification, and energy to continue to do what faith asks of us. What is that source?

In the gospel of John, the first words out of Jesus’ mouth are a question: “What are you looking for?” Essentially everything that Jesus does and teaches in the rest of Johns gospel gives an answer to that question: We are looking for the way, the truth, the life, living water to quench our thirst, bread from heaven to satiate our hunger. But those answers are partially abstract. At the end of the gospel, all of this is crystallized into one image:

On Easter Sunday morning, Mary Magdala goes out searching for Jesus. She finds him in a garden (the archetypal place where lovers meet) but she doesn’t recognize him. Jesus turns to her and, repeating the question with which the gospel began, asks her:What are you looking for?Mary replies that she is looking for the body of the dead Jesus and could he give her any information as to where that body is. And Jesus simply says: “Mary.” He pronounces her name in love. She falls at his feet. In essence, that is the whole gospel: What are we ultimately looking for? What is the end of all desire? What drives us out into gardens to search for love?The desire is to hear God pronounce our names in love.

Gospel passage when he says to the crowds, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”No amount of money, power, influence, or material goods can ever bring true satisfaction and fulfillment. However much we might have in life, those fundamental desires that are deep within us will never be satisfied without the love of God and the care and support of a community.  As Pope Benedict XVI reminded the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2007, Every Eucharist is a personal encounter with Christ. Listening to God’s word, our hearts burn because it is he who is explaining and proclaiming it. When we break the bread at the Eucharist, it is he whom we receive person.