18 Sunday B - Bread of Life


18 SUNDAY B August 5

 God-shaped Vacuum

"There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ." Blaise Pascal

Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you.– St. Augustine

A Messy Kitchen

Recently, I received an e-mail about real signs found in the real kitchens of real people.
"A messy kitchen is a happy kitchen and this kitchen is delirious."
"A clean house is a sign of a misspent life."
"If we are what we eat, then I'm easy, fast, and cheap."
"Thou shalt not weigh more than thy refrigerator."
"My next house will have no kitchen, just vending machines."
"A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand."

These sayings point to some of our society's attitudes about food: 'only junk food is enjoyable', 'food is meant to satisfy us', 'if I had to cook it, it doesn't taste good', and 'as long as it's not good for me, I should eat as much as I want'. We stuff ourselves, trying to fill the hole inside of us with food, as if we could eat something that would satisfy us. But we could stuff ourselves at every meal and still be hungry for something deeper!

Searching for Jesus

Some searches take people to unexpected places and give surprising results. For example, Columbus searched for a new route to Asia and found America instead. Louis Pasteur tried to find a way to keep wine from souring and came up with the pasteurization process instead. Alexander Graham Bell wanted to improve the telegraph but wound up with the telephone. Roentgen worked to find a better light for photography but invented the X--ray instead. Sometimes we do not find what we are searching for.

In today's text the people had been with Jesus and were fed. But the Lord had many other people to feed so he left the place where the miraculous feeding had occurred. Apparently not satisfied with one miracle, the people set off in search of Jesus.

Don M. Aycock, Searching for Jesus

A Time to Remember

In his book The Swann's Way, the French novelist Marcel Proust wrote of returning home late one evening on a dull winter day when he faced the prospect of a depressing tomorrow. The maid greeted him and, seeing that he was tired, brought him a cup of hot tea and some cake. Being both tired and depressed he at first refused them. Only at her insistence did he finally begin to drink the tea and eat the cake. Proust wrote that an unexplainable delight suddenly came over him. His anxieties and troubles seemed to vanish. Suddenly, he wrote, I had "ceased to feel mediocre, accidental and mortal."

What caused this wonderful sensation to come over him? He was at a loss to explain it. How could a taste of tea and cake produce this feeling of peace? He drank and ate more but he still could not decipher the secret. The truth, he guessed, must be in himself and not in what he was eating and drinking...

Thomas O'Loughlin:

Introduction to the Celebration

We have gathered to offer thanks to the Father for his care and love in our lives. And we make this thanksgiving in union with Jesus who is the wisdom of God and our brother. But today our reflection on the Father's goodness holds, as it were, a mirror up to this relationship that the Father has established with us in Jesus, and we are reminded that the Father's greatest act of love was sending Jesus to us. Our fathers in the desert long ago thanked the Father for the gift of heaven-sent bread, but we thank the Father that heavenly life and wisdom have come down to encounter us in Jesus. In Jesus we see our God made visible and so are caught up in the love of the God we cannot see.

Another Introduction:

With this gospel we begin the series of teachings of Jesus which draw lessons from the miraculous feeding, all under the general theme of Jesus as Bread of Life.
The language in these passages comes across as vague and abstract, and we must make a special effort to let the passages speak to our experience as all gospel passages are meant to do.

We can refer back to the story of the miraculous feeding and see the teaching fulfilled there in practice; but it is also important to understand the biblical language as being true to our life experience. For example, the expression "seeing the signs" (verse 26) is the process by which we go beyond some event and discover that it tells us about life, a person, the movements of sin and grace, and so on. It is the same process that Pope John XXIII called "interpreting the signs of the times," when he urged us to understand the significance of modern social and political movements for the gospel message. So too God "sets his seal" on a person (verse 27) means that he is acting within that person, using the person as his instrument.

The expression "eternal life", which occurs in verse 27 and several times in later passages, tends to remain especially abstract. People often take it to mean merely "the next life," and it does include that, but it means more. The best approach is not to try and understand it all at once, but to enter gradually into what it means.

Think, for example, of deeply spiritual people, the kind of people that neither sickness nor failure nor death itself can stop from living creatively: they are living "eternal life."

Or you might remember a time when you felt so close to God that you felt you could face anything – that too is an experience of "eternal life." By referring back to experiences like these you will be touched by the teaching of Jesus.

Scripture:

Today's teaching takes the form of spiritual journeys that Jesus leads the people to take. We can identify three:

- verses 24 to 27: Jesus leads them to move from looking to him for material food to looking for something more spiritual; you can interpret that at many different levels - our relationship with God, for example, or with one another, or with some movement that we have joined;
- verses 28 to 33: Jesus invites the people to give up all forms of human security and put their trust in God alone:
in verses 28 and 29 they are looking for the security that comes from knowing that they are doing "the right thing"; in verses 30 and 31 it is the security of pointing to favours received or of having great leaders like Moses;
- verses 34 and 35: the people express good desires, but they are looking for the miraculous bread in some vague place; Jesus brings them back to reality: this bread is present in his own person.

Prayer Reflection

Lord, true friendship is a journey into a deeper kind of living,
like the journey Jesus invited the people to make with him.
When we first love someone, we are all excited about it;
we want to be with our newly found friend all the time.
"When did you come here?" we are always asking.
We are still at the stage of satisfying some need of ours,
working for food that cannot last.
Gradually we realise that there is something sacred about this relationship,
that you have set your seal on it
and it is offering us an opportunity to live at a deeper level than we have done.
We still have a way to go: we want to do many things to please our friend,
when it isn't a matter of doing anything, but of trusting.
So, too, we must stop looking for signs that we are loved,
the kind of signs that others have got,
and just keep on being grateful for this person whom you have sent to us.
Truly, such a relationship calms our restlessness and gives life.

Lord, when people come to us asking what they must do
if they are to do the work you want,
it is tempting to give them easy answers,
"Do this and do that, and you will be doing what God wants."
But you want us to be honest, like Jesus,
saying clearly that there is no such security for us,
that the "work" we have to do is to give ourselves to the present moment,
as your gift coming down from heaven,
and this is the only thing that will set us free
from the hungers and thirsts which keep us in bondage.
This is the meaning of incarnation.

Lord, forgive us that we become complacent when people flock around us.
Give us the wisdom of Jesus to see that

• children come to our schools, but it is to be successful in their examinations;
• people vote for us at elections because we have got them favours;
• we are often praised by some who are afraid to hurt us.

Help us to be like Jesus and to offer those whom you have given to our care
the kind of food that endures to eternal life;
for it is for this that you have set your seal on us.

Lord, we often feel deeply hurt when we realize that people are coming to us
because we have given them something;
they haven't got the message that we need to be loved for our own sake.
We thank you that Jesus can understand, because he had the same experience.

Lord, we thank you for moments of deep prayer
when we know that we have eaten bread from heaven and feel a great calm,
as if we will never be hungry or thirsty again.

Lord, great leaders are like Jesus - they do not give in
to those who are looking for quick answers to the question "What should we do?"
Nor are they intimidated by the challenge,
"What sign will you give to show us that we should believe in you?"
Nor do they try to emulate some Moses of the past
who people say gave them bread from heaven to eat;
they trust in the truth of their message
and the sense that they are doing your work.

Lord, we think of young people today
hungry and thirsty for happiness, deep friendships, meaningful work, prosperity.
If someone promises them these things, they hope for a miracle
and cry out excitedly as the people did to Jesus, "Sir, give us that bread always."
Help them, Lord, to see that it isn't as easy as that;
they must put aside their own desires,
putting all their trust in his values, and then, paradoxically,
their hungers and thirsts will be satisfied.

Lord, there are millions of people going hungry today,
and we Christians accept this as inevitable.
We forget your promise that if we came to Jesus and believed in his teachings the world would never be hungry or thirsty again.

Lord, we long for miraculous bread
that will come down from heaven and give life to the world.
You call us back to the reality that bread from heaven is here before our eyes, as truly as Jesus was present to the people.

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Homily Notes

1. One can write the story of humanity as the story of our searches for our needs: for food, for water, for security,for pleasure, for comfort, for power; but also for happiness, for understanding, for love, for friendship, for wisdom, and for a reality beyond all these: the reality to which we give the label 'God'.

2. These searches are also the basis of our joys, our hopes, our disappointments, our frustrations, and our fears.

3. To be a disciple of Jesus is to believe that many of these desires, these searches, find their fulfilment in him and his teaching because he is the supreme gift of the Father to humanity. He is the Wisdom of God made fully accessible to us.

4. As food satisfies our human hunger, as water satisfied our human thirst, so Jesus satisfies our desire for wisdom and of access to life in its fullness. To assert that he is 'the true bread' is to assert that in him the needs that are greater than the immediate and the physical find fulfilment: he gives us true life, he gives us true joy, he gives us happiness that exceeds human happiness.

5. He who believes in him will never thirst. So how do we express our faith in him? We express this faith in him as the Father's gift when we gather as his community, the community founded upon him, the community inspired by his Wisdom, the community that shares his bread and his cup.

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Homily from Father James Gilhooley

Three laborers were dragging massive stones. The first was asked by a reporter what he was doing. The reply was terse, "I'm dragging a big stone and it's breaking my back." He put the same query to the second fellow. His reply was, "I'm helping to build a wall and I need your help right now." The journalist politely declined. He moved on to ask the third man. He replied with a smile: "Sir, I'm building a cathedral for God."

We are living out our own lives in an epoch in which work has fallen on hard days. It was said of a USA town where they assemble autos: "Never buy a car built there on Fridays or Mondays." On Friday, serious drinking began to salute the opening of the weekend. On Monday, many of the workers, if they came at all, were nursing hangovers. They kept their eyes open with toothpicks. The owners finally closed the plant.

I worked as a chaplain with college students. Many of the students matched the work habits and life style of the above auto "craftsmen." Thursday evening began party hearty time on campus. Their weekends were Missing in Action.

Unhappily these work habits touch just about every industry and college in our country. We are talking about a national and, I suspect, international problem. Is this not why so many United States citizens look for products made in Japan? I went car hunting. The first point the salesman made without my query was, "I can tell you, Padre, this car was made in Japan from start to finish and I have the papers to prove it." Incidentally, I drive a Japanese Honda.

As Catholics, we have to examine our attitude to work. Are we working for the food which lasts and which gives eternal life as John today suggests? Or are we part of the problem? Are we giving a fair day's work for a fair day's pay? Are we as careful about our job responsibilities as we are about our salary? If negative, we are sinning against justice. And we are talking about confessional matter.

God has given each one of us a task and role to do.
"God," said John Newman, "has created me to do Him a definite service. He has committed a work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission." It can be as lofty as a president of a company or as humble as this scribbler. Whatever it be, it is our vocation. Do we look upon this assignment as an onus or a privilege? Stalter sums up this thought in verse. "No matter what my daily chores might be to earn my livelihood, still may I see the real position that I hold is bringing others to the Master's fold." So, as the proverb advises, in a world that couldn't care less, Christians should care more.

Was not this the motivation that prompted the founding of the Young Christian Workers among miners in Belgium by Joseph Cardijn in the 1930s. Its counterpart was begun in France among students. Not surprisingly, it was called the Young Christian Students. Both movements were lauded by Pope Pius XI. The YCW and the YCS have fallen largely into disfavor. And yet there was never a period when we need them more. Perhaps a resurrection is in order for both groups. We need such groups to remind us of Robert Gibson's advice that we should shine like stars in a dark world and that we are keyholes through which others can see God.

Why Be Catholic? by Rohr and Martos bring the same thought to the subject under discussion. They write, "Living the Bible does not mean memorizing Bible passages or attending prayer meetings any more than it means memorizing the catechism...It doesn't mean having the answer and going to church but living the answer and being the Church."

The ideal attitude to our work is summed up in a few words of doggerel, "God, where shall I work today? Then He pointed me out a tiny garden and said, `Tend that for me.'"

And, if our garden proves to be a bust, think of this thought from Dorothy Day. "Jesus met with apparent failure on the cross. But unless the seed fall into the earth and die, there is no harvest. And why must we see results? Our work is to sow. Another generation will be reaping the harvest."

The monk said, "We're not meant to do great things for God, but we are meant to do small things with great love."

The composer JS Bach began and ended all his compositions with prayer. We know the result. Should we copy his style?

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Sean Goan

We return here to the fallout from Jesus' miracle of the loaves and fishes.
The crowd is depicted as searching enthusiastically for Jesus but when they find him he confronts them on their motivation, saying they must look beyond their full stomachs to see what God is saying to them through what has taken place. What God is asking of them is that they believe in the one he has sent.

In the fourth gospel faith is not a concept, it is an activity. Believing in Jesus is the equivalent of doing the work that God wants because it involves a personal relationship, an abiding in him. However, the crowd don't understand and look for a sign such as their ancestors received. The irony is that they have just such a sign in front of them but they fail to see it. Jesus tells them he is the true bread, not like the manna, but the bread of God's word that satisfies the deepest human hunger. They are invited to nourish themselves on the bread of life, in other words to come to know and believe in Jesus. At this point in the narrative the evangelist is not yet speaking about the Eucharist — that will come later. Here he is making use of the Old Testament symbolism of wisdom as nourishment to speak of Jesus as the only one who can satisfy our hunger for God.

Reflection

We only have to consider the number of cookery programmes on television to realise that food is big business and that it has little to do with feeding the hungry. In the developed world it is about novelty, the exotic, what is really healthy. We don't want the same old thing over and over because we get bored easily. In a certain sense, this type of hunger is a potent symbol for what is being spoken about in the readings. To quote from Deuteronomy, 'Human beings do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
We hunger for meaning, a sense of purpose and if that is addressed then we can be truly content. This is what Jesus, as the bread of life, is speaking about. In him we can come to understand ourselves and be amazed at our own dignity and worth in the sight of God. We are, at heart, spiritual beings and if we don't address that, then we might easily spend our time satisfying our appetites and never our deepest need.

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Stories and Anecdotes:

1. A modern Good Samaritan: A few years ago the news media carried the story of a modern-day Good Samaritan who packed his car each day with dozens of homemade sandwiches and traveled to the inner city to distribute them to homeless and otherwise needy people. Eventually, those who benefited from his generosity became familiar with the Samaritan’s customary route and began to congregate on certain corners at aspecific time each day to wait for their daily gift of food. Today’s gospel describes such a scene where people who had been sumptuously fed onthe previous day by Jesus came searching for him for another free meal.

2. The Great Depression Bread-lines. Inthe depression years of 1930’s millions of Americans were out of work and many thousands were hungry. In a number of cities religious groups set up bread-lines to feed the hungry. One of these was the Franciscan monastery at Cincinnati, Ohio. Everyevening, the Friars, Brothers and lay volunteers prepared and gave a nourishing sandwich of bread and meat to hundreds of hungry men and women. It was interesting to note the reactions of the recipients. Many accepted the well-prepared and well- wrapped food with a smile and a thank you. Others, with head hanging, snatched the food package and shuffled off. Some tore the bag at once and started eating as they hurried away. Most of them ate every last crumb after a silent prayer and put the wrapping into a nearby container, though some would eat only the meat and discard the bread on the roadside. Afew discontented ones just opened the package and then threw the entire contents away in protest. The way those hungry unfortunates reacted to that little lunch is a lot like the way his listeners received the words of Jesus in today’s gospel.

3. Cat to kill mice: Once there was a young hermit who lived as an ascetic in a forest. He owned nothing except a pair of loincloths. One morning, to his great disappointment, he found that mice had destroyed one of the loincloths. He brought a cat to kill the mice and then a cow to give milk to the cat. Later, as the cows multiplied, he hired a girl from the nearby village to look after the cows and to sell the extra milk in the village. Finally, his ever-growing material needs prompted him to end his religious life, marry the girl and settle down as a farmer in the village. This little story illustrates how easily the never-ceasing hunger for material things can take over our spiritual life. In today’s gospel, Jesus promises to satisfy our spiritual hunger by offering his body as our food.

4. Once upon a time there was a young woman who had become very scrupulous about the Eucharist. She was afraid that the priest was careless about distributing Communion and permitted tiny bits of the host to fall on the floor around the altar rail. After Mass was over and the priest had gone back to the Rectory, she would sneak up to the altar and collect what she thought might be parts of the hosts in which Jesus was still present. She would pick them up with a little spoon she always carried in her purse and then place them in a little plastic bag. However, after she had collected many of these little bits of Jesus, she did not know what to do with them. So she brought them home and created a little altar in her room where she could pray to Jesus. Her parents thought it was nice that she had the little altar with a votive light burning in front of Jesus.
Finally, one morning the priest caught her collecting bits of the Eucharist from the floor. Greatly embarrassed, she tried to explain what she was doing. The priest who understood how young people can become obsessive, took the plastic bag from her and promised that he would wash it out in the special sacristy think. But, Martha, he said, Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist to be with us because he loves us, not to drive us crazy with fears. If he was worried about such things he would have consecrated jelly beans at the last super.

5. Are You Hungry?

There's a story found in the Chronicles of Narnia. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the fifth volume of that series, Mary, Edmund, their cousin Eustice, and some of the colorful creatures of Narnia, come upon a crystal clear pool of water with what appears to be a golden statue of a man at the bottom. Only, they discover that it is a magical pool that turns everything into gold that touches the water. It appears that the statue at the bottom of the pool is a man who either didn't know about the pool's magic powers, or he was so consumed with accumulating gold that he ignored its dangers. Even though the characters of the story are awed at the magic of the pool, they recognize that such a place is far more dangerous than it is beneficial, and so they swear themselves to secrecy and wipe their memories clean of that place.

You see, when you waste your energies seeking to fulfill the hunger for things that perish, what you'll find all too often is that you'll still be dissatisfied, and your dissatisfaction will usually put you deeper into the hole you're digging for yourself. Whatever piece of the pie that you're hungering for - whether it's a bigger slice of acceptance or riches or gratification of your urges - you're going to find yourself hungry for more and more and more, until you're so out of control that you can't back-peddle fast enough. In our consumer-driven world, in which many people literally work themselves to death accumulating a never-fully-satisfying abundance of things, Jesus' words challenge our society's misguided substitutes for "life."

Steve Wilkins, Are You Hungry?

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6. Sometime this week you will make a trip to the grocery store to get a loaf of bread. It will be readily available on the shelf. There will be quite a variety to choose from. You will pay little attention to the price, not realizing that the packaging that the bread is wrapped in actually costs more than the wheat that is in the bread. All in all, you will think it a very uneventful trip, but you will be wrong.

It is quite difficult for many of us to understand the importance of bread unless we turn on the TV and watch what is going on in so many parts of the world today. When there is no staff of life there is suffering and famine. A simple loaf of bread: Something, which we do not give a second thought, but in certain parts of the world it means life itself.

It is only as we comprehend that situation that we can really begin to understand the importance of bread not only now but also in the time of Jesus. Just think for a moment how so many significant theological events in the Bible revolve around the subject of bread. The most important event in the Old Testament of course, was the Exodus event--the trip from Egypt to the Promised Land. But what caused the Hebrews to be in Egypt in the first place? It was for want of bread you will recall. The wheat crop had failed due to draught, and the Hebrews had migrated to the land of the Pharaoh because there was a surplus in storage there. It was bread, or the lack of it, that initiated this whole chain of events...

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 7. Southeast Asia is hot. The economies of its countries are sizzling, especially Viet Nam and Indonesia, with the highest growth rates of almost anywhere on the planet. Investors and tourists from all over the world are flooding both countries. Of course, Bali, Indonesia, is where everyone wants to go. But if I could go anywhere in Southeast Asia, it would be the island of Sumatra.

Why Sumatra? Because this island is the archipelago of 17,000 islands known as "Indonesia" is where the "manna" of that country is grown. The best coffee in the world comes from Sumatra. It is called Kopi Luwak coffee. Kopi Luwak is one of the most unique coffees in the world, and very hard to find. Only a couple of thousand pounds of this coffee comes up on the world market each year. And almost all of it comes from the island of Sumatra.

This coffee bean has an interesting story and one that echoes with our Psalm today...

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 8. Thinking Metaphorically

In a sermon on the "I Am" sayings of Jesus, I once mentioned the Simon and Garfunkel song which had the line, "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you. What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson? Joltin' Joe has left and gone away." Originally part of the soundtrack for the film The Graduate, the song "Mrs. Robinson" has become one of the 1960s' best-known, iconic ballads.

But in a 60 Minutes interview a few years back Paul Simon mentioned that some time after the song was released, he received a letter from Joe DiMaggio in which DiMaggio expressed his befuddlement at what in the world that song could mean. DiMaggio wrote, "What do you mean 'Where have I gone?' I haven't gone anywhere! I'm still around--I'm selling Mr. Coffee." Then Mr. Simon smiled wryly at Mike Wallace and remarked, "Obviously Mr. DiMaggio is not accustomed to thinking of himself as a metaphor!"

But then, who is? Most, if not all, of us see ourselves as real people with literal, descriptive identities. For instance, I am a pastor, a husband, a father, a committee member, a volunteer, a son--these are all straightforward descriptions of who I am in relation to the people around me in life. Like most people, I cannot readily conceive of myself as a symbol for something, as a kind of metaphor that represents something beyond myself.

Indeed, if someone came up to you at a party and said, "You are my shelter from the storms of life," well, you'd be taken aback. Then again, if you met someone who constantly spouted self-referential metaphors, you'd have to wonder about him or her. We expect people to denote themselves by saying things like, "I am a plumber" or "I'm a stay-at-home Dad." But our eyes would widen if someone said, "I am the oil that lubes my company's machine" or "I am the antibody that shields my family from the virus of secularism."

This is not a terribly typical mode of discourse. Yet Jesus, with some frequency, did refer to himself in a metaphorical mode, starting with John 6:35 when Jesus said, "I am the Bread of life."

Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations

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9. Our Help Comes from Above

Looking out at my backyard during the fall, I noticed the leaves falling while the tree branches remained stretching heavenward--not only did they remain that way after the leaves were gone, but when the snows came and the often brutal winds of Chicago seemed to bend them into submission. But in the spring the trees seemed to speak to me saying, "Notice that we kept our branches lifted towards where our help comes from." To me it seemed that they praised God with or without leaves, as if they knew that keeping their branches up was a means of patient waiting faith, and it was in the spring when the buds appeared on their branches that those trees seemed to say to me, "We told you. We told you that our help comes from above."

So not only does this text tell us that God provides through Jesus not what we want but what we need and that God's promise can sustain us through all times, but, finally, the text tells us God's presence through Jesus allows us room to grow in grace.’

Ozzie E. Smith, Jr., What Do You Want?
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10. Spiritual Awareness

 In a broadcast address in London, T. S. Eliot talked about "spiritual awareness." He observed that many persons aspire to become Christians and believe, presumably, in the efficacy of the Christian faith, but never reach the stage of actually experiencing it. Aspiring towards real belief, i.e., becoming truly Christian, is one thing, whereas complete awareness of it is another. Aspiring can easily become an end in itself. And, as Charles H. Duthie of Edinburgh remarked: "It is a matter of living forever in the preface and never becoming involved in the story."

This condition of spiritual awareness is clearly defined by Jesus in the words of our text. It is a state of soul devoutly and eagerly to be aspired to, in contrast to what Lord Cecil of Britain once referred to as "believing in God in a commonplace sort of way." And, it becomes the gift and possession of any persons who are utterly dissatisfied with themselves, and who decide to fulfill those important requisites that make them completely satisfied in Christ.

Donald MacLeod, Know The Way, Keep The Truth, Win The Life, CSS Publishing Co.

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