Readings (Year B):
Reflection: Full of life
When is that last time you have been so moved, so convinced, so utterly awe-struck by something that your only response was “give this to me always”?
I’ve been reflecting on this question for the past fifteen months—during which many of us were separated from the things we love most: family, friends, and of course, Mass. I found myself in the situation of the crowd from today’s reading almost every day as I watched Mass on my laptop, or during virtual family functions instead of in-person holiday parties.
I can’t tell you the number of times after events like that I prayed, “Give me this, always. I need it, Lord. I miss it. When can I have it again?” I suspect that many of us have had the same struggles during this difficult year.
Those struggles, and that craving for what really matters in our lives, are what make today’s readings so compelling. “The Bread of Life Discourse” (as this portion of the Gospel of John is called) is famous and profound—it tells us so much about our relationship with God. God desires an intimate, personal relationship with us. God wants to feed us with “food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27). God wants to give life to the world by giving each of us life. God wants to dwell within us.
“The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33), Jesus says after sharing with the crowd that he will give them food that will endure for eternal life.
Can you imagine being in the crowd and hearing such a statement? How can food endure for eternal life and how can this man give it to me? Besides being confused, one would also probably be intrigued, perhaps even excited. If God wants to feed us with “the bread of life” (John 6:35), God must really love us.
God has fed God’s people throughout history. In Exodus, we hear about the Israelites, who are wandering in the desert and starving. After leading them out of bondage in Egypt, God does not abandon them, literally raining bread down on them every morning. Our Psalm tells us that the Israelites ate “the bread of angels” (Ps. 78:25).
How could we not resonate with the passionate, instinctual, eager response by the crowd to Jesus after he describes “the Bread of God that comes down from Heaven” (John 6:33)? How could our response be anything other than “give us this bread always”?
Though it has been a few months since my wife and I have been vaccinated and thus, have returned to Mass, part of me mourns those fifteen months of separation from the Eucharist. The deep, spiritual ache and hunger for the Eucharist reminded me that the bread of life is not just a nice sentiment or a comforting metaphor—it is real and as essential to our lives as eating or drinking. I will never take it for granted again.