When I was younger, my family had a dog named Holly. This dog was always hungry. One thing you have to know is that shortly after we got her, we signed her up for obedience school – in the Chesterfield Valley in 1993! So needless to say, the flood kind of worked against her. She was always begging. First, she would put her head on your leg, just to try to melt your heart into giving her something to eat from the table, and when that didn’t work, she would nudge you with her nose to get the point across. She loved food from the table, although she hardly ever got any. Sometimes, to get her to eat her dog food, we would put some table scraps amidst the pellets. But my dog was picky – she would just eat around the dog food! She got to be very selective about her eating. But one thing is for sure – she was always hungry, always wanting more.
What about us? Are we hungry people? In the Gospel today, Jesus is speaking about the Bread of Life. Now, most of the time, when we talk about this, we tend to focus on the “bread” portion of what Jesus is saying. Food is a good analogy, and an easy one for people to understand. But it’s not just simple bread that Jesus is giving, it’s the Bread of “Life”. So I want to focus on the “Life” portion of that, because it’s just as important.
What does this mean? It’s not a physical life that Jesus is giving us here. You can read all these stories about what foods make you live longer – like chamomile (apparently part of the daisy family?). Who knew? But people receive the Eucharist, the Bread of Life her at Mass every Sunday, and yet people continue to die every day. The life that Jesus is speaking about here is our spiritual life. But don’t think that it’s any less real. This life was given to us at baptism – a very real and concrete event in our lives. It’s a life that’s sometimes hidden, but which is much bigger and more important than we realize. It’s the kind of life that remains even after the earthly life goes away. Bodily life needs food – like chamomile, apparently – to nourish it, and in turn, so does our spiritual life.
But the Bread that Jesus gives us comes with a huge challenge. With earthly bread, the biggest challenge we receive is how much we have to exercise in order to keep those cupcakes off the waistline. The Bread of Life, on the other hand, comes with a commitment to a new life. When we receive Communion, we become like little tabernacles of the Holy Spirit. And so when we receive that Bread of Life, we’re bound by the presence within us to live that Divine Life in a way that gives evidence to the world that it’s there. St. Paul talks about this in the second reading today: “Put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self.” This isn’t an option. It’s not just a Sundays thing. It’s not just a sometimes affair. When we receive the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, we are bound to Christ.
Sometimes that’s hard to settle with, and hard to take on. Some people in the world would tell us that we take this too seriously. They’d say that the most important thing in life is to feel like a “good person,” regardless of whether the decisions we make jive with the Divine Life that we’ve taken upon ourselves in receiving the Bread of Life. In this kind of life, it isn’t based on faith or on what God or the Church calls us to, but what is quick and easy, what is pleasurable, what is comfortable for us.
So in a sense, there’s a part of us that isn’t hungry for the Bread of Life. It’s the part that longs for the passing pleasure of the fleshpots in Egypt like the Israelites in the first reading, even though we know that the price of that pleasure is the life of slavery. It’s the part of us that sees the Life that God calls us to as too challenging, too rigorous, too difficult. It’s the part of us that goes to Mass on Sunday morning, but then thinks it’s perfectly fine to get drunk on Friday evening, or trash talk a coworker on Monday afternoon, or actively support political or social stances that are contrary to our faith Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday. It’s that part of us that is hungry, yes, but which doesn’t want to be fed with the Bread of Life. Perhaps that part is in all of us. And to be honest, that’s kind of scary. It’s scary that within ourselves, there’s just a little part of us that when presented with the Bread of Life, the food which Jesus himself promises will bring us eternal joy and happiness, that wants to turn it away, and say, “Nope, that’s ok. I’m fine.”
That’s one part in our lives. But hopefully the larger and more dominant part of our lives is that part that hungers and thirsts, that longs, that pines after that bread that will last forever. It’s that part of us that’s kind of like my dog – it can never get enough. It’s that part of us that has experienced other foods and other nourishment and still wants more. It’s that part of us that wants to hold the Life of God within our hearts like living tabernacles – waking with it in the morning, sharing our joys and sufferings with it throughout the day, and resting in it again at the end of it all. It’s that part of us that, despite our limitations and our sinfulness wants to give the life that Christ demands of us everything we’ve got. It’s that part of us that cries out with Jesus’ followers in the Gospel, “Lord, give us this bread always!”
And the greatest thing about this is that he does. And the more we open our hearts to receiving from him, the more we seek to understand this Divine Life, and the more we live our lives in conformity with it, the more that the part of us that longs for fulfillment and that hungers for something more will be satisfied.