According to the National Institutes of Health, Americans spend $37 billion on dietary supplements a year. According to the Boston Medical Center, Americans spend $33 billion on weight loss products. I think it’s safe to say we are pretty concerned with what it is we are putting into our bodies. That’s not a bad thing—God gave us our bodies and we need to do our best to try to take care of them.
Today in the readings we hear about bread from heaven that gives true life, that sustains us on our journey.
In the first reading we hear about Elijah (1 Kings 19:4-8) who is worn out, and about to despair. Immediately prior to this reading he had defeated the false prophets of the demon Baal. He had challenged them, and when he doused a pile of wood with water and called upon God, the logs lit into a great blaze. The priestess of Baal, Jezebeel, was seeking to have Elijah put to death. So Elijah is on the run. Despite having just witnessed this great miracle, Elijah has almost lost all hope. He cries out to God “This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”
Then an angel comes and gives him nourishment and he is strengthened to walk forty days and nights to the mountain of God. The mountain is an image of heaven and the forty days is the journey that you and I have in this life. During that journey there are times when we need nourishment and strength that no ordinary food can give to us. We need the true bread from Heaven. Like Elijah, we too need a little bit of prodding. Our Mother the Church prods us: go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day. Receive the Eucharist at least once during the Easter Season. Better yet, receive every day! God has given us a great gift, but we still need prodding to take advantage.
The Psalm (34) has a deep undertone of thanksgiving. The notation in the psalm says it was written by David after a close call of being executed by the Philistine king. The psalm would have been sung as part of the thanksgiving sacrifice at the temple. We too are in a dangerous world—the devil wants to take us away from the heavenly court, and he starts by keeping us away from the Sacraments. If we partake in the Eucharist in faith every Sunday, God will save us from threats of death.
In the second reading (Ephesians 4:30-5:2) we hear something very important: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.” (Cf Ephesians 4:30-5:2). Saint Paul makes the very clear pastoral point that we must do some preparation and examination of conscience before we receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. If we have a mortal sin on our soul, we must go to confession to be restored to the life of grace and be able to return to receive holy Communion. If we do receive in the state of mortal sin, we commit the second mortal sin of sacrilege. God calls us to worship him on the Lord’s Day, and we do this by participating in the holy Mass—that’s why choosing to skip sunday Mass is a mortal sin. Christ is our sacrificial offering, a fragrant aroma to God. We participate in this sacrifice by preparing and washing, so to speak. We allow Christ to wash away our sins in the Sacrament of Confession. Don’t ever forget about the seal-the priest can never, no matter what, reveal what he has heard in confession. Then we will be prepared to participate in this epic event of the Mass. Sometimes I hear people say “I don’t get much out of Mass” or “I want a closer relationship with Jesus”. Well, it doesn’t get much more intimate than going to him humbly, and confessing our sins to him through the person of the priest, and receiving Him with great love in Holy Communion. God created us, so I think it’s a pretty fair deal if we live as He tells us to live. He wants the best for us, so why would we ever think our plans are better?
These readings and psalm have been a preparation for the Gospel (John 6:41-51), which is a continuation of John 6. Our Lord says it very clearly- He tells the people: “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”… “I am the bread of Life”… “I am the living bread that came down from heaven”. If we want to get to heaven, if we want to share in His life, we must receive Him in Holy Communion. The word our Lord uses for “to eat” is trogein—a very graphic word which is something like “to chew” or “to gnaw”. In other words, our Lord isn’t speaking symbolically here! Choosing to pray at home rather than to come to Mass is not the same thing. Jesus told us to eat His Body and Blood! St Cyril of Alexandria describes very well what happens to a soul who receives our Lord in Holy Communion: “When two pieces of wax are put into the fire, they melt and become as a single thing. Something similar occurs when we participate in the Body of Christ and in His Precious Blood.” (St Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on St John’s Gospel, 10:2). The Holy Eucharist frees us from venial sins and protects us from falling into mortal sin. The Holy Eucharist increases our sanctity—“participating in the Body and Blood of Christ transforms us into that which we receive” (Paul VI, Instruction, Eucharisticum Mysterium, 15 August 1967, 37). The Holy Eucharist strengthens us and helps us to love beyond our own limits. We can bear the difficulties we encounter in life because we have the very life of God in us.
Seeing how receiving our Lord in Holy Communion is so important, why do we only want to limit those graces to one day a week? Come to daily Mass if you are able to do so. In addition, our Lord calls us to be with Him. By spending time with Him in Eucharistic Adoration we are bonded even more closely to Christ, and we give Him time and space to speak to us, to really strengthen and protect us against the dangers of the journey. By going to adoration, we help to bring about the transformation of the world. Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) once said: “People ask me: ‘what will convert America and save the world? My answer is prayer. What we need is for every parish to come before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in holy hours of prayer.” Pope Saint John Paul II said “through adoration the Christian mysteriously contributes to the radical transformation of the world and to the sowing of the Gospel”. This is the true diet plan that we are called to live. This is the food that will bring us many graces, that will save us from danger, and will give us eternal life. This is how we can help to bring about a transformation of the world.