"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Sunday 5 August 2012

18th Sunday of the Year: THE BREAD OF LIFE

The Bread of Life Icon

The Bread of Life 

  Last week's gospel set the scene  for St John's discourse of the Eucharist with the words, "Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near."   That is, what Jesus was about to do and the inner meaning of what St John is about to relate, concerns the feast of the Paschal Lamb; or, as the Apocalypse puts it, "the lamb slain but standing."   For the author of the Apocalypse, Christ's self-offering in humble obedience on the cross is now eternal.  What we do help to form us; but Jesus' self-offering on the cross was so utterly complete that it became an essential dimension of his very identity as the risen Christ: it is who Jesus is.  

In the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, Jesus then goes on to manifest the loving generosity of God and his own messiahship. 

Today, our Gospel message answers a question raised by last week's Gospel,  "What food does God offer us?   How do we apply this passage of the multiplication of bread to ourselves?"   Jesus answers simply, "I am the bread of life.   Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."   A little later he will explain that the life he pffers us is eternal.        

Here is another question: if Christ is offering abundant rich food,which is his very self, to whom is he offering it?   St Luke's Gospel gives us the answer:

Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.

That is us! We are the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.  About the life we lead  Shakespeare said

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

 Without God, life is meaningless, signifying nothing.   However, for a person living in intimate union with God, each minute of that life is charged with meaning, each second has an eternal significance, each moment is a sacrament.  

But we sinners forget that permanence can only be found in  God, and we artificially project permanence on transient things. we try to hold on to anything that is agreeable to us, independently of God's will.   Moreover,   because time is short, because  we are not content to rely on God's  all-present providence, we seek our enjoyment apart from his will.   We are truly the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. 

For this reason, the Letter to the Ephesians tells us that we must not stay on the surface of things, like the Gentiles who live in the futility of their own minds, moved by their lusts and and disordered desires.   We must cast away the old man and put on the new man, a totally new mentality of a person who  manifests God's Presence through "true righteousness and holiness."   This process of casting out the old and putting on the new is a process of death to self and resurrection to God that reflects the death and resurrection of the Lamb and is the only context in which receiving the "Bread of Life" makes sense.

St Irenaeus gives us a quotable quote, "The Glory of God is man fully alive."  This "fully alive" is more excellent than natural health: it is sharing in what St John calls "everlasting life", eternal life, the very life of the Blessed Trinity.  A common quotation of the Fathers, found in the works of St Irenaeus, St Athanasius and St Augustine, is that "God became man so that man can become God."   We become God, the Fathers tell us, not by being given the divine nature, which is impossible, but by sharing in God's life.

This life, in contrast to our natural life which passes us by and ends in death, is the eternal love the Son has for the Father and the Father has for the Son, the love that is the Holy Spirit.   We are brought up into it by the Holy Spirit's action.   This is summarized in the doxology of the Mass:
Through him and with him and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours. for ever and ever.
This is eternal life, eternal with the very eternity of God.   It is in the depths of all that is, the depth of every passing moment in our time. Our natural life is a mere passing reflection of it  But we cannot reach it by ourselves: there is no way up to it from where we are, but it is only in connection with it that our time has meaning; and it is only in connection with God's will that anything in our passing life can be given permanence.   For us to pass from time to eternity, Eternity must embrace our time.   For us to rise up, God needs to stoop down.   To enter into the divine flow of Trinitarian life, we need the Incarnation, we need Christ in whom divine love and human love are united in one divine Person: "Through him, and with him and in him": Jesus is the Bread of life, bringing us into the eternal life of God through the veil that is his flesh.   This divine human life of Christ which embraces his Father also embraces the whole of creation and especially all that is human.   Hence, in order for our love to be an icon of his love, we must cease to be like the Gentiles, to live in the futility of our own minds so that we are can love God who is eternal, and  become vehicles, instruments, icons of his love for all.

We have a choice.   We can live without faith and thus live an illusion because we look for fulfilment in things that cannot fulfil us and seek permanence among transient things.  Or we can live with faith, seeking the pearl of great price which is life in Christ, the Bread of Life who enables us to find fulfilment in  anything that God wants us to do, and gives eternal significance to what is transient just in so far as we allow it to remain transient,  do not try to grasp it for our own, for our own gratification, but to see all things in the context of the presence and will of God.
Another question:
If the food that Christ offers us the Bread of life which imparts the very life of the Blessed Trinity, and this food is offered to the poor, the blind, the crippled and the lame, to us; then where do we find this food?

Earlier in the chapter of the letter to the Ephesians from which the second lesson was taken, we read,
When he ascended on high he made captivity itself captive; he gave gifts to his people.   When it says 'He ascended' what does it mean but that he also descended...He who descended is the same one who ascended...that he might fill all things.

This signifies that Christ fills all things and is thus present in this Mass precisely because he is in heaven.  Only in heaven is he in touch with all times and places.   Where is God the Father?   "Our Father who art in heaven."  He is in heaven.
  Where is Jesus?  "On the third day he ascended into heaven."   He is in heaven with the angels and the saints.  
 At Mass, where are we?   In the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) we are before the throne of God.   Our offerings are lifted up to heaven and become the body and blood of Christ.   We are surrounded by angels and saints.   We are in heaven!  As a certain theologian said, In the Mass, heaven becomes an earthly reality.   

Too often, we imagine our world to be like a two-storey building, with God, the angels and saints and our dead living up stairs; but  we are separated from them by a ceiling and what they do there, only heaven knows.   Perhaps they are not there at all!! 

  In reality, the Mass makes our world a one-storey building.   At Mass we rub shoulders with Our Lady, the angels and the saints.  Our Lady, the angels,  and the saints, and those who have died   form one single community with us ,together with all who have participated in the Mass down the ages, all that are at present celebrating Mass and all that will celebrate in the future are spiritually taking part.  Christ is present and, through the Holy Spirit, he is in contact with all times and places.   The attention of the whole throng across time and space and in heaven and earth is centred on the throne where God the Father sits, and on the altar on which there is the Lamb.

Of course, the whole scene is full of the glory of God and of Christ which reflects on the angels and saints, and on us too, making us shine brighter than the sun, but we are blind and see only, as in a glass darkly, with the eyes of faith.   The angels and the saints worship God with their whole being; but we do not have sufficient mastery of ourselves to do that because we are crippled and spiritually poor.   They do great feats of love before the throne; but we are lame and can hardly move at all.    

Nevertheless, Christ fills us with the Bread of life which is himself.  He comes to live in us so that the heart of each of us becomes a window into heaven.   To the extent that we live what we have received, we become witnesses to him through righteousness and holiness.

We do not have to die to get to heaven. We are already there every time we go to Mass, every time we make the doxology at Mass our own reality. One day, Christ will cure our blindness and take away all other obstacles and limitations, and we shall see and enjoy what we now see only in the obscurity of faith. 

Meanwhile, let us no continue the Mass, celebrating in the company of Our Lady, the angels and saints and with Christians across time and place.  Let us acknowledge that we are poor, crippled, blind and lame, reject all that springs from the futility of our own minds and receive with gratitude the Bread that fills all heaven and earth with life.

For all Orthodox who use the Gregorian Calendar, Happy Feast of the Transfiguration!!
Today say prayers at Mass for the soul of Marilyn Monroe who died 50 years ago today.

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