This is the third reflection on Jesus, the Bread of Life, as presented to our consideration in the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel. In it we learn that, at each Eucharistic Celebration, God the Father sends us Jesus from heaven as Bread of Life by setting up two tables before us: the table of Jesus as Word of Life and the table of the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Thus, at the table of the Word, a Holy Mass is the fulfillment of the prophecy quoted by Jesus: “They shall all be taught by God.” (John 6: 45) And it is also an experience of reliving the Paschal mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection at the table of the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
Before anything else, it should be clear that it is not we who decided to come into this church to fulfill our Sunday obligation but that, rather, it is God the Father, through His Holy Spirit, who drew us inside to be fed by Jesus’ Words of Life and by his own Flesh and Blood. For the longest time we might have thought that we were those deciding to attend church or not when, in reality, we were just saying “yes” to a gentle yet firm invitation spoken by the Father in the recesses of our heart. Unfortunately, some mistaken worshipers might think that they can skip through the table of the Word without disastrous spiritual consequences, to concentrate on the second part of the Mass and get all they need for their souls from the table of the Sacrament.
They are mistaken because they choose to ignore being drawn by the Father to be taught first by Jesus; and they are mistaken also because, without being first transformed by the Words of Life, they are left at the mercy of their pious quests.
The only way I can convince you of the importance of saying “yes” to God drawing us first to his Son Jesus at the table of the Word, would be by considering, with honesty and candor, how hard it has been for us to reduce our sinning and become gradually more Christ-like. This is how St. Paul would put it: And 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. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. (Ephesians 4:30-32)
Malnourished or deprived of spiritual food at the table of the Word, we would be grieving the Spirit and find it impossible to uproot from our heart bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, malice and reviling along with all those other sins that embarrass and bewilder us. Malnourished or deprived of spiritual guidance at the table of the Word, we would have no way of replacing those ugly attitudes with kindness, compassion, gentle forgiveness and joyous, loving service of each other.
Let me put this vital concept presented by St. Paul (Ephesians 4:30-5:2) in a different way: At the table of the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus would not help us, guide us, strengthened us, make us truly integral parts of his Body as effectively as he could because we would have ignored him and his message whenever the Father sent him from heaven to teach us the Truth and set us on the path of Life at the table of the Word. My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, we cannot afford to be so foolish and so conceited as to slight Jesus and his personalized messages of life, every time the table of the Word is spread before us and, then, expect to use him with refined devotion in Holy Communion to get what we want.
There could be times when, with the prophet Elijah, we might feel so trapped, frustrated, disoriented and totally depleted of energy that we wish to die. “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life.” (1 Kings 19:4)
In some cases, it could be a legitimate cry because we are truly in a desperate situation. However, it could be, instead, a cry prompted by the realization that we would have failed for the umpteenth time and, rather than attributing that repeated failure to our decision to ignore the messages and the teachings of Jesus, in our stubbornness and self-importance, we would choose to ask him to end our life.
That was, partially, the case with Elijah. In his case, it was mostly stubbornness generating misguided heroism and conceit generating self-importance. But the Lord, at long last, persuaded Elijah to toss aside his plans to embrace, instead, the plan that would have been revealed to him on mount Horeb. The food that Elijah was repeatedly urged to eat was not to give him strength to continue doing as he had wanted, even if with all his good intentions, but only to carry out what he had been told by the Lord.
By now, the crucial point should be clear to us. For example, there are still people who, not valuing yet the nourishment offered at the table of the Word, ask something like this: “Father, I went to a funeral today; I was at a wedding Mass, do I still have to go to Mass on Sunday? They focus only on Jesus offered to them by the Father at the table of the Blessed Sacrament. The thought that Jesus had a quite different message at the funeral and/or at the wedding from the one that he would be eager to communicate to them on Sunday, escapes them.
Hence, let us etch this in our minds and hearts: It is only after Jesus, with firmness mitigated by infinite gentleness, has had a chance to show us our sorry situation and offered us a clear way out of our sinful condition that we can run excitedly to feed on his Body and Blood. It is only after the path to Life eternal has been clearly marked out for us through his teachings at the table of the Word that we can store up, from Holy Communion, all the energy we will need to continue our perilous and exhausting journey to the Kingdom.