Monday, August 31, 2015

Homily, Bye for Now

XXII Sunday of Ordinary Time
San José Parish
August 30, 2015
Austin, TX

It is difficult to preach a message intended more for the preacher than for the people. While the more general teaching Jesus gives to the crowd regarding what truly corrupts or defiles applies to everyone, Jesus’ directs His primary attention today to the Pharisees and the Scribes, the Jewish religious leaders, saying, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: The people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts” (Mc 7: 6-7). I take this saying of Jesus quite seriously. For He is warning me, and those who lead this parish, not to substitute the doctrines of the faith, the eternal Word of God, for merely human precepts, the words of men to be blown away like chaff. Or worse, not teach such erroneous notions under the guise of God’s teachings, as if your foolish thoughts and ideas were the will of God. 

Indeed, our job, my job, is to maintain true religion, the right worship of God, that when we turn as a community in prayer to the Lord God, our worship is not in vain, but full of vigor and fervor such that a song of praise and thanksgiving rises up to the Lord God like incense before the altar. Yes, like Moses we are to exhort and to encourage the people to observes the teachings of the Lord God that they might take possession of that promise land (heaven) which the Lord, the God of our Fathers, is giving us (Dt 4:1-2). Neither we nor the people are to add or to subtract from them, but rather observe them carefully such that all other peoples and nations, those around us, will look upon this community and marvel at their wisdom and intelligence (Dt 4:6-7). Indeed, as St. James says, they will see the way in which we are doers of the word and not hearers only, keeping a religion that is pure and undefiled before God, that is, caring for the orphans and the widows, all those who suffer in their afflictions (Jam 1:27). 

And so my time here at San José this summer comes to a close. I leave tomorrow for Rome. I will be back next summer as a priest to serve you again. At least that is the plan. Please know that I will remember y’all daily in my prayers and offer my studies as a sacrifice on your behalf. Thank all y’all so much for your prayers, support, and kind welcome. I am grateful. Yes, this last homily will be as short as my stay, be
cause today Jesus speak to the preacher. So I will fulfill the first rule of preaching by preaching first to myself and simply end with the words of St. Paul:

For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our behavior to you believers; for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.


And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers (1Thes 2:9-13).   

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Homily, The Sacred Secret of Catholic Education

Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit
St. Dominic Savio High School
August 19, 2015
Austin, TX

You have all made a great and terrible mistake. Parents do you realize what you have done? They will corrupt the youth! Are you crazy? They are going to teach them Theology, all that stuff those backwards thinking people at the Vatican believe about faith and morals. They are going to teach them about God and the creation of the world, the Bible and all those other outdated books. They are going to teach them a history in which God’s providence is real and the Church a divine institution working for the betterment of all things truly human, even their souls. They are going to teach them literature that is part of a tradition reaching back thousands of years in which through the beauty of words the true human story is told. They are going to teach them about politics and government modeled after the Ruler of the Universe, God, and how that is manifest through the governance of men by men, working for the true common good of society. They are going to teach them music and art and theater that is not just an expression of my own view of the world but taps into the very nature of reality and draws out its true splendor, the very beauty of God! They are going to teach them math that marvels at the complexities of logic and the human mind as well as seeing into the inner rationality of the world. They are going to teach them chemistry and physics such that they learn to tame and to subdue the earth according to God’s plan and to stand in awe before God’s creation. They are going to teach them biology such that the ethics of how we treat the environment and most importantly ourselves reflects the dignity of God’s creation. They are going to teach them languages so that they can build bridges between cultures and peoples ever ancient ever new. They will even teach them how to play sports such that as St. Paul says they become a paradigm for running the race of salvation.

Such is the voice of those outside these walls. But we know, we know the sacred secret to real education and learning—the Spirit of Truth. 

In today’s mass, we celebrate the votive mass of the Holy Spirit. We hear of that great torrent of wind in the upper room, Pentecost, when Jesus sent down upon His disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, who would lead them to all truth and in so doing glorify God. This is the sacred secret to Catholic education, the reason why in fact if done well, Catholic education is better than any other. For at the heart pumping through its ecclesial veins is the very Spirit of Truth, God Himself, leading us out and guiding us teachers, students, administrators, staff (dare I leave now one out) to all truth giving glory to God. 

Are you saying Deacon DeWitt, that the secret to better teachers and students is the Holy Spirit? That in leading them to all truth, they will perform better in class, on tests, college applications, etc…? that all I have to do to get a better grade is pray to the Holy Spirit? 

Yes, actually. Yes, you see, the Fall—Adam and Eve’s you know—Original Sin and all personal sins darken the intellect and cloud the mind. Sin blinds us to the truth, for sin is a consequence and reinforcement of error, not seeing or understanding God and the World He created. Thus we need to be led out of sin and into truth by the Spirit of God which dwells in our hearts. The word “education” or the verb “to educate” does come from the Latin educere which literally means “to lead out of.” So yes, the Holy Spirit will make us better students and teachers because He will wipe us clean of our sins and lead us to all truth, that is to a real understanding of God and His creation—there is nothing else to learn about! The Holy Spirit will actually bear fruit, real concrete fruit in our lives. 

If you do not believe me look at St. Paul. Look at that long list of sins—immorality, impurity, lust idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outburst of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like—he juxtaposes these temptations of the flesh with fruits of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—as if to say these works of the flesh must be left behind in order to live in the Spirit. Further more, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and His fruits are not meant merely to make us nice good meaning people! No, they make us awesome people, people filled with the Holy Spirit who inspire in others awe and wonder. Awesome people like St. Paul who was super smart and spoke and debated with the philosophers, kings, emperors, princes and principalities, etc…

Upperclassmen, those who have received confirmation: Are you not expected to lead this school? It makes sense does it not, if the secret to the education is the Spirit of Truth with which you have been sealed, then are you not suppose to lead these others in this race? Be fruitful, be awesome. Live in the Spirit. 

So yes, there has always been a connection between the moral and intellectual life. Why else would St. Thomas Aquinas go to great lengths to carry around a relic of St. Agnes, a Virgin Martyr and patron of purity? He only turned out to be one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen, whose teachings on human nature were so ahead of their time that Martin Luther King Jr would make recourse to them from a Birmingham jail in order to justify a peaceful civil rights movement. Or Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra about the be Canonized a saint by Pope Francis during his visit to the US, who was the second to write a declaration of human rights for the natives of this land. He was beat only by another priest, a Dominican Friar Juan de las Casas, and both were years before both the French and US declaration of rights. Or Venerable Bede who wrote down the first history of England—the only original source work for over a 500 year span—all in the supposed "dark ages." Or Gregor Mendel, a Catholic priest, who discovered in the garden of his monastery hereditary genetics, which would then father the modern day interest in genetics. Or Guido d’Arezzo a benedictine monk who in order to help his out of tune brethren invented musical notation. Or Maria Agnesi, the first female math professor. Or J.R.R. Tolkien who literally invented the modern fantasy novel with a single hand—a catholic layman. Or Christopher Columbus who fulfilled the words of Ps 19 bringing the Word of God to the ends of the earth. Or Georges Lemaitre, father of the Big Bang theory and modern cosmology, adding to a long list of Catholic astronomers such as Fr. Copernicus and Keplar just to name a few. Not to mention the very institution of the University and the idea of Hospital fruits of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. The list goes on and on.

And you know who told me all of this? A Catholic priest who used to be a particle physicist in Geneva at the first particle accelerator. 

Brothers and Sisters, live in the Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Truth. Open your hearts and minds this year and be led to all truth. Study hard. Pray harder. Such that your life gives glory to God. Yes, we know the sacred secret to education, the Holy Spirit. But are you ready for Him to lead you to all truth?           

Homilia, Tome Su Camino al Communión

XX Tiempo Ordinario
Parroquia de San José
El 16 de Agosto, 2015 
Austin, TX

Si el domingo pasado los Judíos murmuraban porque Jesús dijo que es el pan de vida, hoy están disgustados porque Jesús dijo que esté pan es Su carne. ¿Cómo puede éste darnos a comer su carne? les discutían entre ellos mismos. Y así no bastó, Jesús juntó Si no comen la carne del Hijo del Hombre y no beben su sangre, no tiene vida en ustedes. Entonces Jesus les hace dos puntos, que el pan de vida es Su carne y que se debe comerlo para tener vida. 

¿Pero que es esté pan de que estamos discutiendo? El pan se refiere a la historia del maná que el Señor dio en el desierto a los Judíos. Miente los Judíos acababan el Exodo de Egipto, tenían atravesar el desierto. Porque no hay nada para nadie en el desierto y menos por un pueblo total, los Judíos murmuraban a Moisés que estaban muriendo de hambre. Por eso Dios les contestó y dio cada día pan o que se llama maná. Cada día por la mañana descendía algo sobre el suelo del desierto, una cosa menuda, como granos, parecida a la escarcha (Ex 16:14). Porque no sabían que era, lo llamaban maná que es decir en Hebreo ¿que es eso?. Pero esté ¿que es eso? que dio el Señor fue solamente una seña, un imagen de que vendrá, que Él dará por Su Hijo. Vean como aparecidos son este maná y la Eucaristía. Se dice que el maná era muy fino, delgado, como huelas blancas sobre el suelo (Ex 16:31). ¿No es que la hostia parece como el maná? Por lo más el maná descendió por el rocío de la mañana. Cada vez que celebremos la misa, cuando el sacerdote impone sus manos sobre los dones, se invoca el Espíritu Santo sobre el pan por la imagen del rocío Pero ahora no es el símbolo pero la realidad; no es el pan que se comieron y murieron pero el pan de vida que se come y no morirá. 

Pero si hubiera una duda más, oye que dice San Pablo a los corintios: el Pueblo de Moisés, todos comieron del mismo alimento espiritual y bebieron la misma bebida espiritual; el agua brotaba de una roca espiritual que los seguía, y la roca era Cristo (1Cor 10:1-4). Hermanos, nosotros sabemos que es este maná. No es un ¿que es eso?; es el cuerpo y la sangre de Cristo. Como los Judíos comieron y bebieron cosas en el Espíritu, ahora nosotros comemos y bebimos la realidad, el cuerpo y sangre de Cristo. San Pablo afirma que como Moisés golpeó la roca y salió agua, el soldado golpeó a Cristo sobre la cruz saliendo agua y sangre. Esto mismos Cristo sobre la cruz que comemos y el mismo sangre suyo que llena el cáliz. 

Pero Jesús no nos deja aquí. Continua a decir que este pan vale por la vida eterna y si no se come no tendrá vida. El requisito para tener la vida, viene de la historia de la Pascua de Israel. Antes de huir de Egipto, como el ultimo de los 10 plagues que infligió Dios sobre los Egiptos, Dios iba a quitar la vada de cada primogénito. A fin que no pasa a su familia, el Señor dijo que sacrifican un corderdito, poniendo su sangre sobre los postes y la parte superior de la puerta y comerlo todo de el (Ex 12:6-7). Así la muerte no pasa sobre la casa y viven. ¡Entonces era necesario para la vida! Pero vean la semejanza entre el corderdito y Jesús. Sin defecto, que es decir sin pecado y Jesús es el único hombre sin pecado. De más, el Juan Baptista dijo en el mismo Evangelio de Juan—ahí viene el Cordero de Dios, el que quita el pecado del muno (Jn 1:29). ¿No es que dice el sacerdote lo mismo a cada Eucarística y nos le respondemos—cordero de Dios que quita el pecado del mundo? Él es nuestra Pascua, nuestra corderdito que sacrificamos para que la muerte nos pasa. Vean como Su sangre que bebimos se queda sobre la puerta de nuestras cuerpos, los labios, para que la muerte nos pasa.   

Entonces vengan y comen todos. Vengan a la cena del Señor. Como nos invita la Sabiduría en la primera lectura, vengamos a la casa del Señor y comen de la mesa ya pronta para nosotros. Vino y pan, todo. 

Pero ten cuidado. La Sabiduría les invita a todos como sencillos o niños de crecer a fin que puedan comer a esta mesa. Pues decir que hay un camino de sabiduría a esta mesa; tenemos que madurar. Nosotros sabemos ya esto, que hay algunas veces obstáculos a recibir la comunión. Situaciones difíciles o irregulares, estados de pecado que no nos permite a recibir la comunión. Y ustedes saben esto muy bien. Damos la bendición durante a la comunión a muchas personas. Pero esto no basta. Tenemos que tomar el camino al comunión. Como dijo Jesús, es más que Su carne, la Eucaristía es necesario para la vida eterna. Quien no lo come, no tendrá vida. Por eso, tenemos que recordar que estamos siempre invitados a la cena por un camino a la comunión completa. La invitación de la Sabiduría hoy es la invitación de Cristo a seguir un camino al comunión. Y tenemos que tomar eso camino, se queremos vivir.

Cantamos mucho, ¿no?, del camino o la via. Tenemos también la Virgen de este titulo. ¿Pero lo sigamos? 


Todos estamos pecadores en el camino a la comunión. Cada uno tiene lo suyo. Por aquellos que no puedan recibir la comunión, tome su camino. Hay pasos, pasos practicas que puedan tomar. Hay vías para recibir la gracia y poco a poco llegar a la comunión completa. Habla con el Pastor, los sacerdotes, los cleros (diáconos), o las hermanas, para identificar esto camino al comunión. Este es el pan de vida, pan de la vida eterna. Pan que es el cuerpo del Señor sin el que no hay vida.               

Homily, The Path to Communion

XX Sunday of Ordinary Time
San José Catholic Church
August, 16, 2015
Austin, TX

If last Sunday, the Jewish crowds murmured because Jesus said “I am the bread of life,” today they are besides themselves because Jesus said that this bread is His flesh! “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they quarreled amongst themselves (Jn 6: 53). And if this weren’t enough, Jesus upped the ante: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (Jn 6:54). Jesus, therefore, makes two very bold claims today, that the bread of life is His flesh, and that one must eat this flesh in order to have eternal life. 

Now, we have been talking about this bread a lot lately, the past few weeks. We may very well ask ourselves what is the big deal about this bread, and why does Jesus identify Himself with it? The bread goes back to the book of Exodus and the story of the manna the Lord God gave to the Hebrews in the desert. Not long after their great escape from Egypt across the Red Sea, the Hebrews began to cross the vast desert which laid before them. Because there is nothing in the desert for anyone let alone a whole nation of people, the Hebrews complained to Moses that they were dying of hunger. God quickly responded giving them bread. Each day in the morning, this stuff descended upon the desert ground like dew, “a fine, flake-like thing, fine as hoarfrost on the ground” (Ex 16:14). Not knowing what it was, they called is manna, which means in Hebrew “what is it.” While this stuff, this “what is it,” kept the grumbling stomaches of the Hebrews quiet, the Lord meant it as a sign, an image of what was to come, what He would give through His Son Jesus Christ. Consider just how similar this manna is to the Eucharistic host. In another place, they describe the manna as white flakes (Cf. Ex 16:31). Even more, the manna descended like dewfall in the morning. In one of the Eucharistic prayers, the priest extends his hands extended over the gifts of bread and wine and says a prayer invoking the Holy Spirit to come down upon these gifts as dewfall! The same dew! Yet now it is not merely a symbol of the reality to come. This drew brings bread unlike they ate in the desert, who ate and then died. This is the reality itself, what we’ve been waiting for, the bread of life that one will eat and never die.  

Yet if there remains any doubt, listen to what St. Paul says to the Corinthians: “I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers…all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1Cor 10:1-4). Brothers and sisters, we know what this manna is. What know what this “what is it” is. It is the body and blood of Christ. Just as the Hebrews ate and drank in the Spirit, now we eat and drink the reality, the true body and blood of Christ. St. Paul makes clear that as Moses struck the rock gushing forth water, the soldier struck Christ on the cross spilling forth water and blood. It is this same Christ whom we eat and the same blood that fills our chalice. 

But Jesus did not stop here. He continued to say, as I mentioned at the outset, that this bread is necessary for eternal life, and that he who does not eat does not have life within him. This requirement comes from the story of the Passover of Israel. Before their escape from Egypt as the last of the 10 plagues God inflicted on the Egyptian people, God set forth to take the life of each firstborn. In order that this might pass over one’s family, the Lord said to sacrifice a lamb, putting its blood on the door frame (Cf. Ex 12:6-7). This way, death would simply pass over the house and they would live. Therefore, it was absolutely necessary to live! Yet, do we see the similarity of the lamb and Jesus? The lamb was to be without defect, that is to say without sin and Jesus is the only man without sin. What is more, John the Baptist said in the same Gospel of John: “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). Does the priest not say these same words each time we celebrate the Eucharist: “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those called to the supper of the Lamb”? Jesus is our passover lamb that we sacrifice that death might passover our house and we might live. Does the blood we drink not wet the frame of the door to our body, our lips, such that death might passover us? 

Come, therefore, come to the banquet of the lamb. Come to the table of the Lord. Today in our first reading, Lady Wisdom invites us today to Her table already prepared with the bread and wine of everlasting life, which we know to be the very body and blood of Jesus!

But be careful. Wisdom invites those who are simple and childlike. Meaning, she invites us to grow or to mature such that we might eat from her table. Indeed, we need to become wise in order to eat at this table. We know this already. We know that there are sometimes a few obstacles to receiving communion. There are difficult or irregular situations, states of mortal sin, which do not allow us to receive communion. Y’all know this well already. We give out many blessing during communion. But this is not enough. We must actively take up the path to communion. As Jesus says, this is not only His body and blood, but one must eat it to have eternal life. He who does not eat, does not have life within them. We must, therefore, always remember that we are invited to the table and take up the path to communion, the path to wisdom. Speak with the priests, deacons, sisters. Together identify this path. There are practical steps one can take to receiving communion. And we must take them. This path to receiving fully may be long. But the invitation of Christ to follow Him along this path is there. The invitation of Wisdom today is the invitation of Christ to come and to follow this path to communion. And we need to take this path if we want to live. Take up the path to communion.  


  

Monday, August 10, 2015

Homily, Faith's Concrete Claim

XIX Ordinary Time
San José Parish
August 9, 2015
Austin, TX

Two weeks into this long conversation between Jesus and the crowd of Jews, the famous “Bread of Life Discourse,” and we may very well ask ourselves this question: What does this reading have to do with real life? What’s it to me? Who cares? A tough but fair question. When we hear passages of this sort from the Bible, we are caught between two extremes: either complete boredom or pious reverence. The key, however, to make such passages come alive again rests in the murmuring Jewish crowds. 

We pick up today with the murmuring of those incredulous crowds. When we hear about the unbelieving Jews in the NT, it is all too easy for us to condemn them or to dismiss them for the obvious truths they are turning away from in Jesus. We don’t understand what their hang up is. Yet, the Jews scoff and protest at Jesus’ words. They pull their hair and wring their garments. They scoff, we don’t, but why? 

For all their faults the Jewish people understood one thing well, that articles of faith have direct and clear ramifications in life. For them (and for us), faith made specific claims on real facts and events in history, and so had a direct effect on the way one leads his life. Their story (as well as ours) is one of God freeing them from slavery under the Pharaoh in Egypt and literally fighting for them in establishing them as a nation in the promised land. There was no separation between faith and “real life.” Indeed, faith was a matter of life and death!

So when they heard this man, Jesus, say, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” they murmured. They heard Him loud and clear, and took His statement to be making a very concrete claim, that somehow He was food come down from heaven. That is a radical claim! The Jewish crowds were right, then, to think “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?” Certainly not bread. “Do we not know his father and mother?” Of course, definitely not from heaven. “Then how can He say…”
So they murmur, yet we hardly bat an eye. Often times we are hard of hearing when it comes to the Gospel, not because our ears are stopped up with earwax, but because we are tuned into the wrong thing. It might surprise us to know that there is a theological school of thought behind our tendency to let such radical claims by Christ slip by unnoticed. In this extreme view of the Gospel, the factual content of the message is down played in favor of the emotional appeal it makes; am I moved by what it said. Here, the Word of God is submitted to the ever changing human heart, bending or manipulating whatever is said until it moves us. Such a view in its extreme reduces Jesus to a sentimental guru who is constantly concerned about making us feel better. Thus, the historical nature of the Gospel—whether these things actually took place—doesn’t matter! This view is not concerned with the fact of the matter. 

True faith a matter of both mind and heart is based on true things, facts, real historical events, that are demonstrable. Our faith has historical teeth. Our Creed makes factual claims that no one can ignore, no matter what their opinion. From the creation of the universe, to the empty tomb, to the Church and her sacraments which contain the very body and blood of Jesus Christ under the looks of bred and wine, our faith makes radical claims on “real life”. (Tangent: Of these three things, the Big Bang Theory, Evolution, and the Resurrection, the Resurrection is the most certain. We actually have eye witnesses, the 12 Apostles et alia, of the Resurrection. Yet we speak of the first two with the greatest frequency and certainty, though they only be theories. I don’t want to create a division here between science and faith, particularly since the Big Bang was developed by a Catholic Priest and Evolution by a man who had deep Christian convictions. But it is telling how the last one is the most certain yet most ignored). These are historical, factual, event-based claims. To the question what does such a conversation about the bread of life have to do with me some 2,000 years later, we reply everything! A man claimed to have come down from heaven and offering Himself as the bread life which would give eternal life, suffered, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. This is what the Jews understood. This is why they objected. This is why they murmured. Jesus made a radical claim on reality!

We know the dangers of such an extreme position. We know the danger of associating the presence of God with a mere sentiment or emotion. Emotions, sentiments come and go, here today, gone tomorrow. What if one does not feel the Lord’s presence, does that mean He is not with them? Certainly not. Emotions come and go, yet persons remain. This is the trouble or difficulty with marriage, an aspect we often forget. Love and affection ebb and flow day-to-day. There are happy moments in which intimate affection flows naturally like getting a job, moving into a new house, having a child, etc… Yet there are also sad, even angry moments, moments of desperation during trial and difficulty, like the loss of a job, financial difficulty, the loss of a child or family member. There are even weird moments which should be happy, but for some strange reason they are not. Through all of this, the other person remain. And so it is with God. Because relationships, particularly marriages, are based on real concrete hard fixed moments of love. We set our belief, our trust, upon these solid rocks and the waves of uncontrolled passions and escaping emotions will not prevail against them. Again, emotions come and go, but persons remain.

This is good new, really good news. Never can our faith be whisked away and ignored. Never can our faith be some passing fairy tale or nice thought. Never can our faith be outdated or have nothing to contribute. Never can one truly say faith has no connection to “real life” because faith makes a claim on it. And so listen again: “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living  bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51).   

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Homily, Come to Jesus

XVIII Sunday of Ordinary Time
San José Parish
August 2, 2015
Austin, TX

We have now entered into a month long reading of John 6, the great “Bread of Life Discourse.” The chapter comes in three parts, a trilogy if you will. The first part, as we heard last weekend, is the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes. The sequel, which we skipped, consists in the journey back to Capernaum across the Sea of Tiberius. Here, we witness the iconic story of Jesus walking on the water. The third installment, which we begin today, finishes the small epic with the very long and winding dialogue between Jesus and the crowds.
Now, in their astonishment, it is clear that the crowds pursued Jesus across the lake because they had eaten very well and would like to do so again. “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled” (Jn 6:26). They wanted a free meal, and why not? As they themselves pointed out, if we are going to believe in anyone and follow them, then the least we can expect is food. After all, that is what our father, Moses, provided for us in the desert. “What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat” (Jn 6:31). 

As if we had any doubt that the crowd were following their grumbling stomaches to Jesus, they add: “Sir, give us this bread always” (Jn 6:34). They came to Jesus seeking to eat their fill again and be satisfied.

Yet, Jesus is not terribly excited about all of this. In fact, He is quite contrary. Each time they make their desire for food known, He deflects their question and tries to focus their attention on something much greater. “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the son of man will give you” (6:27). While Jesus is still talking about food, food that He Himself will give, He is clearly talking about a different kind, a greater sort of food. 

In the end, Jesus tries to draw the attention of the crowd to God the Father; to the works of God; to belief in the one whom God sent; to the one who actually gave them bread while they were in the desert; and eventually to Himself who is the Bread of Life. Jesus is trying to draw their attention to Himself. They came for food and Jesus wants them to stay for Him. 

And are we not the same? We come to Jesus for all kinds of reasons. Yet the one reason, that He is our Lord and God, seems to be the furthest thing from our minds.

“How many seek Jesus for no other reason but that He might bestow on them a temporal benefit! One has a business on hand, he seeks the intercession of the clergy; another is oppressed by one more powerful than himself, he flies to the Church. Another desires intervention on his behalf with one over whom he has little influence. One this way, one in that, the church is daily filled with such people. Jesus is scarcely sought after for Jesus’ sake” (Tractate 25 on John 6:15-44).

This quote is quite convicting. Are there any prayers so pure? so detached from earthly cares and desires? so absent of ulterior motives? Between sports games, tests and grades at school, difficulties at work, city and state politics, worries about relationships with spouses, kids and friends, psychological and physical health, the cares and anxieties of life mount up and so we turn to the Lord—help us! What else if not these things are we to share with Jesus in prayer? 

Fear not. Jesus does not want you to stop sharing your cares and concerns with Him in prayer. Please continue to do so. Bombard Him with every little detail. He is our Father, gentle and loving, who cares for you and knows you down to the number of hairs on your head. He wants to hear from His sons and daughters. If we ourselves desire to know the cares and desires of our own children, how much more does the God who knew us before we were in our mothers womb? Come to Jesus and God our Father for whatever reason, but stay, stay with Him for something even greater.

Now understand what the crowd in the gospel today could not. That bread our fathers ate in the desert was true bread from our heavenly Father, but the earthly sustenance it provided was a mere symbol, a shadow of what He would later offer in His Son, Jesus the bread of life everlasting, the Eucharist. 

There is another episode in John’s gospel which provides us a window into this dynamic in prayer. Indeed, just two chapters prior Jesus meets with a Samaritan woman at a well. After an exchange in which Jesus asks for a drink, He says: “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4: 13-14). The woman, like the crowd today, responds: “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw” (Jn 4: 15). Is He speaking of material water, H2O, as she certainly is? Does she get it? No, not yet, but she will through the rest of the conversation, as will the crowds in our own episode. 

But what about our cares and anxieties? All those things which led us to Jesus in the first place? What becomes of them? If our Father in heaven truly cared, would He not provide for us in this way? 

Jesus never discredits nor ignores our cares and anxieties, but rather fulfills them. If we come, but to stay with Jesus, we will find greater realities. There Jesus will take our burdens and cares and transform them, use them as symbols or shadows of deeper realities. There He will reveal that the crisis that has compelled me to come to Jesus in prayer, when I might not have otherwise, is not the entirety of the problem. Rather, like the woman’s anxiety about providing water and the crowds grumbling stomach, Jesus will reveal that our thirst and hunger should be for Him who offers water and food that will give eternal life, His love. In this light, the light of Christ, He will draw out through the prism of these cares and concerns a need and a desire for greater trust in Him. The anxiety caused by these events, tragic and difficult as they are, comes primarily from a lack of trust in God’s providence. Such a trust will give us true peace and serenity in the face of trials. In this way, God uses these our cares and concerns as shadows, symbols of a deeper reality He wishes to free us from: self-reliance, pride, envy, lust. And the material benefits for which we ask Him, copies of a greater gift: Himself, the grace and gift of His Spirit.

So will we come to Jesus with our cares and our burdens? Will we allow Him to reveal to us more profound truths? Receiving these gifts of God, will we stay with Him in peace and security? Will we, then, face the trials and travails of life with Christ such that as St. Paul says nothing can separate us from Christ? This is our fight song, for we count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord? So we have come, but will we stay?