Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Let us Hunger for the Lord

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Few Malaysians truly understand the meaning of hunger. In fact, our main dilemma is often the difficulty of choosing between endless options: What shall we eat? What shall we drink? So much of our time and attention is wrapped up in answering those questions. Hunger pangs often do not last for too long as they are soon sated by a kind of binging that would make the Romans, infamous for their orgiastic banquets, blush with shame. But there is more than just a physical hunger. A type of hunger that is often masked by our need to binge. Hunger in itself is a sign – it points to the incompleteness, the neediness of man. To be human is to be hungry, to be needy, to be caught up in a constant search for something more. In fact, the more we realise just how limited we are, the more we see how our whole existence points to something beyond ourselves.

God knows both the physical hunger of the body and the spiritual hunger of the soul. In the story of creation, God created man with this constant need for sustenance. He created man hungry, but he also created the world of which man can partake in order to live. But man’s sustenance is not limited merely to the material or physical. It must ultimately find its deepest and most profound satisfaction in the spiritual – communion with God. Yes, man is a hungry being. But there is a greater hunger that needs to be satisfied than the physical hunger of man. It is the hunger for God. Behind all the hunger of our life is God. All desire is finally a desire for Him. In the Eucharist, in the gift of Jesus Christ Himself, the Bread of life, we see both material and the spiritual hunger finding the satisfaction.  As God provided manna to the Israelites crossing the wilderness, so God, provides Jesus, the Bread of Life, to sustain us.

Today’s gospel is part of the lengthy Bread of Life Discourse that we will get to hear every Sunday for the next few weeks. Last week, we witness the miraculous feeding of the multitudes through the multiplication of the five barley loaves and two fish. Today’s discourse seeks to explain both the messianic and Eucharistic significance of that miracle. The crowds who pursued Jesus around the length of the lake had followed after him, not because they were disciples who believed, that is they possessed the perception of faith, but because they had been taken with the material and sensational nature of the sign. With an insatiable hunger, they pursued him – eager to see power and majesty made manifest. Perhaps, another “free meal.” In answer to their ambitious desires and hunger, he offered only the gift of himself: his teaching and his life.

To those who hoped for a repeat performance of the manna, Jesus spoke of non-perishable food that “endures to eternal life.” The manna in the desert melted in the heat of the day but the food of the Son of Man, the bread the Father gives would never cease to fill them with blessings. Having fed them with the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus now turns to challenging them to raise their attention from their stomachs to their hearts. He would have them spiritually hungry, thereby open to the truth of his teaching. This is the hunger that moves men toward God. This is the hunger that only God through Christ can fill.

Do we come with such a hunger for the Word of God and the Bread of Life at every mass? Do we hunger for life, real life, abundant life, eternal life? Do we have a hunger so weakening that it drives us to our knees in prayer and submission? Or have we already feasted on other things to the extent that we have lost our appetite? Perhaps it has been a while since you knew this kind of hunger. Few seem to suffer from intensity of hunger and thirst for God and that is a great tragedy. They have forgotten that hunger is part of God's merciful provision, a divinely sent stimulus to propel us in the direction of food and sustenance. It is nature's last drastic effort to rouse the imperiled life to seek to nourishment. A dead body feels no hunger. The dead heart cannot aspire nor desire.

We can lose our taste for the eternal when we develop a taste for the things of this world. One of the clear indicators that something is wrong physically is when we lose our appetite. Hunger is both a sign of health as well as a sign of vitality. It is the same spiritually. To hunger and thirst for God is at the very root of our being. When there is no hunger for the presence of God, it is an indicator that something is wrong spiritually. Because that hunger is so basic to human nature, it often finds fulfillment in other areas rather than in seeking God. Many attempt to fill the gnawing emptiness of their hearts and mask the pangs of hunger through all sorts of false substitutes. Much as eating unhealthy junk food can dull physical appetite, so that which is not of God can dull our spiritual appetite. So many today snack their way through the day on “junk-food”, material things, busy-ness, alcohol, pornography, sexual immorality, and then find they have no time to “feast” with God. As much as we consume all these “junk food,” we continue to end up hungry, hungering for more.

The Eucharist is the food which satisfies man's deepest hunger and profoundest longings. God feeds us with Himself. Created in the image and likeness of God himself, man can find the final appeasement of his hunger and fulfilment of his desires in God alone. We have the testimony of St Augustine who hungered for knowledge and love in all the wrong places and finally found the answer in God, “Our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee.” The Eucharist, the Bread of Life, the true Manna from Heaven, the Bread of Angels, the Elixir of Immortality, is that most nourishing food that promises not just a healthy spiritual life but eternal life, the antidote to death.

How then can we nurture this holy hunger for God, for His Christ, for the Bread of Life? It is no accident that one of the great spiritual disciplines of the Church is to fast. The Church requires us to observe the Eucharistic fast one hour before communion. When we fast, we become acutely aware of our physical hunger. That physical hunger can lead to a spiritual hunger as well and this awakens us to a greater need for God. It may be that we will need to fast from other things than food in order to restore our spiritual hunger. There may need to be a slowing of our hectic lifestyles that are crowding out our time with God. We may need to fast from some forms of entertainment to devote time to seeking the Lord. Those heavily involved in ministry may need to say “no” to that which is good, in order to seek that which is best. Let us not wait till Lent or Good Friday, before we even begin our fasting.

Let us never ignore or cease to be driven for this hunger for God. The more we give ourselves to God in our human hunger, the more he gives us the Food that makes us divine.  We must allow this divine food to define and renew us, be the measure of our very being, the source and purpose of our lives. I recall the story of a Catholic Chinese bishop who was 21 years in prison—fifteen of them in solitary confinement. .One day, five years into solitary, the officials came and said, “Hey, we’re going to give you a break today. For two hours you can do anything you want. Do you want some nice food? Do you want to go for a walk in the prison yard?” The bishop said, “Give me some bread and wine.” He celebrated the Mass. And after it was finished, he went back into solitary. He had lost his taste for the world and all its false pleasures. His only hunger was for the Lord. Let that be our hunger too.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Terms of Use: As additional measure for security, please sign in before you leave your comments.

Please note that foul language will not be tolerated. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, and antisocial behaviour such as "spamming" and "trolling" will be removed. Violators run the risk of being blocked permanently. You are fully responsible for the content you post. Please be responsible and stay on topic.