Receiving the Bread of Life; We Become What We Receive

Jesus Bread of Life

There is so much for us to reflect upon when we ponder the Bread of Life discourse, or what Jesus had to say about it.  It’s not merely analogous to something else; it is the essence of our Catholic Christian faith.  The gift of the Eucharist itself is a gift of complete and total love; God’s love for us, but one in which His Only Son left us not something else as a gift but His very self!

When we receive “communion”, we are brought ever closer to the Loving Father, Almighty God; Creator of Heaven and Earth and everything in it.  We are also brought closer to one another for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways but in one very special way.  The gift of the Bread of Life received within becomes not only a part of who we are, but who we are.  This isn’t like any other kind of bread or sustenance we receive in this world, there’s nothing else to draw comparison.  To this point this seems very theological and “beyond us” but it’s in the response to this mysterious gift that we find the point of deeper reflection.  We are not going to totally comprehend the “Bread of Life” from a theological perspective, though bringing the theology to our prayer lives and reflection will always provide us new insights and ways of thinking.  It’s in merely accepting by faith that the Bread of Life we receive becomes the Bread of Life we must seek to become for the world – for others.

Receiving food, albeit a lesser thing leads to other things in life.  When we are fed, we have energy, we have life continued, we have stamina to do other things.  The Bread of Life ought to offer us those things but we are the Bread of Life (Jesus Christ) for others.  This is what He wanted, hopes for us and expects.  We are nourished this way, so that we can be the “nourishers”, the providers of nourishment for others.  This is what we must ponder when we prepare ourselves to receive communion.  We must see the door of our church or chapel as it opens out on the world and when we hear “Go forth, the Mass is ended”, the sacred moment which leads to a sanctified day or week just begins.

That’s how beautiful, powerful, important and purposeful the Holy Eucharist ought to be.  Any of us can fall into the trap of just “going through the motions” from time to time, but if you’re reading this reflection today, my hope (for you and for me) is that apply this deeply to our lives.  May God bless you.

The Bread of Life; Food from Heaven

Today’s readings; the first and the Gospel speak powerfully of the Lord’s compelling message.  In many places today, there is a tendency to feel we need to “craft” Jesus’ message in a way that is palatable for people to want to believe, rather than to speak the Lord’s Word and that we be drawn to God by it.  Sometimes, perhaps with good intentions we “water down” or “colour” the Gospel so that others may believe.  The Word made Flesh, the Bread of Life speaks boldly yet powerfully Himself.

In the account of Philip’s conversation with the Ethiopian eunuch today we hear of an open heart receiving the Word of God and professing what we need profess for baptism; I believe – “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God”.  This ties nicely with the Gospel where Jesus reminds us as we await, that He is “the Bread of Life”; manna given to us to feed us from heaven.

It was my experience many years ago now (around 16 in fact) as I began to seek to understand and find meaning and purpose in my life to be led to the water.  It was then, and only then that I was open enough to come to know God through His Son Jesus Christ. Before that, nothing could convince me and I wasn’t open or receptive enough to be convinced.  When I began my faith journey, a journey of discovery, I looked for a brand of Christianity that was palatable for me, simply because I wanted to have some faith but not all of it.  I didn’t really want my life to change that much for a variety of reasons.  It was an authentic journey and a search for God.  In a spirit of openness, I came to understand that I could not pick and choose and if I was going to live for Christ, I had to die to myself in many ways, at least in the desires and direction I was taking in my life.  I could not really be a lukewarm or “cafeteria” Christian, because I either was or I was not.  My prayer, openness and receptivity and the Presence of God came together for me as I was drawn into communion and led me to reception in the Catholic Church.  Out of that was born my vocation – priesthood – a calling which I never sought nor felt in my heart before I had a relationship with Jesus Christ.  But here I am, and I am only one story.  There are many, many others who have been drawn by the true message of the Gospel, the Bread of Life not sugar-coated, watered down, not made to be palatable or acceptable so more might choose to follow it.

The Gospel stands for itself, it is very Good News which if we hear it, are open to it, follow it will revive, restore, renew and recreate our lives.  It did mine, and in it I know I have found the true meaning of life, and the purpose the Lord Himself put me here in the world for; a meaning and purpose which I am continuing to discover each and every day.

Bringing the Bread of Life into the World

There are those days when even having been given our meaning and purpose in life (which we can rest assured we’ve found when we’re living out our vocation) that we’re still searching.  It can often be for reasons that are easily within our control (like setting aside some more time for prayer, being a little more connected to our faith) other reasons require amendment and grace (we’ve got caught in the “cobweb” of sin, easily remedied with the Sacrament of Reconciliation) and sometimes we’re experiencing stress or the challenges which exist in each and every vocation.  Even having meaning and purpose doesn’t keep us from needing to be reassured or reaffirmed of it.  I know this well as a priest.  On good days (which are most) I love the priesthood, being a priest, my ministry, the people I’m blessed to serve and meet in my life.  On not-so-good days I find I need a lot more than I give.

One of the things that helps me though is to celebrate Holy Mass.  It’s in praying the words of consecration that I realize that in my totally unworthy state as a weak and at times sinful man, the Lord chose me and others to bring about His Physical Presence in the world.  Through the sacraments I bring His life to ours, and even on the most melancholic of days, that is all the meaning and purpose I need.  When I think even beyond that, I realize that the manner in which Jesus has made me strong (as a priest) is perhaps in my greatest weakness – that I need this as much as I offer it.

I find myself deeply moved by the faith of the people who come to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.  I see this strong faith in the eyes and when I come to know them and have some sense too of their meaning and purpose and their appreciation for the Holy Priesthood among the other sacraments that are deeply a part of their lives.  We all bring the Bread of Life no less than others to everyone.  They receive Jesus, and then with His faith, in His Word, carried within the sacred vessels that each of us are as Christians we bring the Eternal Word to those we meet throughout the day.  Many times I have reflected upon how more and more my faith is deepened by faith-filled, joyful people.  Not “preachy” people, not theologians or apologists – just good Christian women and men who love and serve the Lord in their daily lives.  They inspire me to live my own vocation more and more, day by day.

Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life, whoever comes to me will not be hungry”.  Indeed, we receive, but we give the bread of life, we bring it to others.  If ever we need a greater purpose, a way to convey the great meaning in our lives, this is it.

What Are We Made Of?

In our first reading today, the heat is being turned up in the Acts of the Apostles on the early Christians and it was not only the Apostles and closest disciples who are going to have to decide what they stand for.  Throughout the world today, especially in the Middle East, Christians are having to answer the same questions as the early Christians are asked: Are you willing to give it all for Me (Christ)?  It’s amazing how quickly a spiritual life, prayer life and a sense of one’s self seems to come together when our faith is tested.  The greater the test, often the greater the faith.  It does however, presuppose a deep and ever-deepening relationship with God.  I speak like I know something here.  I would say it is more a deep respect for the Lives of the Saints, especially the Saint-Martyrs of the Church.  I have been inspired by the Apostles who we see go from scared and afraid to speak of Jesus to ready and called upon to give their lives for Jesus.  St. Paul, the early Christians who gave their lives for Christ and the Church.  Having lived in Huronia before entering the seminary, I prayed and reflected on the holy ground where the Jesuit Martyrs gave their lives in Canada for Christ.  As a priest, I am inspired by the life and story of Fr. Miguel Pro in Mexico.  These are all beautiful stories of beautiful lives.

There’s a saying that profoundly speaks to these holy men and women: “it’s not how many years in one’s life that matters, but how much life is to be found in those years”.  It is foreign to many of how we could find so much life, living for someone other than ourselves – but we do, and we can.  As a man who lived 30 years before becoming a Catholic Christian, I know the great truth of this.  I also find myself needing to read the lives of these saints and reflecting upon them, because I may be called upon to defend my faith and my faith like the Christians in Acts today; it might be tested.

Reflecting with our transitional deacons (soon-to-be-priests) last night, I encouraged them to savour every moment of the beauty of their ordination, the love experienced by the people who share in the day, the grandeur the liturgy offers – because it’s what we need when the days are tough, as some surely will be.  I reinforced what they already know – priesthood is beautiful, it a wonderful vocation and I find myself blessed not only to be experiencing that but to know many who feel the same, 10 years, 25 years, 50 years and more after ordination.  There is much work to do, but it’s a glorious way for a Christian to live his life.  I am inspired by the religious who live fully and completely for the Gospel as well.  And many of these women and men are being called upon to go into the places where Christians are being persecuted; to serve the poor, to love and care for all people and they too are being murdered for their faith, dying a martyr’s death.  It’s important that we consider that here in Canada.  The freedom we have to choose to be indifferent, comfortable, antagonistic to Christ and His Church, to look at our faith as only a small part of who we are rather than who we are itself is a freedom that we need to really reflect upon.  While we are free, we must ask ourselves – is that truly being Christian?  Is that really showing what we are made of as loved children of God?

A Hunger for Real Food

Many of us have had the experiences of visiting parts of the world where people have very little of what has become readily available to most of the world.  There are places where people don’t have fast-food, cellphones, computers, X-Boxes, Netflix and all of the things we fill our time up with today.  Many of us are deeply moved by the deep faith and great openness of the people in those places to a true relationship with God that the experiences of visiting these places, knowing these people and the impression that they make upon us affects the way we respond to the Gospel, perhaps seeking to simplify our own lives a little bit more.

Sometimes, I’ve heard it said that it seems when we have so little, we fill our emptiness with God and His love, but I have never really liked this explanation for the deep vein of faith that runs through a community and speaks of a people who have little material wealth but much faith and trust in the love of God.  I don’t like this explanation because it seems based on pity and isn’t going to bring about conversion in us, who have much.  It will always remain “us and them”.  Emptiness filled with God is a reality for all of us, and I think speaks of sin, which we all struggle with and which causes emptiness and confession and the Sacraments fill us and restore us again.

Instead, I think when people have little of the material things in the world, they are much more able to be grateful for what they do have, and thus able to be grateful for the spiritual food our souls’ desire.  Maybe I speak for myself alone here (but I think there are many who can relate), the more and more I have, the less grateful I am for what I do have and the little things get lost amid the sea of possessions.  I try to be grateful for what I have and a drastic purging of everything all of a sudden isn’t a balanced response to God’s love for me either.  The best “things” I have in my life is my faith, the people I love, my priesthood, my ministry and the men I serve as Director of Vocations.  These are my true gifts from God and my soul is nourished by the Eucharist and restored through confession.  The other “things” serve a certain purpose, but not a significant one.

It’s important that we try to put people and the free time we have to being with people before a video game or television show.  It’s important that we communicate our love for people before we communicate what we want or expect of them.  It’s important that God, the people He gave us and our faith be the greatest gifts we cherish and share every day.  The other things are okay, but they are at the service of these three greatest gifts we all have been given in our lives. May God bless you.

Celebrating the Vocation of Priesthood

Feeding the spiritually hungry, gathering up the fragments, making sure nothing is lost.  In today’s Gospel these are things we might reflect upon especially when we give consideration to the vocation of priesthood.

I have served in one of our largest parishes in the Archdiocese of Toronto, and in my current role as Director of Vocations I visit parishes everywhere.  What edifies me constantly is the great love and thirst the faithful have.  To hear what God offers them, to receive what the Lord offers them as spiritual food in the Eucharist.  As priests, most of us take it seriously to make sure that they are given the spiritual food they are looking for. Only by God’s grace and by ordination, Jesus allows the priest to provide the spiritual food at all.  It’s also important that priests in the role of Jesus Christ needs to “gather up the fragments”; not wasting what’s given as spiritual nourishment is also part of good stewardship.  The good use of our gifts given to us by God and this is an important part of priestly ministry.  God gave us His Son; His Son gave us Himself (in the Eucharist and through His Word).  If we piece together God’s action throughout history to this day and everything our Lord Jesus left us with (the Eucharist, confession, the priesthood) and gave us the Great Commission to see to it that nothing be lost.

All vocations are special.  All vocations contribute to the building up of the Church and bringing Christ into the world.  In this day and age we need to speak more about the priesthood.  Today’s Gospel is a powerful one when it comes to what priests do.  We are blessed to have men stepping forward willing to give their lives for the Lord and be His priests, let us pray for them today and often.