Message: Food heals, unites and brings joy. Jesus wants to give you those gifts.
This Sunday we begin 5 weeks of reading St. John's Gospel, Chapter 6 - the Bread of Life Discourse. "I am the Bread of Life," says Jesus, "whoever comes to me will never hunger." During these five Sunday we will explore dimensions of Jesus - the Bread of Life.
We begin at the most basic level - food. The reading from the Book of Kings describes the Prophet Elisha setting 20 barley loaves before 100 people. They all eat and there is some left over.
A person might try to downplay that miracle. Maybe the loaves were very large. In the case of Jesus there can be no doubt. He uses 5 barley loaves and 2 fish to feed 5000 men, together with their wives and children.
An impressive miracles, but Jesus does not intend it as a one-time marvel. He takes the bread and gives thank before distributing it. "Give thanks" in Greek is Eucharist - the word we use for the Mass.
You know, the form of the Mass is virtually unchanged since the second century. Justin Martyr writing about 150 A.D. tells about Christians gathering on the first day of the week, that is on Sunday.* They listen to readings from the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels, followed by a homily. Then come prayers, an offering of bread and wine, a consecration prayer using the Jesus words at the Last Supper. A deacon helps with Communion and after the service, takes Communion to the sick. And no Sunday Mass would be complete without a collection! St. Justin gives an exhortation to share with those in distress - the sick, the imprisoned, all those in need.
Justin Martyr underscores that Jesus wants to feed us with his word and with the Eucharistic sacrifice. Beginning this Sunday we will see dimensions of that sacrifice. As a way to help us remember the dimensions, I have chosen five words that start with the letter "f".
Today's word, as you probably have already figured out, is "food." Food has three purposes. First, to repair the body. Hippocrates the father of medicine, said, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." Jesus, the Bread of Life, heals us.
The second purpose of food is social: it unites people. Studies show that if a family has dinner together - even once or twice a week - it reduces the risk that children will engage in destructive behaviors: drugs, alcohol, sex, etc.** Likewise, your attentive attendance at Mass can have a powerful effect.
Third, food brings joy. I still remember a warm bowl of soup served to me in Peru. A moment of ecstasy after an all night bus trip! The great philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, said, "No man can live without joy." He does not mean we become pleasure seekers. That Peruvian bowl of soup came unexpected. If I had spent all night fantasizing about it, it would not have been so wonderful - maybe even a big let-down. The gift of joy takes us by surprise.
We can, however, prepare for it. You have probably heard joy compared to a butterfly. If you run after it, it will fly away, but if you sit quietly that beautiful creature can come to you. At Mass I invite you to take a deep breath and try to let go of those things that agitate you. Believe me, I have as hard a time as anyone slowing down my mind. But when we do it, we can experience a moment of peace - and if it fits God's timing, genuine joy. The bread and wine speak of the joy he desires to give you.
So food heals, unites and brings joy. Jesus wants to give you those gifts: "I am the Bread of Life," he says. Next Sunday we will see a second dimension of Jesus, Bread of Life.
I conclude with words of today's Psalm. The monks at Westminster Abbey use it for their grace before meals:
*Justin's Description of Sunday Eucharist in Early Church
** From Web Med:10 Benefits of Family Dinners:
Everyone eats healthier meals. Kids are less likely to become overweight or obese. Kids more likely to stay away from cigarettes. They're less likely to drink alcohol. They won't likely try marijuana. They're less likely to use illicit drugs. Friends won't likely abuse prescription drugs. School grades will be better. You and your kids will talk more. You'll be more likely to hear about a serious problem. Kids will feel like you're proud of them. There will be less stress and tension at home.
***No man can live without joy. That is why one deprived of spiritual joy goes over to carnal pleasures
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