Saturday, August 11, 2012

I Am the Living Bread which has come down from Heaven. A brief commentary on this Sunday's Readings

This Sunday’s readings in the Ordinary Form Catholic mass will be:

6th century icon of Christ
from St. Catherine Monastery
at Mount Sinai*
1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Ephesians 4:30- 5:2
John 6:41-51

Below I only hope to offer a small reflection on such a great amount of Our Lord’s word’s to us. I am very new to reading Scripture, and so most of my focus will be on reading the New Testament works in the context of the Psalms and then perhaps the Old Testament works. A Christian who is deep in his faith would understand these texts far better than I do. I hope to look somewhat to the Patristic texts as well to get a view of the Church’s faith regarding the Sacred Mystery of Jesus the Living Bread from Heaven.

1 Kings 19:4-8

4 He himself disappeared into the desert going on a day’s journey. Then he sat down under a broom tree and prayed to die, “That is enough, Yahweh, take away my life for I am dying.” 5 He lay down and went to sleep under the broom tree. Then an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 Elijah looked and saw, at his head, a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. He ate and drank and went back to sleep. 7 The angel of Yahweh came a second time to him, saying, “Get up, and eat, for the journey is too long for you.” 8 He got up, ate and drank, and on the strength of that food, he traveled for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.”

Psalm 34: 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9

2 I will bless the Lord all my days; His praise will be ever on my lips. 3 My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

4 Oh, let us magnify the Lord, together let us glorify His Name! 5 I sought the Lord, and He answered me; from all my fears He delivered me.

Ephesians 4:30-5:2
30 Do not sadden the Holy Spirit of God which you were marked with. It will be your distinctive mark on the day of salvation. 31 Do away with all quarreling, rage, anger, insults, and every kind of malice: 32 be good and understanding, mutually forgiving on another as God forgave you in Christ.

1 As most beloved children of God, strive to imitate Him. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and has delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness.

John 6:41-51
41 The Jews murmured because Jesus said, “I am the bread which comes from Heaven.” 42 And they said, “This man is the son of Joseph, isn’t He? We know His father and mother. How can He say that He has come from Heaven?”

43 Jesus answered them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. 44 No one can come to Me unless he is drawn by the Father who sent Me; and I will raise Him up on the last day. 45 It has been written in the Prophets: They shall all be taught by God. So whoever listens and learns from the Father comes to Me.

49 I Am the Bread of Life. Though your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, they died. 50 But here you have the Bread which comes from Heaven so that you may eat of it and not die.

51 I am the living Bread which has come from Heaven; whoever eats of this Bread will live forever. The Bread I shall give is My Flesh and I will give it for the life of the world.

Essay of Reflection:

This Sunday offers us a beautiful selection of readings. In the tabernacle and upon the altar we see the face of God Himself offered to us in the most humble of manners. Christ Himself is the Bread of Life, and so when we pray in the Our Father for our Lord to give us His Daily Bread, what we ask to receive in fact is what Jesus meant by “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” and what is that word but the Word Himself coming forth from God as by His mouth, as by His breath, the Holy Spirit, by which we know from the Nicene Creed that Jesus was conceived by and made available to the world. There is a great mystery in the nature of our salvation here! Let us reflect that Jesus says that nobody comes to Him unless the Father draws us in, but how do we have access to the Father who draws us in? “For no one has seen the Father”, except “the One who comes from God has seen the Father”, and Jesus then adds that He is the Bread from Heaven, and that those who eat of Him and believe have eternal life. Eternal life here is not simply to live forever, but to have salvation and adoption as children of God, and even then more, to live eternally in the bosom and love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Where is this Bread of Heaven? This Bread of Life? It is Jesus Himself. Observe the humility of Jesus, He gives us Himself, Eternal and Mighty God who created the universe, taken in the hands of an nine year old under the appearance of bread and the appearance of wine. It is His flesh, It is His Blood. How can we ever come to terms with such a baffling mystery that God humbled Himself as a servant, even to be mishandled, abused, tossed about, murdered, and even know to be given over to our own selves who are not even worthy to house Him under our roofs! But yet, why this great love, why this great self-giving that looks to neither selfish benefit nor regard for damage?

This is the mystery of God’s love which burns with such passion as to extend to every human soul and creature about the universe. What does He ask of me, how do I, a small frail man, and yet grave sinner, receive such a life, such a gift to participate in His Life, in His Being, in His Eternity, in His Love? St. Paul has told us!  “As most beloved children of God, strive to imitate Him.” Take up your cross, take up humility, take up the ardor of love that Jesus burned with to sacrifice Himself on Calvary. The Father was pleased with Jesus’ atoning sacrifice of the cross. Jesus’ entire being as Son of God, His Divinity, and Son of Man, His Humanity, was as the perfect image of the invisible God, a God who is Love, and this image was the total receptivity of the Father’s will. Never was there a moment in Jesus’ mind or heart or soul in which He did not receive with love the commandments of His Heavenly Father. Jesus says, “Truly, I assure you, the Son cannot do anything by Himself, but only what He sees the Father do. And whatever He does, the Son also does. The Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He does”. Jesus walked in love, not simple love of neighbor or consideration for everybody’s feelings, but love of God first and foremost, He does only what the Father leads Him to do in love and grace.

What does the Father tell us? “This is My Son, Whom I have chosen, listen to Him.” And so we listen to the Son, not only His words, but His example. St. Paul tells us, walk in that same love of the Father in which Jesus walked in His crucifixion and sacrifice. Suffer all things for His sake and never question God who speaks to us in the Church and in our hearts. Elijah the Prophet came to the desert to die out of exhaustion from trying to correct Israel from her sins. He trusted in God, but was to the point of giving up. Where did God send Elijah? Elijah received special food and drink from Heaven to grant him strength for a long journey, forty days and forty nights, up until he came to the mountain of the Lord, Mount Horeb. Mount Horeb is the holy mountain of the Lord where He revealed Himself to Moses under the image of a Burning Bush and gave Moses His sacred Ten Commandments, which stands even for us today. Do we not receive a greater food from Heaven, that Bread of Eternal Life which came down from Heaven for us?

Be swept up into our Lord who you receive. Adore Him and recognize that He gives Himself to you for one purpose, to love Him with all the strength of your heart, and to be transformed by Him. Receive the Body of Christ, receive what you are, and become what you receive, says St. Augustine. St. Paul taught us to become one with that sacrifice of Jesus, become one with Christ, and so in the Eucharist receive Jesus but remember that you also receive something of yourself. You receive what you are to become, a saint- if you allow it! Become like an odor of sweetness to the Father, cling to your cross daily, bless the name of the Lord and glorify the great deeds He has done for you. Take that Flesh and Blood of Jesus which redeems us from sin and takes us up into Him. Receive worthily, go to Confession so that you won’t fall away from Him. Remember that Jesus gives Himself in this Sacrament and in prayer for a long journey, our long journey and return to God, so that those who are faithful to Him might have eternal life. Live in the peace of the Holy Spirit who has marked each of us with the sign of the Cross, the mark of Jesus’ sacred Passion, and the mark of God’s endless love for us. Give up being angry with your brother, your mother, your sister, your father, your friend, the stranger, and embrace the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. Offer yourself up to the Most Holy Trinity in union with Jesus’ offering of Himself and watch as God slowly transforms you into the person who you were always meant to be. Behold what you are, in your own hearts, become one with what you receive, Jesus the Son of God.

Reflections of the Fathers

St. John Chrysostom writes:
“I am the bread of life. Now He proceeds to commit unto them mysteries. And first He discourses of His Godhead, saying, I am the bread of life. For this is not spoken of His Body, (concerning that He says towards the end, And the bread which I shall give is My flesh,) but at present it refers to His Godhead. For That, through God the Word, is Bread, as this bread also, through the Spirit descending on it, is made Heavenly Bread.” (Homily 45 on the Gospel of St. John)

St. Ambrose of Milan writes:

“47. We have proved the sacraments of the Church to be the more ancient, now recognize that they are superior. In very truth it is a marvellous thing that God rained manna on the fathers, and fed them with daily food from heaven; so that it is said, So man ate angels' food. But yet all those who ate that food died in the wilderness, but that food which you receive, that living Bread which came down from heaven, furnishes the substance of eternal life; and whosoever shall eat of this Bread shall never die, and it is the Body of Christ.

49. Now consider whether the bread of angels be more excellent or the Flesh of Christ, which is indeed the body of life. That manna came from heaven, this is above the heavens; that was of heaven, this is of the Lord of the heavens; that was liable to corruption, if kept a second day, this is far from all corruption, for whosoever shall taste it holily shall not be able to feel corruption. For them water flowed from the rock, for you Blood flowed from Christ; water satisfied them for a time, the Blood satiates you for eternity. The Jew drinks and thirsts again, you after drinking will be beyond the power of thirsting; that was in a shadow, this is in truth.

49. If that which you so wonder at is but shadow, how great must that be whose very shadow you wonder at. See now what happened in the case of the fathers was shadow: They drank, it is said, of that Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were done in a figure concerning us. 1 Corinthians 10:4 You recognize now which are the more excellent, for light is better than shadow, truth than a figure, the Body of its Giver than the manna from heaven.” (On the Mysteries [Sacraments], Book I, Chapter 8)

“In order that no one through observing the outward part should waver in faith, many instances are brought forward wherein the outward nature has been changed, and so it is proved that bread is made the true body of Christ. The treatise then is brought to a termination with certain remarks as to the effects of the sacrament, the disposition of the recipients, and such like.

50. Perhaps you will say, I see something else, how is it that you assert that I receive the Body of Christ? And this is the point which remains for us to prove. And what evidence shall we make use of? Let us prove that this is not what nature made, but what the blessing consecrated, and the power of blessing is greater than that of nature, because by blessing nature itself is changed.”

“52. We observe, then, that grace has more power than nature, and yet so far we have only spoken of the grace of a prophet's blessing. But if the blessing of man had such power as to change nature, what are we to say of that divine consecration where the very words of the Lord and Saviour operate? For that sacrament which you receive is made what it is by the word of Christ. But if the word of Elijah had such power as to bring down fire from heaven, shall not the word of Christ have power to change the nature of the elements? You read concerning the making of the whole world: He spoke and they were made, He commanded and they were created. Shall not the word of Christ, which was able to make out of nothing that which was not, be able to change things which already are into what they were not? For it is not less to give a new nature to things than to change them.

53. But why make use of arguments? Let us use the examples He gives, and by the example of the Incarnation prove the truth of the mystery. Did the course of nature proceed as usual when the Lord Jesus was born of Mary? If we look to the usual course, a woman ordinarily conceives after connection with a man. And this body which we make is that which was born of the Virgin. Why do you seek the order of nature in the Body of Christ, seeing that the Lord Jesus Himself was born of a Virgin, not according to nature? It is the true Flesh of Christ which crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body.

54. The Lord Jesus Himself proclaims: This is My Body. Matthew 26:26 Before the blessing of the heavenly words another nature is spoken of, after the consecration the Body is signified. He Himself speaks of His Blood. Before the consecration it has another name, after it is called Blood. And you say, Amen, that is, It is true. Let the heart within confess what the mouth utters, let the soul feel what the voice speaks.” (On the Mysteries [Sacraments], Book 1, Chapter 9)

The rest of St. Ambrose’s words are fascinating and reflect on Christ’s operation in us in our taking on of Him, much like St. Augustine’s behold what you are, and become what you receive. Though what St. Augustine means is to behold Jesus, the Body of Christ, who is the Head of the Church and yet the Mystical Body entirely, and then to become what you receive, namely to become incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ so as to become not I, but Christ working in me.

May we come to love Christ the Bread of Life from Heaven and see in the depth of our heart the poverty and hunger with which we have for His life and presence in our souls. Lord preserve us!

*Note: The icon above is a 6th century icon in which the painter has painted two different sides of Christ's face. One that is tender and merciful, the other that is harsh and judgmental. This is also intended to make His face look more realistic as perfect symmetry in artistic faces can be unnerving and strangely unrealistic. It is all in all a beautiful image of Christ, Who speaks to us and calls us to adore Him with latria through His holy icon and image.

No comments:

Post a Comment