Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) 1 Kgs 19:4-8
2) Eph 4:30-5:2
Gospel: Jn 6:41-51
Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was imprisoned, tortured and sentenced to solitary confinement for many years by communist authorities in Vietnam. Reciting from memory the psalms and prayers of the church became his consolation.
Each day he managed to celebrate the Eucharist in prison at great risk of being discovered and punished. How did a bishop behind bars celebrate daily Eucharist?
In his memoir he recounted how each day with three drops of wine smuggled into his cell, a drop of water in the palm of his hand and a few crumbs of leftover bread he celebrated Mass. His hands were his altar and the prison cell his cathedral!
He was nourished by the body and blood of Jesus who was strengthening him to endure violent persecution and to hope in the midst of fear and loneliness. His flock was encouraged to remain steadfast in faith by the witness of their bishop’s love for the Eucharist.
God desires to feed, nourish and strengthen us on the journey of life. How do we know this? The whole of Scripture speaks of the divine desire to nourish the people with food in time of need.
In the first reading Elijah, the prophet, walks 40 days and 40 nights on a journey to Mount Horeb, the place of God’s dwelling. The heat of the day brings Elijah to physical exhaustion and an inner place of despair. The prophet is ready to give up!
Then Elijah learns he is not alone. God walks with him every step of the way. So as Elijah falls asleep from exhaustion an angel of the Lord attends to him, urging him to wake up and eat.
God provided food for Elijah in a hearth cake and a jug of water. The tired prophet eats twice and is strengthened to complete his journey to God. Elijah experiences the same divine providential care as the Israelites who ate manna from heaven as they journeyed through the desert.
In the Gospel, Jesus continues the divine offer of spiritual food that strengthens and heals us with eternal life when he says:
“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.”
Just as our bodies cannot survive without physical food, our spirits cannot thrive without spiritual food. Only God satisfies our deepest spiritual hunger with spiritual food for eternal life.
At every Mass the Holy Spirit transforms created elements of bread and wine into the sacred body and blood of Jesus Christ. What a miracle of faith! Today let us join the psalmist in singing, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord!” as we pray in faith, “speak to me, Lord.”
Reflection Question: How does Jesus nourish you with spiritual food today?
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Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.