The Sunday gospels these weeks are from the sixth chapter of John (a break from the Mark run) beginning last Sunday with the feeding of the five thousand and continuing today with Jesus’ reminder: “Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life.”
Jesus knows our human need for food for the body: last Sunday we remembered the bread and fish banquet for the crowds. In preparation for today’s bread of life gospel God provides bread from heaven for the hungry Old Testament pilgrims.
The food that endures is something much more satisfying than physical nourishment. This food also demands a bigger appetite, a greater depth of human hunger.
If my only hunger is physical I can be satisfied with bread. A healthy human is aware that tangible food and drink satisfies only for a time and that the deeper hunger we feel is a sign that we are ready for the real food that satisfies every human desire now and forever.
Many good people live at the superficial physical, earthly level. However the life of a disciple of Jesus is lived in a higher, deeper and broader environment environment, finding in every moment and every encounter not a distraction or a problem but an opportunity for greater maturity of faith and richer experience of humanity.
This call to maturity requires a journey and a desire to live abundantly.
Retired Pope Benedict hit the headlines last week with a warning to those who reduce the church to an earthly organisation without a heart focussed on Jesus Christ:
“As long as only the ministry, but not the heart and the spirit, speak in official church texts, the exodus from the world of faith will continue”
He continued focussing on the way that the church employs professionals for tasks that require the perspective given and sustained in an active life of faith:
“many people are involved in key positions who do not support the inner calling of the church and thus often obscure the mission of this institution.”
He adds that belief in Jesus Christ makes not only a substantial but a fundamental difference to everything a person says and everything a person does.
Benedict continues that a distinction (in the church) must be made between those who believe and those who do not believe. He is writing from the perspective of one who appreciates that the church is really an organism rather than an organisation. While there will properly be organisational aspects to the community of faith, the constant risk is that these institutional arrangements obscure and even overwhelm the more attractive face of the church found in disciples living in relationship with Jesus Christ.
I like the way that Benedict then moves to speak about doctrinal orthodoxy, too often held as the sole measure of religious fidelity:
A flight into pure doctrine is unrealistic. Rather, doctrine must develop in and from faith, not stand beside it. That was because a doctrine that would exist like a nature reserve separated from the daily world of faith would be a renunciation of faith itself.
Perhaps Benedict had been reading the recent (June 2021) address of Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre to the American bishops. The Archbishop begins quoting Pope Francis “I believe that one has to recover the religious act as a movement towards an encounter with Jesus Christ.” then continues adding “For this to happen, rather than getting bogged down in the minutiae of complicated theological concepts or in slick but superficial marketing campaigns. we must be bold like Simon Peter on Pentecost and proclaim Jesus Christ.”
The archbishop continues now quoting Pope St. John Paul, illustrating the unity among recent popes:
Conscious of the Risen Lord’s presence among us, we ask ourselves today the same question put to Peter in Jerusalem immediately after his Pentecost speech: “What must we do?” … We are certainly not seduced by the naive expectation that. faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a person, and the assurance which eh gives us: I am with you!
It is not therefore a matter of inventing a ‘new program’. The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself who is to be known. loved and imitated.”
The program already exists. It is found in Jesus Christ who invites us saying