“Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the desert … He … let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers.”
In these lines from the first reading, Moses is reminding the Israelite people of who they are and where they come from. He is telling their story. The Lord led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, gloriously crossing dry-shod through the Red Sea, but then they wandered for forty years in the desert, quickly longing to back in slavery in Egypt where at least they had a better idea of where they would get their next meal. Wandering in the desert, the Israelites experienced hunger. Not hunger like we feel around 6:00 when we have not yet sat down to dinner, but real, burning hunger. God responded to their cries for help with the manna, this bread-like substance that they found every morning on the desert floor with the dewfall.
In the desert, the Israelites were not just hungry – they were starving. They were in desperate need of food; they were in danger of death. So if our Lord is saying that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood to have life within us, the reality is that we stand in just as great of need of Him as the ancient Israelites did of the manna that they gathered each morning. We, brothers and sisters, are starving for Christ in the Eucharist.
The problem is that it is often very difficult for us to be aware of just how much we stand in need of Christ. Physical hunger is inescapable. You do not need any special sense to be aware of it. If we look around us, though, there seem to be millions and millions of people who have little to no awareness of this spiritual hunger. And if we look at ourselves – if we are honest – we can see many times in our own lives when we are not connected to this spiritual hunger, this need for Christ, and we just ignore it until it goes away. How many times have you thought to yourself: “I really need to receive Christ in Holy Communion?” For most of us, it isn’t nearly as often as we ought to.
Why is this? Why is it that God made us – it would seem – to be more in tune with our physical needs than with our spiritual needs? We do we so often lose touch with the spiritual hunger that we ought to have for Christ, especially in the Eucharist, without which we do not have life?
The problem, I would propose, is this: We do not know what it means to be spiritually hungry, because we do not know what it means to be spiritually full. We do not know what it means to be spiritually hungry, because we do not know what it means to be spiritually full. The reality is, my brothers and sisters, all of us are deeply affected by original sin. Even though those of us who have received the precious gift of Baptism have had that sin wiped away, its effects remain. We are still not living in the original holiness for which God intended us, in which He created our first earthly parents. All we see, though, is that the way that things ought to be, but the way that they are.
Many of you probably have had the experience of getting glasses, either as a child or maybe later as an adult. When I was in seventh or eighth grade, I got contact lenses for the first time. They were the kind of lenses that are supposed to last for an entire year, and I was scared to death I would lose one. Well, you can guess what happened. One day at school, I rubbed my eyes, the lens fell out, and it was no where to be found. I was facing a very awkward conversation with my parents. I had begged them to let me get contacts so I wouldn’t have to put up with my glasses any more, and now I would have to tell them that I messed it all up. You can probably guess what I did. Yep, I kept my mouth shut.
Now, my eyesight wasn’t so bad. I could still see pretty well. From time to time I might have to ask the person seated next to me what the teach was writing on the board, but I managed to get by. That is, until it was time for school vision tests. Facing down the inevitable, I finally had to tell mom and dad. It had been about a year. I still remember this not only because of the awkward embarrassment of fessing up to my cowardice, but also because of that incredible moment when I finally put my new contacts in for the first time in a year. I remember staring out my window, looking at the leaves on the trees, entranced by the clarity with which I saw. I had forgotten how bad my eyesight really was, and consequently I had forgotten what seeing was supposed to be like, just like the soul lost in sin forgets what it is like to live in God’s grace.
Most of us, in our lives, are that awkward kid squinting at the board because he does not know what his eyesight is supposed to be like, or because he is too afraid to admit that he lost his contacts. Maybe you have known what it is like to be close to Christ and realize that you have become lukewarm. Maybe you’ve been wanting for a long time to feel that fire of God’s love that you’ve seen in others. Or maybe you’re pretty content with where you’re at – which means that it’s time for someone to wake you up.
That is precisely why I am here as your new pastor. I am here for one reason and one reason alone – to help you get to Heaven. Along the way, I hope to get to know you, to become friends, to participate in the life of your families, to learn from you too and receive the witness of your faith. But what I promise you above all is a single minded focus on the most important task of all: your eternal salvation. This is what priests are far – to remind us of what it means to be spiritually full.
We often do not realize what it means to be spiritually hungry because we do not know what it means to be spiritually full. We do not realize that we are missing the beauty of the things in front of us because we forget what our eyesight is supposed to be like. But the good news is that this is not the way that things are meant to stay. Our Lord tells us in the Gospel today, “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” Did you catch what He is saying? Christ says that those who feed on Him – those who receive Holy Communion in a state of grace – have life because of Him just as He has life from the Father. This is unbelievable! Last Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, and we recalled how Christ and the Father are one – totally united, consubstantial. Christ is saying now that we are meant to be united with Him just as He is united with the Father.
What does this mean, practically, in my life? If you want to know what it is like to be spiritually full, to begin to feel the pangs of spiritual hunger in your life, then there are three things you need to be sure of in our own relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist:
First, you need to be at Mass each and every Sunday. You need to be at Mass even if you are traveling, if your children are playing travel baseball, soccer, or volleyball, or even if you are going to the lake. You need Jesus in Holy Communion.
Second, the Israelites who were wandering in the desert were allowed to gather only enough manna that they would use for one day. We pray in the Our Father, “give us this day our daily bread.” We need to be devoted to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament outside of Sundays as well. We need Him to be our daily bread, not just our weekly bread. Of course, most people do not have the luxury of being able to come to Mass during the week, but even if you are not able to come to Mass, maybe you could come to church at another time to visit our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament to console Him for all those who ignore His sacred presence. You can also re-visit that experience of receiving Holy Communion in your daily prayer, reminding yourself that you have been united to Him by receiving Holy Communion, and asking Him for the grace to live according to that profound closeness with Him that you have experienced.
Third, we need to have reverence for Christ. We should approach His holy temple, this church in which he dwells, with fear and trembling as we come into the presence of the living God. The reverence that we show for Christ present in the Host and in the tabernacle forms our hearts to be ready to receive Him.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as your new pastor, I am filled with joy to be able to feed you with Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist. I told you that I am here to get you to Heaven, and where we are today is as close as we can get there in this life, as we receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of He whom we long to see face to face for all eternity in Heaven.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
St. John the Evangelist Church, Goshen
Corpus Christi A.D. MMXVII