Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter
Commemoration of St. François de Laval
May 6, 2014
Acts 7:51-8:1, Ps 31, Jn 6:30-35
To listen to a recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?,” the crowds asked Jesus in Capernaum. The sign that he had just worked across the Sea of Galilee for them, multiplying a small boy’s dinner of five buns and two small fish to feed a crowd of 5,000 men, a sign that got them to follow him several miles along the upper lip of the Sea, was apparently not miraculous enough for them, nor were any of the scores of cures that he had worked in Capernaum in previous visits. Still obsessed about food and free meals, they asked him a sign that the rabbis had long said that the prophet whom Moses had said would eventually come after him (Deut 18:15) would work to show that he was Moses’ successor: just like Moses had fed the Israelites in the desert with Manna, so the one who would come after him would do the same and rain down from them this daily nourishment from heaven. So they said to him, “What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” Most of us, I think, remember the story of the manna. The Jews were grumbling in the desert, fearful that they would starve to death. So Moses brought their complaints and pleas to God, and God replied by saying, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day” (Exod 16:4). And every morning for forty years, they awoke to find a miraculous edible dew that looked like coriander seed, with the white like gum resin, tasting like wafers made with honey (Num 11:7; Exod 16:31). They Israelites had no idea what it was, and hence called it “manna,” which literally means, “What is it?” Moses told them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat” and instructed them to gather as much of it as each one needed for a day. This is how they survived in the desert for forty years, until they reached the promised land.
- In reply to that test for a sign, Jesus first corrected them, saying it wasn’t Moses who gave them the manna, but God the Father. Then he basically said that the rabbis were right and the One to whom Moses would point would in fact give them this celestial food, but that he was that true Manna, the food that people need to survive in the desert of human life: “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Their response was both materialistic and nevertheless prophetic: “Sir, give us this bread always,” and Jesus made plain what the sign he would give a year later during the Last Supper as a perpetual response to that prayer would be: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” That’s the food for which he wants us to labor — as he told us in yesterday’s section of this discourse — more than the most hardworking parent strives to put material food on his kids’ table.
- I’ve always been struck that God in his wisdom made the Israelites go to get the manna every morning except the Sabbath (so that they wouldn’t have to work). Even on the Sabbath, however, they would eat the second daily portion of manna that they had gotten the day before. God said he made them do this every day in order to “test them,” Exodus tells us, to see whether or not they would follow his instruction and be faithful (Exod 16:4). Throughout their entire time in the desert until they entered the promised land, they received this heavenly gift through this daily work and daily sustenance. In a similar way, Jesus taught us to pray in the Our Father, not, “Give us today all the bread we’re going to need this week” or “Give us now all we’ll ever need,” but “Give us this day our daily bread,” because he wanted us to recognize that every day God wants to grant that prayer. The early saints of the Church commented at length about the Greek word we translate as “daily” — epi-ousios — which literally means “super-substantial.” They said it referred less to the material bread that we need to consume for physical survival, but to the bread that goes beyond our substance — the Eucharist — that we need for our souls. The early saints said that Jesus was teaching them to pray that the Father would give them every day the Eucharist. In other words, when Jesus said that he was the “real manna,” the “true bread come down from heaven,” he was intending to be our daily portion of food throughout our lifetime in the desert of life, until, God-willing, we enter into the eternal promised land of heaven. In response to the request of the Jews, “Sir, give us this bread always,” Jesus has, by giving us his body and blood and making it available not just on Sunday, but every day, in the places where there is a priest who is faithful to the daily celebration of the Mass.
- What is our response to this incredible gift of himself that the Lord gives us every day? Why do we think he does it? Do we think it’s merely to provide some “bonus” to those like us who can conveniently come to Mass each day, or rather to give sustenance to all the people he created and redeemed because he knows we need him every day? It was of course possible for a Jew in the desert to skip a day, or two or three, in going out to obtain the daily manna. But over the course of time, the person would become weaker, hungrier and more vulnerable. If God went through the effort to feed them every morning, it’s because he knew that they needed to be fed every day. It’s the same way with the “real Manna” of the Holy Eucharist. God has desired to give us each day this “daily bread come down from heaven,” because he knows that we need to be spiritually fed each day. I’m convinced from both personal and pastoral experience that one of the real proofs of whether we recognize that the Eucharist really is Jesus, and whether we truly love the Lord, can be seen in our attitude toward daily Mass. Even if we cannot physically be present every day at Mass because of other pressing responsibilities, our hearts should always be longing for this encounter. That should be our great hunger. “Give us that bread always” and “Give us today our supersubstantial Bread!” should be our most persistent aspirations. And our gratitude to God’s answering that prayer by raining down for us each day this true Bread from heaven should know no bounds.
- Once we begin truly living off of Jesus in the Eucharist, living genuinely Eucharistic lives, trying to unite our entire existence in a Holy Communion with Jesus, then everything begins to change.
- First, it impacts the way we prepare for Mass. Today is the 36th anniversary of my first Holy Communion and I think back to the wonder I had on that day. I give thanks to God for his mercy and grace that not only have I not lost that wonder but I believe that it has grown stronger over the years. My love for Jesus grew by leaps and bounds when, as a freshman in college, I realized that there was nothing more important that I could be doing on any given day than receiving Jesus and I rejoice in the Lord’s generosity that over the last 25 and a half years I have never missed daily Mass once because every day God the Father answered my prayer to “give me today my super substantial bread.” I pray that everyone will have a similar wonder and gratitude. In all the sacristies of the Missionaries of Charity, Blessed Mother Teresa put a sign, one that we have in our daily Mass sacristy here: “O Priest of God, celebrate this Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.” That should be our attitude toward Holy Communion, to receive with the love we had on the day of our First Communion, the love we hope to have at our viaticum, and the gratitude we would have if it were the only time we would ever have this unbelievable privilege.
- Second, it ought to impact that way we live our Christian life. Today in the first reading, we have the witness of St. Stephen’s martyrdom. His Communion with Jesus at Mass overflowed into such a communion in life that he was united with Jesus’ words and sentiments in his testimony before the Sanhedrin, in his self-entrustment to God at his martyrdom and in his prayer for his persecutors. This morning Pope Francis said that the Church is not a “university of religion,” a curriculum of doctrines, but rather a communion of those who follow Jesus and give witness to his risen life, a life that we’re given by our daily sustenance of heavenly Manna. The Christian who doesn’t give this witness, Pope Francis says, is “sterile,” because he doesn’t really experience or give to others the life he has received from Jesus. We mark two other witnesses today. The first is St. François de Laval, the first bishop of Quebec, the missionary who died 306 years ago today. Pope Francis awarded him “equivalent canonization” just 34 days ago and so this is the first time we are able to celebrate him as a saint. Even though he was from a French nobel family, he left it all behind to become a Missionary bishop, precisely to bring Jesus, to bring this living Bread come down from heaven that gives life to the world to the new world. We ask him to give us that same zeal to bring Jesus to others. And today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the death of Fr. Ernest Blais, my predecessor, who spent much of his priesthood giving the True Manna to parishioners, from first Communicants, to daily Communicants, to those on their deathbeds, and who labored after the fire that destroyed Notre Dame Church to rebuild this house as a house of God where our Eucharistic Lord could be adored, loved and received, and from which witness of his love could be seen in the lives of God’s people. We pray for him today that he now rejoices at the eternal banquet to which the Eucharist is a foretaste.
- “Sir, give us this Bread always.” Jesus has answered that prayer. Full of gratitude, let us now receive that response!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears,
you always oppose the Holy Spirit;
you are just like your ancestors.
Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute?
They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one,
whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.
You received the law as transmitted by angels,
but you did not observe it.”When they heard this, they were infuriated,
and they ground their teeth at him.
But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God
and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and Stephen said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened
and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
But they cried out in a loud voice,
covered their ears, and rushed upon him together.
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out,
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice,
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them”;
and when he said this, he fell asleep.Now Saul was consenting to his execution.
PS 31:3CD-4, 6 AND 7B AND 8A, 17 AND 21AB
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety.
You are my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake you will lead and guide me.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.
My trust is in the LORD;
I will rejoice and be glad of your mercy.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your kindness.
You hide them in the shelter of your presence
from the plottings of men.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”So Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.”
So they said to Jesus,
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”