Striving Like St. Stephen for the Food that Endures to Eternal Life, Third Monday of Easter, April 20, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, New York, NY
Monday of the Third Week of Easter
April 20, 2015
Acts 6:8-15, Ps 119, Jn 6:22-29


Today’s homily was not recorded. The following points were attempted: 

  • Today in the Gospel we continue our annual “second” Easter Octave allowing Jesus to show us the most important way we will be able to experience the newness of life to which our share in his Resurrection is meant to lead us: a communion with him in his Risen life by means of the Holy Eucharist.
  • On Friday, we saw the foretaste of the miraculous multiplication of his Body and Blood throughout all time and space in the multiplication of the loaves and fish. This was not only a Messianic sign, even a divine sign of the Lord’s preparing a banquet on a mountain for his people (Is 25), but something pointing to the two greater banquets to which that miracle pointed: the banquet of the Eucharist and the banquet of eternal life. Immediately after that miracle, Jesus went up on the mountain to pray and the disciples got into the boat from and crossed westward toward Capernaum. Jesus walked on the water toward them to show that he transcended the power of death, symbolized by the churning waters and the drowning they portended. When the apostles disembark we have today’s scene.
  • Those who had received the free meal had come the seven-mile journey along the north lip of the Sea of Galilee looking for Jesus there. Because they knew Jesus hadn’t gotten into the boat with the other disciples, they asked, “Rabbi, when did you get there?” But Jesus wasn’t interested in small talk. Jesus wanted to help them to grow in faith, to help them to recognize why they were following him and to challenge him to follow him for the right reasons. “Amen, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs” — in other words, because you saw me perform a miracle and it’s led you to put faith in me and in my words — “but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” They came looking for another free meal, a divine handout, seeking Jesus as a means to address their material hungers and needs. This is not evil in itself. Jesus would teach us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” Many of us come to the Lord not just with wants but real material needs, not knowing how we’re going to pay the rent, or put food on the table, purchase the medications they need, or find a job to help support those they love. God wants to hear these prayers. As a loving Father, he wants us to bring our needs to him. It wasn’t this that Jesus was criticizing. Jesus was criticizing the fact that they had stopped there, that all they were concerned about were their material needs. Just as with all the healing miracles, however, Jesus in the multiplication of the loaves and the fish was doing a sign to help them to come to ask him for something far more than loaves and fish.
  • Jesus tells them, and tells us, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” So many of us spend most of our lives working in to put food on the table, to nourish ourselves and our families. We all know how important that is, but Jesus is saying that as hard as we work to fulfill that duty of love, we must work much harder for the food that he will give us, the food of eternal life. What is that food that God puts on the table? What is that nourishment of eternal life? If we spend forty hours a week or more, sometimes working two or three jobs for perishables , what is the imperishable nutrition for which Jesus tells us we should labor even more strenuously?
  • There are three interconnected answers to that question:
    • The first response is knowing God’s Word. In the battles to which Jesus was exposed in the desert, Jesus was asked by the devil to turn stone into bread to feed his incredible hunger after having fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus responded by saying, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” To work for this food means to strive to know, understand, treasure and put into practice all the words that come from God’s mouth to feed us.
    • This leads directly to the second common interpretation: Doing God’s will. Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to accomplish his work.” To work for the food that endures for eternal life is to strive to do God’s will. That’s why it’s unsurprising that Jesus later in this Bread of Life Discourse at the Capernaum synagogue, will say, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day.”
    • The third answer is the one that ought to be obvious to us who have heard the Bread of Life discourse many times: it’s Jesus presence in the Eucharist. As Jesus will explain to us in upcoming days, the Eucharist is the food prophesied by the Old Testament daily miracle of the manna. Just as God rained down manna each day to feed the people of God as they wandered in the desert before coming to the promised land, so God the Father rains down Jesus, the Living Bread come down from heaven, each day as our spiritual food in the Eucharist.
  • All three of these interpretations, of course, go together in the celebration of the Mass. We begin with God’s word, we unite ourselves with God’s will and “do this in memory of [him]” and then have the awesome privilege of receiving the Word made Flesh, God’s daily spiritual manna, in the Eucharist. Becoming one body with Christ in the Eucharist is meant to help us become one with his will and accomplish it in the world, as we, united with Christ our head, become his hands, his feet, his heart, and his mouth in the world. This is what the risen life of a Christian in union with Risen Jesus is all about.
  • But the main point for us is not simply to know what is the imperishable nourishment for which we should be striving but actually to live for it. Many Catholics, just like the first century Jews, spend more of our time hungering and working for hamburgers and french fries, for pancakes and sausages, for salads and sweets, than we do for Jesus’ word, will and flesh and blood. That’s why Jesus repeats this Eucharistic course for us year during the Easter Season, because so many of us have not really put these words into action — and Jesus wants to help us.
  • But today we can focus just on one witness who shows us what it means to strive for the food that endures to eternal life. In the first reading, we encounter St. Stephen. He was one of the first seven deacons, men “filled with faith and the Holy Spirit,” ordained by the apostles to help carry out the Church’s charity. He was willing to give his whole life to obtain the food of everlasting life. Today we see him, “filled with grace and power [and] working great wonders and signs among the people.” Jews from various nations had come to debate him, but they couldn’t withstand his wisdom and the power of the Holy Spirit speaking through him. So they sought to do to him what the Jewish leaders had previously done to Jesus: accuse him with false witnesses of blasphemously speaking against Moses, God and the Temple because he was passing on the Words of Jesus, on every syllable of which he was constructing his life. Tomorrow we will have the account of his martyrdom. But in between, what we unfortunately won’t hear at Mass is his tremendous testimony before the Sanhedrin. I’d urge you to read it at home today by turning to the sixth and seventh chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. What we see there is just how deeply he has assimilated the Word of God and was living on every syllable of it, showing how all of salvation history had culminated in Jesus and was meant to culminate in the life of every believer. So much was he laboring for God’s word, will, and Word-made-flesh that the mortal danger he was in didn’t frighten him. He had become so united with Jesus Christ in his Eucharistic self-offering that he would give his own body and shed his own blood in union with Jesus’ for the salvation of the very members of the Sanhedrin who would sentence him to death and especially for the conversion of the man (Saul of Tarsus) who was presiding over his execution. Now St. Stephen shares in the eternal wedding banquet, being nourished forever by the food of eternity. We ask him to intercede for us that we will likewise be characterized by the same hunger, the same faith, the same grace and power, the same risen Christian life, and strive today, in all our work, for the food that endures forever.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
ACTS 6:8-15

Stephen, filled with grace and power,
was working great wonders and signs among the people.
Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen,
Cyreneans, and Alexandrians,
and people from Cilicia and Asia,
came forward and debated with Stephen,
but they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.
Then they instigated some men to say,
“We have heard him speaking blasphemous words
against Moses and God.”
They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes,
accosted him, seized him,
and brought him before the Sanhedrin.
They presented false witnesses who testified,
“This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law.
For we have heard him claim
that this Jesus the Nazorean will destroy this place
and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.”
All those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him
and saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 119:23-24, 26-27, 29-30

R. (1ab) Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
R. Alleluia.
Though princes meet and talk against me,
your servant meditates on your statutes.
Yes, your decrees are my delight;
they are my counselors.
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
R. Alleluia.
I declared my ways, and you answered me;
teach me your statutes.
Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous deeds.
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
R. Alleluia.
Remove from me the way of falsehood,
and favor me with your law.
The way of truth I have chosen;
I have set your ordinances before me.
R. Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!
R. Alleluia.

JN 6:22-29

[After Jesus had fed the five thousand men, his disciples saw him walking on the sea.]
The next day, the crowd that remained across the sea
saw that there had been only one boat there,
and that Jesus had not gone along with his disciples in the boat,
but only his disciples had left.
Other boats came from Tiberias
near the place where they had eaten the bread
when the Lord gave thanks.
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there,
they themselves got into boats
and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
And when they found him across the sea they said to him,
“Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered them and said,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me
not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.
For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”
So they said to him,
“What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”
Litany of St. Stephen 02