The Continuing Incarnation of the True Manna, 3rd Tuesday of Easter, May 2, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter
Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
May 2, 2017
Acts 7:51-8:1, Ps 31, Jn 6:30-35


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily:

  • Today we enter into the fourth day of the Octave of mystagogical catechesis on the Holy Eucharist and how through this divine gift we intensify our relationship with the Risen Christ.
  • Today, after Jesus stressed that the work of God was to believe in Him whom the Father had sent — which, to facilitate that faith, Jesus had worked the “sign” of the multiplication of loaves and fish and walked on water — the crowds nevertheless asked, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?” 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.’”
  • We 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, the eternal life that is the consequence of genuinely entering into communion with Christ through the Holy Eucharist. 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.
  • That brings us to what our response is 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 a Catholic 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. For us as priests and religious, we have daily Mass as part of our spiritual regimen, but it’s not enough for it to remain there. One of our tasks is to help the whole Church come to appreciate this gift and join us in receiving Him. Jesus says, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world,” and later he will add that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood we have no life, no zoe, in us, even if we still have bios. Those who aren’t living Eucharistic lives are, to some degree, spiritually dead, or at least not anywhere near as spiritually alive as God would want them to be, as he wants to help them to be through communion with Him Risen from the dead.
  • We see the impact of someone living a truly Eucharistic life in today’s first reading. St. Stephen’s strength came from his faith in the One God has sent, from his Communion with Jesus’ risen life that could not be extinguished even if all the rocks and stones of the world had landed on him at once. He was fed by the Lord to give witness to his living presence, his face radiated with the risen presence of God-with-us, and even as he was being stoned to death, he was totally united to the Lord. As he was thrown into the pit and began to beg pelted, his first words were not, “Help me, Jesus!” or even “Save me, Jesus!,” which would have been totally legitimate prayers of faith. Instead it was, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” a sign that he had regularly been entrusting his body and spirit to Jesus in their regular meeting in the celebration of the Eucharist. And later he showed the depth of his communion with the One who had told us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and pray for our persecutors when he, echoing Jesus’ words to the Father from the Cross, “forgive them for they know not what they do,” said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And that prayer, made in communion with Christ, was efficacious in the life of Saul, who converted to become the greatest apostle of all. The zoe, the supernatural life in St. Stephen, was in a sense prayerfully passed on to Saul, so that as Paul he could bring many others to say with him, “For me to live is Christ” and the “life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.”
  • We also see an example of living these truths in the great and intrepid saintly doctor of the Church we celebrate today, Saint Athanasius. As a young boy born during the time of ferocious anti-Christian persecutions, he learned the Gospel of the Lord from heroic, confessor priests. He  went as a young deacon to assist the Patriarch of Alexandria (Egypt) at the Council of Nicaea in 325. This was the first Ecumenical Council, called 12 years after the legalization of Christianity, to deal with the teachings of an Egyptian priest Arius who was claiming that Jesus wasn’t God, that he wasn’t eternal, that he was just figuratively the Son of God and just a man, albeit the holiest man who had ever lived. The brilliant deacon Athanasius led the charge against Arius’ teaching, which he persuaded the Council to condemn, and it was largely out of his work that we have the Nicene Creed we proclaim every Sunday. But even though the Arians lost, their false theological ideas were not extinguished. And Athanasius learned how he himself would suffer for the faith from those who thought they were worshipping God. Over the course of time, Arians, those who didn’t believe Jesus was 100 percent God and 100 percent man, gained the upper hand in civil and Church politics. Various bishops and priests were Arians as were some emperors. For that reason, St. Athanasius was persecuted, multiply exiled, and had to suffer a great deal. Five different times he was banished from his see by command of the emperor. 17 years he spent in exile. But the incarnation he taught he also lived and he knew that Jesus was with him in his risen and transfigured Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. He knew that God gave him each day in the true manna all that he would need. He was living not just by faith in the Son of God but by his sacramental presence and that’s what helped him persevere until the end.
  • “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: 

Reading 1
ACTS 7:51-8:1A

Stephen said to the people, the elders, and the scribes:
“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.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 31:3CD-4, 6 AND 7B AND 8A, 17 AND 21AB

R. (6a) Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
R. Alleluia.
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.
R. Alleluia.
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.
R. Alleluia.
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.
R. Alleluia.

JN 6:30-35

The crowd said to Jesus:
“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.”