EUCHARIST AS THE VIATICUM FOR THE JOURNEY OF LIFE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 KINGS 19:4-8; EPH 4:30-5:2; JOHN 6:41-51]
Every one of us at some time in our lives feels like Elijah in wanting to give up on whatever we are doing and even on life itself. Elijah earlier on demonstrated himself to be a fiery prophet, zealous for the House of Israel and for the faith. He challenged the false prophets of Queen Jezebel to a debate. To prove the veracity of their claims, Elijah challenged them to get their gods to consume the holocaust by fire. The prophets of Baal cried out from morning to noon to their god to consume the holocaust but nothing happened. To demonstrate the power of Yahweh, Elijah had trenches built and water to dampen the wood for the fire. He prayed and God sent the fire to burn up the holocaust.
As a consequence of their lies, 400 prophets of Baal were killed that day. Of course, the Queen was furious and ordered the soldiers to hunt him down and have him killed. So Elijah had to run for his life. He was abandoned, forsaken and from a triumphant prophet, he became a refugee. This is where the scripture reading today finds him, in the desert and wilderness fleeing for his life. He was angry and disappointed that God did not defend him, nor did the people come to support him. More so, when he was totally obedient to God! Feeling betrayed, vulnerable and discouraged, he began to wonder whether winning the debate was a good thing after all. Success had become a failure for him. In such moments as this, he wanted to give up his life as his zeal and dedication for the House of the Lord came to nothing. He felt defeated and desolate that his courageous efforts did not bring about the conversion of the Israelites.
However, God in His mercy had allowed this to happen in order to purify the motives of Elijah in serving Him and His people. God wanted to teach Elijah what true holiness and service was. The truth is that service cannot be dependent on spectacular works and successes. If we serve the Lord simply to find fulfillment in achievements, it is not true service. True service is to serve the Lord, not one’s interests. If we do only those things that we like to do, even if they are good, they are done for selfish motives and personal gain. Indeed, Elijah was carried away by his success. For many of us too, we choose what we want to do according to our preferences and those that we find fulfilling rather than asking God what He wants us to do.
The truth is that activities and success cannot give us true fulfillment in life. The void within us, that emptiness cannot be replaced by activities, work or pleasure. Such emptiness cannot be filled up by ambition either. Success and rewards can motivate us to some extent but the void in our hearts cannot be filled. Like Elijah, many of us are hungry. The real hunger is not so much for food but a spiritual hunger. Many of us are searching for love, acceptance and security. God led the prophet to experience physical and spiritual hunger so that he could come to find his true satisfaction in God alone.
For this reason, it was necessary for Elijah and all of us, especially those in active church service, to go through the dark night of the senses and the spirit. God wanted to purify Elijah in his prophetic ministry. Rather than allowing success to get into his head, God permitted him to experience failure. It was in the wilderness that Elijah discovered himself. The symbol of the desert is that of solitude and intimacy with God. Only in the emptiness of our hearts, can God be found. Going through the Negev wilderness for forty days and forty nights is a symbol of his long journey in purification in search for the true God. It was however at the sacred mountain of Horeb where he took refuge in a cave that God called him in the dark night of his soul.
What is significant is that God did not appear to him in spectacular signs and wonders, not in thunder, lightning or storm but in the stillness of a gentle wind, God’s little voice was heard. Clearly, it was an important lesson for Elijah to come to realize that God is encountered only when we cease to do things and allow His words speak to us. It is in our spiritual and physical hunger that God reaches out to us. God would speak to us as He spoke to Elijah, when we empty ourselves of our pride, ambition and arrogance. Indeed, through this period of darkness, Elijah came to discover his true motives in serving the Lord. Initially, he thought he was doing all for Him when he annihilated all the false prophets. He thought of himself as a zealous prophet of the Lord. But through the purification process, he came to admit that it was done more out of pride, self-righteousness and revenge. He lacked compassion and forgiveness. Hence he confessed, “Take my life: I am no better than my ancestors.”
We too often serve with the wrong or at least mixed motives. This explains why we get disappointed when we are unappreciated, unrecognized or when criticized. We feel that because we are giving from our abundance or from our goodness, others should appreciate our good act. Somehow, we expect something from our service. We do not give with pure love. If we did, then we would not be too worried whether we receive any recognition from our fellowmen. Furthermore, we serve not man or even those in charge but we serve God and whoever He appoints to be our leader.
Instead, we rely on God for His love and strength. Only He can give us the satisfaction that we are seeking in life. God comes to feed us with His spiritual food. Just as God sent the angel to feed Elijah with food and water in his hunger and fatigue, God comes to feed us in Christ Jesus who is the bread of life. Accordingly, the Eucharist, being the spiritual food of God, is called the Viaticum, the bread for the journey of life. But what does it mean to believe that Jesus is the Bread of life?
It means first and foremost that Jesus is the Word of God. He is the living word that comes down from heaven. He not only speaks the words of God, He is the Word of God. He is not merely the voice of the Father but speaks the words of the Father. As the Way, the Truth and the Life, we are called to come to Him, meditate and assimilate His Word so that we can become like Jesus in mind and heart. Through a deep contemplation of His word, He can heal our emotional needs and quench our thirst for the truth.
To come to receive Jesus the Bread of life also means that we are called to share in His sacrifice where He offered Himself for us at Calvary. We are not merely observers of the Sacrifice of the Mass but we are invited to immolate ourselves with the Lord, making ourselves as a living sacrifice for the service of others and the salvation of humanity. We are called to “do this in memory of Him”, which means that Christ is offering us an example for us to follow. Like Jesus, we are blessed in order to be broken for others and be bread for others. This is what participating in the sacrifice of Christ is all about. Hence, the participation of this sacrifice concludes with the eating of the Bread of life. We become what we eat. And so by eating Jesus the Bread of life, we are transformed at the core of our being, becoming like Jesus.
Thirdly, it means that we believe also in the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. In the Eucharist, “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore the whole Christ, is truly, really, and substantially contained.” (CCC 1374). The Eucharist is not merely a symbol of Christ’s body and blood but substantially is the very body and blood of Christ who is fully present. Faith in the real presence of the Eucharist makes our reception of the Eucharist a true personal encounter of His love leading to growth in charity.
To “eat his flesh and drink his blood” entails following Jesus to the cross and sacrificing ourselves in service and love. It means that we are called to be bread for others. Sharing in His life, we are challenged to reach out to the world. How is this to be done? Firstly, we must sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, in humility and service. When we serve others with humility, we will bring others to the Lord. If the Eucharist does not lead us to charity, then we have not celebrated it rightly. This service we give, St Paul reminds us, must be done with love and compassion.
Secondly, we are called to be the real presence of Christ to others in what we say and do. We are called to be Jesus to others. The best gift we can give to anyone is Jesus. Conscious of sharing in His sonship, we must allow ourselves to be the extension of the Sacrament of Jesus who is the sacrament of the Father. Through our Christian love and compassion for others, we will make Christ’s presence real and experienced. So in whatever we do or say, we are ambassadors for Christ. People cannot see Jesus. They see Him in and through us.
Finally, faith in the Eucharist as the Body of Christ implies that we are called to serve the Lord not as individuals but as a community. Our mission is communion and thus communion is necessary for mission. St Paul urges us, “Be friends with one another, and kind, forgiving each other as readily as God forgave you in Christ.” We cannot be individualistic and make our service a personal achievement of sorts. Rather, because the Eucharist brings us into communion with God and with each other, we must always work together, in deference to those who are placed in charge of us. In this way, Christ is known because whenever they see us loving one another, they know it is because of the love of God in us.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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