Perseverance and Blind Faith

John 6: 60-69

Acts 9:31-42 / Ps 116:12-17

It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you— they are Spirit and life.
(John 6:63)

His words may be hard to believe,

And His Way harder to follow,

But this life that we chose to live

Leads to a brighter tomorrow.

After hearing this, many of Jesus’ followers said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that His disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before? It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you—they are Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray Him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” From that time on, many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then asked the Twelve: “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:60-69)

Reflection

Jesus was speaking figuratively when He said “. . .unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. . .” (John 6:53). What He really meant was that His true disciples must assimilate everything that He was teaching them, living His values and His example, becoming like Christ Himself. To clarify His message, He added, “It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you— they are Spirit and life.” (John 6:63) If only the Jews were more discerning (like Peter), they would have been enlightened by the living words of Jesus, Who was the Word of God made flesh.

The Jews however, could only grumble, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (6:60), and they decided to leave Him. Jesus may have lost most of His followers because of His “hard teaching”, but He was more concerned with the faith of a few rather than the following of the many. Besides, it confirmed the leadership of His foremost apostle Peter, who said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (6:69) His inspired words reflected the faith of the apostles and their firm commitment to follow Jesus no matter what happened. They had given up everything for this new life with Him, even if they were not sure where the Lord would lead them. But as we read in the first Reading (Acts 9:31-42), Peter was so empowered by the Holy Spirit that he was able to heal a man who had been paralyzed for eight years, and even brought a dead girl back to life. He had indeed become like his Master himself.

Perhaps it is the nature of our Christian ministry that we cannot foretell the future consequences of our efforts in serving the Lord. The apostles blindly followed Jesus in building up His Church, and in the process, most of them suffered greatly, and even lost their lives for their faith. Like them, but in a much lesser degree, we also may have to face trials, but we have come to believe that we only persevere in proclaiming the Gospel because it is God the Father Who has enabled us, and not of our own will alone. That is why we put our trust in the designs of the Holy Spirit, even though many of our members have “returned to their former way of life” and are no longer active in our community. We persevere because we were chosen.

Lord God, Your words and ways may be hard to understand, but our Savior Jesus has assured us that even though “the gate is narrow and the road constricted that leads to life” (Matt.7:14), the few of us who have taken it You have chosen. Amen.

Partaking the Bread of Life

John 6: 52-59
Acts 9:1-20 / Ps 117

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
(John 6:53)

Partake of Him, our Daily Bread,
And we shall no longer hunger;
Of His Spirit if we’re always fed,
We are assured of Life Forever.

The Jews disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. (John 6:52-59)

Reflection

Many of His disciples, in spite of the signs that Jesus had performed in their midst, would leave Him because they found His words totally offensive (6:66). For the Jews, blood is sacred, (blood is life); in fact, God prohibited the eating of “flesh with lifeblood in it” as laid down in the law of Moses (Gen.9:4). But quite obviously, our Lord was speaking to the Jews in figurative terms, as well as intentionally ‘separating the chaff from the seeds’ (the complacent from the committed followers).

Perhaps the same can be said of the Protestants who had chosen to leave the Church because they could not accept the doctrine of transubstantiation, which we believe was truly initiated in the Last Supper when Jesus commanded, “Do this in memorial of me” (Luke 22:19). The word “memorial” as Jesus said it may be seen in a different light as we understand it today. It did not mean something that occurred only in the memory of a past event. Rather, memorial signified making present once again a past event. The Eucharist is a meal celebrated in memorial of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. In our participation at that meal, those events become present to us as we relive them over and over again. Six times in this Gospel passage of John our Lord exhorts His followers to “feed on Him”, as if He could not emphasize enough the importance of assimilating Him into our life, so that we may live a Eucharistic life in His Spirit.

In the Mass, the mystery of the Eucharist is relived every hour and everyday all over the world without losing its essence and meaning. The Word of God, which is also part of the liturgy of the Mass, is likewise read and heard every day, throughout our lives, delivering God’s message to us in many different ways. A day will never be the same without receiving the Bread of Life and the Word of God. His Bread and His Word give us life, nourishing our spirits. Jesus is inviting us to take His Flesh and Blood (His Life) and His Word into the very essence of our being. The life that He offers is the very life of God Himself. Let us feed on Him and His Word as often as we feed our bodies with nourishing food.

We praise you, Lord God eternal. Your Flesh and Blood and Your Word will nourish us all the days of our lives, until the end of time. Amen.

The Question of Faith

John 6: 44-51

Acts 8:26-40 / Psa 66

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.
(John 6:47-48)

If we cannot believe the Word

That the Bread of Life has given,

How can we be worth the reward

Of eternal life in heaven?

“No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ ” (John 6:44-51)

Reflection

The Jews were now getting restless with what Jesus was saying about Himself. They knew who He was– the son of the carpenter Joseph and Mary. They could not comprehend what he was claiming, that He was “the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.” Their problem was they were taking the words of our Lord too literally. But the future generations of Christians, to whom for the most part Jesus was addressing His message, would come to understand what Jesus meant. He was the Word of God Who became flesh, and “eating His flesh” simply meant receiving Him in the Holy Eucharist of the mass, as well as assimilating the Word of God into our life. To become Christ-like, we have to absorb all His teachings and His values that we read about in the Bible.

It was harder for the disciples in Jesus’ time, who had to undergo a mental struggle, suspending their doubts and understanding in order to establish a closer relationship with their Master. When the Jews asked Jesus, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” His ready answer was, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the One He sent” (Jn.6:28-29).

For those who doubt the authenticity of the bible, it would be a futile effort to try and breach the gap between knowledge and faith. After all, there is a world of difference between knowing and believing. Suffice it to say that most of our questions in this life will only be answered in the next. We cannot deny the Truth of Jesus Christ, Who is also our Way and our Life. Following the Father’s will through the words of Jesus must be our predominant quest in life, not in trying to understand the mysteries that baffle us. When our faith has been put to the test, then the truth will be revealed to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. This was what happened to the Ethiopian eunuch in today’s first reading. The Holy Spirit brought the apostle Philip to him, and he came to believe in Jesus Christ and was immediately baptized afterwards.

In time we too will be inspired by the parables and teachings of Jesus in the Bible, which we once found difficult to understand. In the meantime, we must humbly accept what we cannot comprehend as truth, like the Holy Eucharist in the Mass as the transubstantiated body of Jesus Christ Himself, “sent down from heaven.”

Grant us the grace to hold fast to Your Word, Lord Jesus, even if we still do not see the full significance of Your message. Help us to believe the words of St. Paul that “at present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12.) Amen.

Faith in the Bread of Life

John 6:35-40

Acts 8:1-8 / Ps 66

. . . I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.
(John 6:35)

Faith puts hope in the invisible,

If we believe in God’s loving care.

The Bread of Life is conceivable

In the Eucharist that we all share.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those He has given me, but raise them up on the last day. For this is the will of the Father, that anyone who sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” (John 6:35-40)

Reflection

On our flight back to our city, we were privileged to meet a highly acclaimed singer and actress at the airport, who shared that she is a Christian who is in the teaching and healing ministry. We agreed on the power of prayer and the works of the Holy Spirit, but she disagreed with the Catholic devotion to the Blessed Mother, especially in praying the holy rosary. In fact she scoffed at the infallibility of the pope in matters of doctrine, nor believed in the Holy Eucharist as a Source of spiritual food, the Bread of Life for our souls. She was convinced that “Catholics are so deluded.”

Christians who question the validity of the Transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharistic celebration are like the Jews in today’s Gospel reading who could not see and believe the Bread of Life Who came down from heaven for mankind’s salvation. “Born again Christians” who claim that their faith is Biblical should check out John 6:53, where Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you.” Surely, our Lord was not being literal in this instance. The words of our Lord may have been confounding to the Jews, who only had the testimony of their ancestors during the time of Moses about the manna as the “bread from heaven” (Jn.6:31), but He was in fact prophesying about the Holy Eucharist for billions of future Christians, and at the same time preparing His disciples for its institution at the Last Supper. And His mandate in this most important event in His ministry could not have been clearer: “…do this in memory of me.” (Luke22:19)

The Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus’ words: “I am with you always until the end of time.” Like the bread that we eat every day as our regular source of nourishment, so is the Bread of Life available to us daily for our spiritual nourishment. Our Lord Jesus is always there for us in the Holy Eucharist. Receive Him as often as you can.

We believe that You are always with us, Lord, in the breaking of the bread, when we receive You in the sacrifice of the Mass. As in the time of Moses in the desert when You saved your people from starvation, as in the time when bread was miraculously multiplied to feed the multitudes who followed You in the wilderness, so it is in all masses all over the world in the present age, where you nourish our hungry souls. Amen.

Nourishment for Eternal Life

John 6: 30-35

Acts 7:51–8:1 / Ps 31

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
(John 6:35)

He who puts our Lord Jesus first

Will never go hungry or thirst.

If we must seek true life instead,

We’ll find it in the Living Bread.

The Jews said to Jesus, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” ’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who 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.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ (John 6:30-35)

Reflection

The Jews kept asking for a sign from Jesus, despite the fact that He had already fed more than five thousand of them (with 12 baskets left over) from five loaves and two fish. It seems that the previous miracle had not been enough proof of His divinity, but had only whetted their appetite for more exciting displays of power. They were no different from their ancestors who received manna from heaven every day during their sojourn in the desert, as they only wanted Him to “give us this bread always.”

Like those Jews in Jesus’ time who were only thinking about their physical needs, there are still many people today who only seek to satisfy their hunger for food and other material needs, but neglect the more important needs of their famished souls. Every time we take a stroll in the mall near our home, we notice that almost all the restaurants and fast food chains are packed with people. The same can be said in practically all the other malls we go to. Filipinos are a food-loving people. But they say Filipinos are also a very religious people– in fact the only predominant Christian nation in Asia. So how come our churches are not as packed with people like our restaurants on any day except Sunday? Is Sunday the only time we can receive the Bread of Life, Who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world?

God created us to receive not only mere physical nourishment, but more importantly, to be sustained by His Spirit as well. As Jesus Himself said, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Mt.4:4) This nourishment can only come from regularly reading and reflecting on the Word of God, and receiving the Bread of Life. I began to understand what Jesus meant, when He likened Himself to a piece of bread to be broken and shared. This was His precious legacy in the Last Supper when He said, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19)

Nothing nourishes more than You, Lord Jesus, in Your Eucharist, and in Your Word. Let me receive You always, to be sanctified by Your Spirit, and be inspired and strengthened for the work ahead. Thank You, Father for our Daily Bread. Amen.

Looking for Jesus

John 6: 22-29

Acts 6:8-15 / Psa 119

In all truth I tell you, you are looking for me not because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.
(John 6:26)

Not on the things of this world,

But on the next must we be intent;

“This is the work of the Lord,

That (we) believe in the One He sent.”

The next day, the crowd that had stayed on the other side saw that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not got into the boat with His disciples, but that the disciples had set off by themselves. Other boats, however, had put in from Tiberias, near the place where the bread had been eaten. When the people saw that neither Jesus nor His disciples were there, they got into those boats and crossed to Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found Him on the other side, they said to Him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered: “In all truth I tell you, you are looking for me not because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat. Do not work for food that perishes, but work for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him the Father, God Himself, has set His seal. Then they said to Him, “What must we do if we are to accomplish the work of God?” Jesus gave them this answer, “This is the work of God: that you must believe in the One He has sent.” (John 6:22-29)

Reflection

Today’s Gospel passage should make us question our motive in seeking a spiritual experience in our life. Is it because we feel an emptiness within that craves for some higher Power to give meaning to our dull existence? Or are we burdened by some problem(s) or difficulties that we feel are beyond our capability to resolve or endure? Or do we seek Jesus because we believe that He will supply all our needs, like the Jews who went to all the trouble looking for Him because they had “all the bread (they) wanted to eat”? (A false faith based on the “Prosperity Principle”.) If any of the above is our reason for seeking Jesus, then we have not yet built the foundation of our “house” on a rock. When Jesus saw His first two disciples following Him, He asked them, “What are you looking for?” (Jn.1:38) Our Lord knew that His disciples initially had misguided motives for following Him. It was only after the Holy Spirit had apportioned God’s wisdom to each one of them on Pentecost that they discovered the most important purpose in their life – to seek the kingdom of heaven.

In the first reading, we read about St. Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, who performed great wonders and signs among the people. The Jews who argued with him could not stand up against the wisdom the Holy Spirit had given him. (Acts 6:8-10). Unlike the apostles, he never met Jesus in the flesh, but his faith in Jesus was so strong that he was willing to die for Him, thus becoming the first Christian martyr. Like St. Stephen, our motive for seeking Jesus should be because we want to be like Him — generous, faithful, forgiving (even when his enemies stoned him to death), and full of trust in God’s will. Nothing in this life is more important than dedicating our life to Jesus. He said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 10:39). He also said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well” (Mt.6:33).

Dear God, please help us to keep our vision focused intently on Jesus, our Savior, so that we may imitate Him all the days of our life. Come, Holy Spirit, inspire us and help us be guided by Your Word, so that we may be worthy followers of Jesus. Amen.