The parish church was in the center of town. The parish priest began to notice that every day at 12 noon a man would stop by the church, go inside and after a few minutes would come out. He had never spoken with the man before but was curious about these visits. So one day the priest decided to go over to meet him.
After introducing himself to the man, whose name was Jim, he said: “I notice you stop in for a few minutes every day. What is it that you are doing?” “I’m praying,” Jim replied. “What kind of prayer do you say? It must be short because your visits are pretty quick,” said the priest. Jim replied: “I say ‘Jesus, it’s Jim’ then I leave.”
Some years later Jim was taken ill to the hospital. After several days he was well known on the floor for his affability and kindness to the other patients. One day one of the sisters who worked on that floor stopped in Jim’s room. “Jim, you have made a great difference here during your stay; people here are sick but you make them feel well. You cheer them up. The other patients say you are always happy.”
Jim replied: “Yes, Sister, I am happy; I can’t help being happy. You see it’s my visitor. I see him every day and he makes me happy.” The sister was puzzled; she had never seen anyone coming to visit Jim. “What visitor is that?” she asked. Jim replied, his eyes shining with joy: “Every day, at noon, he comes and stands at the foot of the bed and says: ‘Jim, it’s Jesus.’”
Jim was a man of faith; faith in Christ Jesus. Through a simple but consistent prayer that faith was nourished. Jim believed in Jesus and he found joy and was able to bring that joy to others.
The Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy along with those from the past two weeks has come from the “Bread of Life Discourse” in the Gospel according to John, chapter six. The text begins with the account of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. Jesus demonstrates through a great sign that God provides for his people and that he can act in unexpected ways. This was followed by Jesus’ call for faith in him as the one sent from the Father. He identifies himself as the “Bread of Life.” The passage continues this Sunday.
The call to faith is, once again, central to this passage. The lack of faith, in some, is seen when there were murmurings: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’”
Jesus reiterates his message of being sent from the Father to offer life to those who believe and again calls for faith: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”
At this point, Jesus makes the connection between himself and eternal life: “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Eternal life is made possible through Jesus, specifically in his self-offering — laying down his life in his body “for the life of the world.” We now begin to see that Jesus is leading us to deeper faith in him.
People first began to see Jesus as a prophet, a messenger from God. This is true, he is a prophet. In his ministry we have seen similarities to the prophets of old. Yet there is more with Jesus — he is not merely a prophet for he comes directly from God the Father. Like a prophet he is sent, similar to Elijah in the first reading from Sunday’s liturgy, but there is more. Jesus does not only proclaim the word of God; he is the Word of God (cf. John 1:1ff.). Not only that but he will offer his flesh as a sacrifice and through this sacrifice there will be life.
Jesus calls us to develop our faith in him. In this sense we recognize an ongoing aspect of faith: it can grow stronger with time, effort and the grace of God. It involves a regular response to the call Jesus continually offers. Two ways we might consider as aids to developing our faith are prayer and reception of the Eucharist. Both are ways in which we “taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (cf. Psalm 34).
Prayer is simply a conversation with the Lord. Speaking and listening; praising and thanking; pondering and reflecting. Prayer can be very simple like Jim’s in the story above. It can be more developed through use of the Scriptures and participation in the liturgy.
It can be devotional in form like the rosary, stations of the cross, the Divine Mercy chaplet or novenas. At the heart of all these is an encounter with the Father through Jesus, his Son. In that encounter Jesus leads us to the Father and strengthens us for this journey to life.
Reception of the Eucharist provides us with nourishment for the journey. As the Bread of Life discourse continues the eucharistic references will become more explicit but the theme is already present. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever,” Jesus says.
Eating the bread of life involves believing in Jesus, living according to his word and sharing in his sacrificial offering. This is the food needed to strengthen us for life. In the first reading for today’s liturgy, Elijah is worn out, tired and frustrated. He says: “This is enough, O Lord!” he says. “Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
Sometimes we might feel like that when the burdens of life weigh us down. The Lord provided food for Elijah through the angel. As the passage goes, the angel comes and tells Elijah to eat and drink. He does, but lies down again. The angel then says, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” Elijah rises, eats, drinks then “strengthened by that food, he walked 40 days and 40 nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.” Jesus is the Bread of Life. He himself provides us with food for the journey of life.
Jesus is the “Bread of Life.” He calls us to faith. Through prayer and the reception of the Eucharist we come to know him and his goodness. In him we come to the fullness of life so that with the psalmist we can say: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall ever be in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the Lord; the lowly will hear me and be glad.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.