Listen to this courageous promise made by the Israelites: “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods.” (Joshua 24:14) That is just grand.
However, listen also to this: “The Israelites offended the LORD by serving the Baals. Abandoning the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had led them out of the land of Egypt, they followed the other gods of the various nations around them, and by their worship of these gods provoked the LORD.” (Judges 2:11-12)
Once in a while, throughout the Old Testament, there are summaries similar to these. Let us move to the New Testament now and see if things might have improved.
Simon Peter answered him: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
Those are excellent, inspired and inspiring words uttered by the mouth of Simon Peter, the first Pope. However, we know that although these were very sincere words, coming from his heart, they were not always backed up by corresponding deeds. Simon Peter, even if convinced that Jesus was the Holy One of God, would deny him in front of a few people warming up in the courtyard of the high priest and before an insignificant slave girl.
My dear friends in Christ, this is the fifth and conclusive reflection on Jesus as Bread of Life, whom the Father sends down from heaven at each Mass we celebrate together by setting up for us two tables: the table of Jesus as Word of Life and the table of the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
What we are forced to face, today, is the painful truth of our human frailty and inconsistency. Our human frailty and inconsistency hit us as the result of what Jesus sets before us at the table of the Word of Life.
At the table of the Blessed Sacrament we can fool ourselves egregiously and repeatedly because Jesus humbles himself so much under the species of simple bread and wine that some, at times we included, get used to receiving him in Holy Communion without deep-seated longing. This most holy encounter, when we should feel “possessed” by our God abiding in us, and thus made capable of incredible feats of self-sacrifice, falls victim, instead, to a pious habit which fails to stir us, intensely, from within.
Not so at the table of the Word of Life: Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
Hence, even a partial, halfhearted listening to the Word is so penetrating that a choice is made in favor or against it.
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (John 6:60)…As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. (John 6:66)
That is not our case.
Almost every time we feed at the table of the Word, we allow his Words of life to penetrate between our soul and spirit, joints and marrow. However, the responses that we give vary in intensity, sincerity and resolve.
Often they might be barely enough to prompt a decent resolution. And even when we are moved by Words of life, the decision we reach might be a decision that is short lived.
Let us face it: we are not much better than the Israelites of old and, certainly, not better than our first Pope. This, regardless of our promises and acts of consecration, and all our spiritual devotions that we favor and keep making at set intervals.
I know that some of you are skeptical of what I have just pointed out from the set of readings given us on the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time. To them it must seem silly and unorthodox that a priest would say that, without a personal and deliberate adherence to the Word of God, Holy Communion is made practically “powerless” to help us. So, let me try to convince them by appealing to their honesty.
It has happened to all of us, and more than once, for sure! There are times in which we feel particular warmth inside; we whisper sweet words of love to Jesus whom we have just received in Holy Communion and, then, even before we step outside, we might be already judging someone, condemning another. Then, we might get upset with some jerks or reckless drivers on the way home, where we might resume the arguing and nagging and bickering that we were having with our spouse or children before coming here to fulfill our Sunday obligation, and act with so much outward piety and devotion.
In such cases, weren’t ours just words; not much more than empty words laced with hollow promises held together by skin-deep devotions? Remember, even Simon Peter who said the following beautiful words: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Faltered!
You might wonder how and why I hit this nail right on its head. It is because I am in the same boat with you, with the Israelites of old, St. Peter and countless others followers of Christ. The only suggestion, on which we should all work, so that we may profit from Jesus at the table of the Word, is a combination of expectation and deep reflection.
Routinely, we should build up longing and expectation in view of listening to the Lord and we should also carve out, preferably at home, daily periods of silent, prolonged reflections on the Word proffered to us. I wish to myself and to all of you to be so embarrassed by our luke-warmness that we won’t waste another opportunity to be transformed by the Holy One of God who, alone, has Words of eternal life.