To the request that Jesus would always give us the true bread from heaven, He replies: ‘I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to Me will never hunger (crave, be needy), whoever believes in Me will never thirst.’
How are we to understand this emphatic reply and this very great promise?
Obviously we get hungry and thirsty every day, otherwise we wouldn’t be motivated to eat and drink. Most of us don’t experience the poverty or the extreme environmental conditions that produce the deepest levels of hunger and thirst. But those who have experienced being reduced to such desperate levels never forget it - and are often haunted by those memories.
At those desperate levels, people become willing to do desperate things to satisfy those intense cravings, and will accept poor substitutes for true food and drink (eg rats and urine).
So what kind of hunger and thirst is Jesus talking about?
Could it be emotional hunger, spiritual hunger, or something else?
- Internet searches reveal that hungers of the heart include:
- Meaning and purpose in life
- Commitment and connection to something greater, something worthwhile in life
- Relationships of quality and depth
- Healing from life’s hurts
- To be listened to, and to be really heard
- To be loved and appreciated
- To be accepted for who we are, and not just for what we do, or what we can do
- To belong
- Yearning for times of solitude
- Desire for deep peace, on the inside, and with everyone else, especially those closest to us
There is an emptiness in our hearts that nothing in this material world can fill.
Often the more material things we have, including success, the deeper that emptiness feels. Many biographies include something along the lines of ‘I thought that if I got to the pinnacle of …… that this would make me happy; but it didn’t; I felt more lost and empty than ever’.
Here’s where those famous words of St Augustine make sense:
Great are You, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise; Your power is immense, and Your wisdom beyond reckoning. And so we men, who are a due part of Your creation, long to praise You – we also carry our mortality about with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that You thwart the proud. You arouse us so that praising You may bring us joy, because You have made us and drawn us to Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.
Other spiritual writers talk about a God shaped hole in our hearts, that can only be truly filled by Him, and Him alone.
Nothing else suffices, nothing else satisfies.
We do try and stuff that hole with sport, entertainment, work, partying, marriage, family, possessions, success, music, gardening, politics, study, and with addictively dangerous things too.
But nothing fills that hole except God Himself.
Experiences of God help fill that hole better than everything else, but experiences are fleeting, and as nothing compared to God Himself.
Experiences of God give us only a taste of Him; and leave us craving for more.
Let’s remind ourselves of the kind of bread that Jesus wants to be for us. Those barley loaves were fresh, tasty, nourishing; crunchy on the outside, and satisfyingly a little chewy on the inside; the solid kind of bread an army can march on, the kind of bread that provides the essential nourishment for daily life, and the base upon which everything else is ‘icing on top’.
Only the real thing, the real God-thing satisfies; and that God-thing has been generously lavished upon us the Eucharist – in Jesus incarnate under the forms of consecrated bread and wine.
This is Himself, whole and entire, body, soul, blood and divinity, available to us whenever we come to Him through reception of Holy Communion.
Sacramental Holy Communion is the greatest gift God can give us - because it is Himself.
Spiritual Holy Communion, through which we express our longing, consciously or unconsciously, for the fullness of sacramental Holy Communion, is a real but partial participation through desire in that full reality.
During lockdown many of us have rediscovered spiritual communion through the prayers that are often provided at online Masses. There are many such prayers, usually written by Saints, used at those online Masses, but even our own prayers of the heart expressing our desire for sacramental union with Him are acceptable in His sight.
Over the years I have listened to my protestant brothers and sisters talk about how deeply meaningful and how profoundly they have been moved in their hearts on those Sundays when they have Communion in accordance with the various ordinances of their faith communities; and even (shudder) they ‘take’ communion outside those rites and ordinances. What they have been experiencing is spiritual communion; and it is real, valuable, grace-filled, yet it falls short of the fullness of sacramental communion.
Is it possible for a well made spiritual communion to be more grace-giving than a poorly made sacramental communion? Yes it is, but it wouldn’t happen very often.
In this way is Jesus our Bread of Life.
In this way Jesus satisfies the deepest hunger of our souls.
In the Eucharist.
That’s the Bread of Life, the kind of daily bread we primarily pray for unceasingly in the Our Father; a prayer that includes seeking God’s providence for all our other daily needs as well.
Lord Jesus, please give us that Bread, Your sacramental self, always. Please Lord may we never be deprived of You in sacramental Holy Communion via lockdown conditions – or any other conditions - ever again! May all the deprivations we face, and have faced, through pandemic lockdowns, only serve to awaken in us deeper hunger for You; deeper hunger for Your Eucharist, deeper hunger for You in the Eucharist, because absolutely nothing else can truly satisfy our hungry and thirsty hearts. Please Lord Jesus, lead our precious brothers and sisters in faith to full communion with You in the Holy Eucharist, please take away all the obstacles that are preventing their loving hearts from receiving You in full sacramental Communion. Amen.