Hunger for Bread and for God

User's Guide to Sunday, Aug. 2


Sunday, Aug. 2, is the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time.


Mass Readings

Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Psalm 78:3-4, 23-25, 54; John 6:24-35


My Take

Today’s readings explain something of what Blessed John Henry Newman had in mind when he prayed: “I pray Thee not to make me rich; I pray Thee not to make me very poor.”

The Gospel shows the unintended consequences of last Sunday’s story of Jesus feeding the multitude. Jesus took pity on them and fed them; they responded by following him around, expecting more food. “You are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled,” Jesus says. “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” He is gearing up to tell them about the Eucharist, the bread of heaven, but first he needs to deal with their desire for regular old bread.

Our first reading describes their predicament: In it, the Israelites grumble. Freed by the Lord and on the way to the Promised Land, they wish they were slaves again. They would rather be under the rule of the Egyptians and have fleshpots and bread than to be the Chosen People of God, free and hungry.

God gives them manna in the desert, just as Jesus would later give them bread. But both lead them to question God once again — the Israelites next long for Egypt’s water to drink; Jesus’ followers long for daily bread that they don’t have to work for.

Often, we are no different and no better. We easily give up a little of our Catholic identity for material gain; and we lose our Christian edge once we are satisfied and happy. Perhaps we have to hide our faith to get ahead at work. Perhaps we accept that we should be a little bit embarrassed about being Catholic. And then, once we have succeeded, we spend a little more than we should on entertainment, recreation and keeping up with the neighbors — and find that we no longer have enough to give to those in need. This is why Blessed Newman prays neither to be rich nor very poor. Both states leave us willing to give up what is most important for material goods.

In Peru in 1983, St. John Paul II warned: “I wish that you may no longer be hungry for bread, but that you may still be hungry for God.” He also said: “This hunger constitutes a great richness, a richness of the poor that must not be lost through any program. You cannot replace the goodness of God with any other worldly goods. So you who are hungry, I wish you an ever greater hunger for God.”

St. Paul describes the process in the second reading: “Put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” This can be our prayer. That we become new; that we no longer work for food that perishes, but for eternal life. We can pray with Newman: “Give me what is good for me. … Take from me whatever may imperil my salvation.”

Tom Hoopes is writer in

residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas,

where he lives with April, his wife and in-house

theologian and consultant, and their children.