The Bread of Life and the Grace Elevator
User’s Guide to Sunday, Aug. 1
Sunday, Aug. 1, is the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass Readings: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15; Ps 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54; Ephesians 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35.
“Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!” (Exodus 16:3) The readings for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time begins with the Israelites, who have spent generations under slavery crying out to the Lord for freedom, crying to return to Egypt. At first glance, they sound like ungrateful, whiny people — but then again, they also sound a lot like us.
Like the Israelites who passed through the Red Sea from slavery into freedom, we have passed through the waters of baptism from slavery to original sin to our freedom as children of God. Are we any more grateful? It is not easy to live in this freedom as we pursue holiness through the wilderness of this life.
Do we ever look back at our lives before becoming Catholic or at others who do not share our faith if we were baptized as infants and wish for the pleasures of a life of ignorance of the truth? Ignorance is bliss, as they say. Knowing the truth that God created us for life with him changes everything. And while we know it is for our ultimate happiness and good to strive to overcome our sinful inclinations and to draw close to God, it is a lot of hard work; that is, if we do it alone.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux describes herself in The Story of a Soul in Manuscript C as an imperfect human with no ability to become holy without the Lord. When she heard about the invention of the elevator, she realized that the arms of Jesus must be an elevator to lift us up to heaven. We find this elevator of grace through receiving the sacraments.
The Lord heard the desire of the Israelites in the wilderness to go back to Egypt. Instead of returning them to their place of slavery, he sent them “bread from heaven.” Psalm 78 for this Sunday recalls this blessing from the Lord, who “commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven” and “rained manna upon them for food” so they could eat “the bread of angels.” The manna prefigures the Eucharist, which Jesus speaks about in the Gospel of John (John 6:24-35).
John tells of the people who ate of the five loaves and two fish that Jesus multiplied in the Gospel from last Sunday that have followed after Jesus across the sea. He has filled one kind of hunger, and he wants to feed their spiritual hunger, as well. Jesus promises “the bread of God,” which “comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33) The people ask for this bread, and he responds,
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35).
Jesus shows that the manna God sent was to prepare us for the true “bread of the angels” that is Jesus’ own flesh and blood, which he gave to us in the Eucharist. This bread of life is our avenue, or elevator, of grace to help us through the wildernesses of this life. Jesus gives it to us so that we can put away our old self and former way of live and put on our new self, “created in God’s way” as St. Paul teaches us in the second reading for this Sunday (Ephesians 4:17, 20-24).
Like St. Thérèse, we are all too little to get to heaven alone and need all the help we can get. So, when we feel like giving up and whining, let us instead throw ourselves into the arms of Jesus, who is the Bread of Life. He will raise us to the promised land.