“Sir, give us this bread always.” You can hear the longing in those words as those words in today’s Gospel were being proclaimed. It’s hard not to think that for countless numbers of Catholics around the world they will resonate in a way like never before. Here in New Jersey we’ve had the equivalent of a season of Lent now – its been over 45 days since the faithful have been able to attend Mass. Just talking to people, reading your comments and messages, it’s hard not to hear the pain that so many are experiencing. In some ways, many are experiencing the stages of grief – experiencing feelings of shock, denial, anger, bargaining over not being able to get to Mass … which is only amplified when we see and hear of our everyday realities: people experiencing losses of jobs, uncertainty about the future… when we learn of friends of ours losing loved ones themselves – as we here at Newman mourn with one of our former student leaders, over the death of her father Peter Cannone who just passed away on Saturday from the coronavirus.
For most of us, for most of our lives, we’ve learned, we’ve experienced going through these periods, these seasons of grief in our lives – that coming here, coming to Mass, coming to receive this bread of life that is Jesus Himself provides comfort that helps us get through another day. So this isolation we’re feeling from one another and experiencing from receiving the Eucharistic Lord is another cruelty that’s been visited upon us.
For the crowd in today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals to them in explicit terms that this “bread of life” isn’t going to be a mysterious, divinely delivered manna falling from the sky that their ancestors once fed on. But, in fact Jesus’ actual, His real body and blood. We will hear later this week- that for “many” of them they will be repulsed by the idea, reject he notion. They cannot see, they cannot believe this is even possible and find this a departing line. So that “longing” that we heard will be very short lived for them.
But not for us. For us who have heard and come to see, come to believe, come to know Jesus in an intimate, personal way – in our receiving His Body and Blood in the Eucharist – this longing has only intensified with each passing day, with each new difficulty and real suffering we’ve experienced. Rather than deny it or try to pretend that the “Spiritual Act of Communion” is an adequate substitute, I think it’s rather an invitation for us in our prayer.
Oftentimes when I’m counseling people who are grieving, they almost need permission to be honest, to be frank with God. To just let it out – “God this stinks” – or whatever words come naturally for you. (I’m using stinks because with my mother watching this, I don’t want to get yelled at later). But just to bare our soul and acknowledge the raw, emotional things that are there… Knowing that the Lord prefers heartfelt, honest conversation when it comes to our prayers. Which means we have to be open and honest – and then receptive in listening to Him.
If we just can be more honest and reflective, then we can turn this longing to give us a greater vision. He’s a very creative God who isn’t limited by social distancing directives or lockdown orders. He loves and cares for us… He hears us when we call, He attends to our cries. He hasn’t abandoned or forgotten us. Think back to whenever it was, the last time you received communion- that miracle has not been negated by this unprecedented obstacle to your receiving Him now. Nor has his nearness, closeness, and real presence left us. May we allow our eyes and hearts of faith to recognize those truths and rejoice that He does give us this bread always…