2 Aug 2015
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
It’s a phrase we hear all the time as Catholics: the “bread of life.” Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” In our prayers at the offertory, we pray that the bread becomes the “bread of life.” And in the desert, God sent down “bread from heaven,” which “gives life to the world.” But the “bread of life” isn’t bread.
If it is bread, the Israelites would’ve recognized the manna as bread. But they didn’t. They looked at the manna on the ground and said, “What’s this?” When Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the bread of life,” their response was: “What? What did he say?” The “bread of life” isn’t bread. Instead, it’s something God gives us for guidance in how to live.
It fills us up—spiritually—and satisfies us; and in that way, it’s like bread. The “bread of life” is spiritual food—however it comes to us. Whether it’s the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, or music or art that lifts our souls, or some teaching the Lord gives us. There are lots of ways the “bread of life” comes to us. And I imagine sometimes our response to it sounds like something the Israelites would say: “What’s that? I don’t know if I want that.” That happens especially when the “bread of life” comes into the form of a truth which challenges our way of thinking or believing.
Remember, God said he gave the Israelites manna to test them, to see if they would be faithful to him. And what the Israelites came to recognize as the true manna was the Law of Moses, the first five books of the Bible. It’s interesting that they went from despising Moses and questioning the manna to embracing Moses and eating up whatever God gave them. The manna, the bread of life from God, tested them and fed them spiritually.
And that’s like a lot of challenges in life. Maybe you started a new job that you’re not really excited about. Maybe a friend told you something about yourself that you don’t want to hear. Who knows . . . there’s a million challenges in life . . . and some of them are, for us, the “bread of life.” They’re a test and they can feed us, spiritually—if we can get past that initial question: “What is this? I don’t know if I like that.”
Often times, the “bread of life” comes to us as a truth that challenges our way of thinking. And in recent weeks and years, the issue of the nature of marriage has been a significant challenge. As our country has been wandering through the desert, like the ancient Israelites, argument about what to do, God sent down some “bread of life” from heaven. He gives us some basic truths of who we are as his creatures in order to guide us.
And one piece of the “bread of life” God gives us to chew on are the physical and biological truths of the human body. He also gives us some truths about love and affection. And, together, the “bread of life” God gives—the truth he gives as the Creator—is that marriage can only happen between a man and a woman. It’s not a matter of gay marriage being right or wrong . . . it’s a matter of gay marriage not being possible.
And I imagine that most everybody here just had an immediate reaction to that manna from heaven, that truth that about our human nature which challenges us. The “bread of life” can be a rather jarring thing when it’s pointed out. But, again, God gives the “bread of life” not only as spiritual food, but also as a test.
And the test that comes with this particular “bread of life” is this: Will you let God be God? That’s the test we’re faced with every time we hear a truth we may or may not agree with. Will you let God be God on this?
Now, we already know the Supreme Court’s answer to that test; we know their answer to the “bread of life.” Their answer is: No. No, we will not let God be God. And there are millions of our fellow Americans and fellow Catholics whose answer is the same: No. No, we will not let God be God on this issue.
And, in response, God simply showers down more manna from heaven to try to feed the people, spiritually—not like a heavy blizzard or a torrential rain to wash us away. But just a gentle, continuous shower of the “bread of life” from heaven; an ongoing revelation of the simple truth of his creation in the hopes that people will be fed and come to real life and happiness—for both heterosexuals and homosexuals.
But part of God’s creation is the basic truth that we’re each made to love. That’s a piece of the “bread of life” most everybody can chew on and accept very easily. We’re made to love others; it doesn’t matter who we are. That’s a basic truth and it’s a beautiful truth of our human nature. But this particular bit of truth, this piece of the “bread of life,” has lots of whole grains in it—there are several kinds of love.
[We see in God’s creation that there’s filial love—you know, between siblings and between parents and their children. And there’s erotic love, which makes us find fulfillment in other things, other people. There’s spousal love—the love between a male and female which makes co-creators with God through the gift of children. And then there’s agápe love—or self-giving, sacrificial love. That’s the love we see on the Cross. And that’s the love which every human being is made to enjoy: agápe love.
And then there’s friendship, which can be a kind of love—especially the kind of friendship our Catholic Tradition calls the “disinterested” friendship. It’s kind of a strange term. But it doesn’t mean that a friend is apathetic and uncaring. It means that those friends put aside their own personal interests out of care and love for the other. And this kind of friendship is like agápe love. It’s a friendship where each person says to the other, “I accept you and love you for who you are. And I’ll do anything for you.”
When two people, whether they’re heterosexual or homosexual, male or female, when any two people have that kind of depth of relationship in the soul, we see them as experiencing that most perfect of friendships—that friendship which is a living image of divine and sacrificial love—not erotic love, not filial love, not spousal love, but agápe love.
And so, it’s understandable why anybody who experiences this kind of love, this kind of soul-penetrating friendship might desire to be married . . . because that kind of love is very definitely part of what marriage. Marriage is a commitment to another person for life, for richer for poorer, in good times and in bad until death do they part.]
And all these basic truths about love and friendship are all manna from heaven; they’re all pieces of the “bread of life” for us to chew on as a test of our fidelity to God’s ways. And another bit of truth is that [love is not the same as marriage: it’s a part of marriage, obviously; but it’s not marriage itself. And marriage is not love.]
And this piece of the “bread of life,” this bit of truth, can be a real test for some people. Again, it’s a test which asks: Will you let God be God . . . because God would say, “I myself am love. I am not marriage—I made marriage for humanity.” The test with this spiritual food from heaven is: Will you simply accept God as the One who knows? Because if we can do that, the “bread of life” which is God’s wisdom can teach us a lot. For instance: the way things are created.
[Sometimes things are what they are because the Church teaches it. You know, like a little kid who says, “Dad, why do I have to do this?” And dad says, “Because I said so.” When we look at the ritual of marriage—the procession, the readings, the rings, and who stands where—the ritual of marriage is what it is because the Church teaches it to be that way. The Church is the creator of the marriage ritual.
But sometimes God speaks and things are what they are. The Ten Commandments are a good example. “Thou shall not kill.” The Church hears that and upholds it; but the Church doesn’t create that law; God creates that law for humanity and puts it into our soul.
And sometimes things are what they are because God has simply created them to be that way. The laws of physics, the laws of nature are good examples. We look at the law of gravity, or the way that elements on the periodic table react with one another, or—when it comes to human life—the need for one egg and one sperm to make a new human being.]
We look at those laws of nature and say: “We did not create how all that works, and we’re completely incapable of changing it. No amount of legislation, no amount of debate or persuasion can change those laws of nature. Again, that bit of truth—that piece of the “bread of life” is a test; a test which asks: Will you let God be God?
[The marriage debate isn’t about anything the Church teaches. The nature of marriage is not what it is because the Church teaches it. No human being—not even the Church—creates the nature of anything. That’s left up to God alone, to the Creator alone.
And that’s important to keep in mind because, for many people, the “Church” has no authority whatsoever. But, you know, they don’t even have to listen to the Church to see what we’re talking about. An atheist can see the physical and sexual complementarity of a male and female. There’s no other way that human life can come about. It doesn’t take faith of any kind to see that.
But, as we know, there’s more to the nature of marriage than procreation. There’s also love. And love takes many forms, as we know: filial love, spousal love, erotic love, and agápe/self-giving love. Love happens in both men and women, in both heterosexuals and homosexuals. It happens in the hearts and minds of the saints. It happens in everyday people living their everyday lives. It happens in the clergy and in religious sisters and brothers.] Love is all over the place, and it takes a lot of different forms.
[But marriage, by its created nature, can take only one form. Marriage isn’t only about love; it’s also (and more fundamentally) about union. It’s about a total and complete union between two people. And this union is spiritual, emotional, psychological, sexual, and physical. And such a total and complete union is built into the nature of man and woman.]
But, getting back to love, there are many of our friends who are homosexual, and who sincerely love others with a selfless heart. And that is, perhaps, another piece of the “bread of life” given for us to chew on. Some people might hear that and, like the ancient Israelites, say, “What’s that? I don’t buy that.” But perhaps that “disinterested” friendship and self-gift that might exist between two people of the same gender is a piece of manna. It’s a certainly something to chew on; something to test us and our fidelity to God’s providence.
But that is for another day. The debate over marriage isn’t about love—even the best and most perfect love. It’s about the nature of a union; a nature which no human being ever created nor can ever change. And the basic truth of that—that God is the Creator of marriage, not us—is the manna, the “bread of life,” the test given to our world today.
The Supreme Court and many of our fellow citizens have already rejected the “bread of life” on the subject of marriage and love. And so they keep wandering in the desert, feeding off the perishable bread that is their own ideas of what should be. And we can either wander in the desert with them, or we chew on these bits and pieces of the “bread of life” about who we are as human beings—men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals—made in the image of God our Creator who is love.
God lays before us the “bread of life.” He lays before us some basic truths of who we are as his creations. And he says, “Come, eat and be satisfied. Let me be God for you.”