Looking for Jesus

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18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: Aug. 5, 2012
Exod 16:2-4, 12-15; Ps 78; Eph 4:17, 20-24; John 6:24-35

What brings you to Mass today? Like the crowd in the Gospel reading, each of you has traveled to this place—not by boat, but mostly by car, perhaps a few on foot. And why have you come? Are you looking for Jesus, as they were? If so, where do you expect to find him? And what do you hope to receive from him?

Last week, we heard about Jesus miraculously feeding this crowd of 5000 men, plus women and children—multiplying five loaves and two fish so that they could all have as much as they wanted. And we heard that, after they saw this amazing demonstration of his divine power, they wanted to carry him off to make him king—they hoped that he would be the revolutionary leader who would help them throw off their Roman oppressors and regain their independence. So it is very understandable that, the next day, finding that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there where they were, the crowd went looking for Jesus.

And the first thing that our Lord Jesus addresses is their reason, their motivation. Why are they looking for him? Why have they come? He says: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” The day before they had eaten food; now they’re hoping for more! That’s why they’re looking for him.

It’s not a bad reason. Eating food is necessary to sustain our life as bodily creatures. Christ quite intentionally worked the miracle of the multiplication of loaves in order to enter into this area that they were focused upon; and there, to touch them and demonstrate his power; and so to draw their attention to himself. But now that he’s got their attention, he can begin to redirect it to what they need even more—to the greatest gift that he has to give.

What are the reasons that prompt you to come to Mass, or otherwise to go looking for Jesus?

  • Is it simply to fulfill a command—of your parents (if you’re a young person), or of our Lord through his Church?
  • Do you want to learn something; to gain insight and wisdom; to answer a question?
  • Do you want comfort, consolation, encouragement, motivation, a boost?
  • Are you looking for peace and a moment to reflect?
  • Are you seeking love, acceptance, and forgiveness?
  • Are you asking for help to achieve some goal or get out of some problem?

Whatever your reason for looking for Jesus, he cares about it. He loves you in that reason, and it matters to him.

But he may be seeking to redirect your attention to something to matters even more to you, though you are not focusing upon it right now. He may wish to give you an even greater gift, which you need even more. And so he said to the crowd that day: “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.” And, after some discussion about the manna—the bread-like substance that the Lord had given to the People of Israel like dew from heaven, some 1400 years earlier—he says: “The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Naturally the crowd responds: “Sir, give us this bread always.” And then Christ can hit them with the answer: I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Let me tell you a story. Seven years ago, during my time in seminary, the diocese sent me to a summer spirituality program for seminarians in Omaha, which began with an eight-day silent retreat working through part of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. During those eight days, each day we attended Mass, listened to some talks in the evenings, met for an hour with our personal spiritual director; but, in addition to this, we were to spend four one-hour periods in prayer. Four hours, every day.

How does that sound to you? Does it sound empty or tedious? It was not! It was easily one of the best weeks of my life. Because it is true that our Lord Jesus is the bread of life, and that anyone who comes to him will never hunger. What I heard from him during those eight days, what I received from him, what he healed in me and strengthened in me, was incredible and precious. And I emerged from those eight days truly in love with him.

And, several weeks later, when I was visiting my dad, I told him about it and said: Isn’t this the answer? Don’t we know that, if we will simply bring people into this kind of extended personal contact with the Lord, then he will do for them everything that is needed?

Brothers and sisters, this is what I desire for you. I want you to know the Lord just as deeply as he desires to know you! And I am certain that if you will open yourself, open your heart, to him, he will give you exactly what you need. Not necessarily what you think you want, or what you expect—not necessarily the reason that initially motivates you to look for him—but he will give you everything you deeply and truly need, far beyond what you may realize.

If I would choose just two ways of doing this, I would choose these. First, in coming weeks, as we continue further in this sixth chapter of John, we will hear our Lord Jesus speaking of how he gives us his own flesh and blood in the Eucharist. And this is a very special way of encountering him: not only at Mass, but also outside of Mass, coming to be with him, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. So I urge you to come here, or to another Catholic church, to pray quietly in front of the Tabernacle, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. St. Bart’s is open during every day, so that you can come and make a visit to him. And every weekday morning, between the two morning Masses, 7:30-8:30, we have a Holy Hour with Eucharistic exposition, when you can gaze upon him, and he can gaze upon you.

Second, one of the sacraments is an especially personal and intimate encounter with him. And that is confession, the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. For there, personally, you have the chance to let down the mask and pour out what has been eating at your heart—and receive his personal love for you, his mercy, his forgiveness. Please, at least once a month, come to him in confession.

In prayer and adoration, in confession and forgiveness, come to the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to him will never hunger, and whoever believes in him will never thirst.

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