Even miracles can seem boring after a while to our petulantly demanding desires.
The first reading for daily Mass on Monday of last week (18th week of the year) was taken from the Book of Numbers. It features the Israelites grumbling about the manna in the wilderness:
Would that we had meat for food! We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt, and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now we are famished; we see nothing before us but this manna (Numbers 11:4-5).
While it is possible for us to marvel at their insolence and ingratitude, the scene presented depicts very common human tendencies. It is not unique to these people once in the desert. Their complaints are too easily our own.
Let’s look at a number of the issues raised and see how it is possible for many of us today to struggle in the same way.
I. They prefer the abundance of food and creature comforts that come along with slavery in Egypt, to the freedom of children of God and the chance to journey to the Promised Land.And this, too easily, is our struggle as well. Jesus points to the Cross, but we prefer the pillow. Heaven is a nice thought, but it is in the future and the journey is a long one.
But we don’t call it bondage. We call it being “relevant,” “modern,” “tolerant,” and “compassionate.” Yes, as we descend into deeper darkness and bondage to sin and our passions, we are pressured to call it “enlightenment,” “choice,” and “freedom.” So, we use other terms, but it is still bondage for the many who fear breaking free from it.
We are in bondage to Egypt, enslaved to Pharaoh. We prefer that to the freedom of the desert, with its difficult journey to a Promised Land (Heaven) we have not yet fully seen. The pleasures of the world, its melons and leeks, are currently displayed and available for immediate enjoyment.
And so the cry still goes up: “Give us melons; give us leeks; give us cucumbers and fleshpots! Away with the desert; away with the Cross; away with the Promised Land, if it exists at all. It is too far off and too hard to get to. Melons and leeks, please. Give us meat; we are tired of manna!”
II. There is boredom with the manna.While its exact composition is mysterious to us, it would seem that manna could be collected, kneaded like dough, and baked like bread. But as such, it was a fairly plain substance. It seems it was meant more to sustain than to be enjoyed.
We are also somewhat like little children who prefer Twinkies and cupcakes to vegetables and other more wholesome foods. Indeed, the Israelites’ boredom with and even repulsion to the miracle food from Heaven does not sound so different from the complaint of many Catholics today that “Mass is boring.”
While it is certainly true that we can work to ensure that the Liturgy reflects the glory it offers, it is also true that God has a fairly stable and consistent diet for us. He exhorts us to stay faithful to the manna: the wholesome food of prayer, Scripture, the Sacraments, and stable, faithful fellowship in union with the Church.
In our fickle spirits, many of us run after the latest fads and movements. Many Catholics say, “Why can’t we be more like the mega-churches with all the latest, including a Starbucks Coffee Café, contemporary music, a rock-star-like pastor delivering sensitive, toned-down preaching with many promises and few demands, and all that jazz?”
But as an old spiritual says regarding this type of person, “Some go to church for to sing and shout, before six months they’s all turned out!” And thus some will leave the Catholic Church and other traditional forms that feature the more routine but stable and steady manner, for the hip and the latest, the melons and leeks. But frequently they find that within six months they’re bored again.
And while the Church is always in need of reform, there is a lot to be said for the slow and steady pace as she journeys through the desert, relying on the less glamorous but more stable and sensible food: the manna of the Eucharist, the Word of God, the Sacred Liturgy, prayer, and fellowship.