This Sunday's Gospel shows us what happens when we're unwilling to go beyond what we think we know.
Jesus said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.”—John 6:43-44
Years ago, when I was about 12 years old, I found an old pre-Vatican II prayer book in my grandmother’s cedar chest. Although I had gone to church growing up, I wasn’t yet Catholic and I was intrigued by the pictures and information about the different seasons of the Church year that I found in that old book. Most especially, I was drawn to the brief biographies of the saints. No one could have guessed then that those two- and three-sentence stories would have a profound impact on the course of my life. And now, at 40, I’m still drawn to the saints. Although my interest and devotion have matured over time, I still treasure their stories and the truths they have to teach us today.
One of the great lessons these holy women, men, and children offer us is that faith is expansive. It looks beyond what is right in front of us, seeing how God is present and at work in every person and every event of our daily lives. Part of faith is being able to recognize this Presence in family and friends, beautiful landscapes, inspiring works of art, and in peace-filled moments of grace.
Faith also helps us find God in the poor and vulnerable, in moments of grief and doubt, and in countless unexpected places. These truths pervade the stories and novels of Catholic writers like Flannery O’Conner, Walker Percy, Rumer Godden, and Graham Greene—with his “Whiskey Priest” in The Power and the Glory and the unlikely “saint” Sarah in The End of the Affair—as they use their literary skill to hold up a mirror to human experience, helping us to look deeper into our own stories, recognizing how our stories and God’s story are intimately intertwined.
In our world today, religious faith is sometimes dismissed as something that makes people rigid and small-minded. Unfortunately, there are too many examples of violent and hateful acts done in the name of God and faith. Recent weeks have also reminded us, again, of how religious structures or leaders can sometimes allow abuse and exploitation to take place. But, in the words of this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus challenges these narrow and jaded impressions of faith.
After the people in the crowd hear Jesus describe himself as the “Bread of Life” they begin to murmur. They were offended that he thought so much of himself. After all, how could the son of a carpenter—someone whom they knew—say “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father”?
The people murmured because they could not get beyond their own beliefs about God’s ways and their understanding of who Jesus was. This limited vision caused many to simply walk away. They weren’t willing to look and see with the eyes of faith.
Faith expands our vision. It is faith that allows us to look beyond the ink on the pages of Scripture to discern how God’s Word is living and active today (cf. Hebrews 4:12). It is faith that empowers us to recognize the face of God in the poor and the abused. Finally, it is faith that enables us to recognize the Real Presence of Christ himself—the Bread of Life—from the bread and wine brought to the altar.
How have you placed limits on God in the past?When has God surprised you or challenged the limits of your faith? What are you being invited to see in a new way today?
Words of Wisdom: “What faith opens up for us is this bread mediating the living presence of Jesus Christ who fills our lives with deepest meaning and purpose. What we experience, with faith, in the ritual of the Mass, is the act in which Jesus offers his life to the Father for love of us, an action into which our lives are taken up.”—Fr. Anthony Oelrich in Feeding on the Bread of Life: Preaching and Praying John 6