8.5.18. Sun. wk 18 – O.T. – B
Exodus 16: 2 – 4,12 – 15
Ephesians 4: 17, 20 – 24
Gospel of John 6: 24 – 35
Homily: Fr. Mike Murphy The Lord in the Present
Oh – the good old days! How we all long for simpler times, not so complicated – as they are in the 21st century. There is a romanticism that comes with the past. This is especially true when we are in the midst of some present conflict or struggle. We long for a time when life was simpler and easier.
This was the experience of the Israelites during the Exodus. The people were in a nostalgic mood during the difficult days in the desert, and they were longing for their old life. “Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you, Moses, had to lead us into the desert to make the whole community die of famine”! (Ex.16:2-4)
The people had forgotten that the bread and fleshpots they longed for – came at a price. That price was slavery and hard labor. The Lord had freed them, as His chosen people, but they were not in a grateful mood. They had become resentful of what God had done for them. They didn’t understand that the Lord was calling them to a new life, a new covenant with them. It would undo all the old covenants. They didn’t get it!
This call to a new life is before all of us – as well. †Jesus said during the ‘Sermon on The Mount’: “You must be perfected as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt.5:48) (In the Greek, in which the Gospels were originally written – that word ‘perfected’ is in the aorist tense – which is a progressive tense – which means – the time is coming – there is movement toward a future fulfillment.) But too often we choose the comforts and the familiarity of the past. But there comes a time we have to leave the past behind – we have to strive to change our life so that we can embrace our call to holiness – so we can be saints. Life is not meant to be lived pining for the ‘Good Old Days’ – reminiscing about a former way of life – because God’s Grace is not available in the past. If we did not embrace God’s Grace in the past – those are missed moments of Grace – it is too late to recover them. God is not in the past and neither is His Grace.
In the 2nd Letter to the Corinthians St. Paul warns: “We appeal to you not to receive the Grace of God in vain…Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation”. (2 Cor. 6:1ff) Every day is a new day and there are Grace-filled opportunities waiting for us. We need to seek out these opportunities and not circle the wagons because we are comfortable where we are.
The Psalmist cries out in Psalm 118: “This is the day the Lord has made,
Let us rejoice and be glad”. (vs.24)
Not: ‘Yesterday is the day the Lord has made’… but… “This is the day”.
It is very easy to get caught up in the past. We look back with sentimental longing for what used to be. There is nothing wrong with nostalgia – the problem is – we can become fossilized in the past to where we are not open to discern God’s will for us – now – in the moment. God’s Grace is only available to us in the moment. But if we become fossilized by the past – we cannot receive His Grace.
Romanticizing the past also creates a false standard to measure present happiness. Nostalgia rarely gives us a truthful and an objective standard of life. When we are caught in the past – it is very easy to fall into the abyss of resentment – we become bitter about the present – we don’t like where we are right now because we are living too much in the past. Simply look at the political atmosphere in this country today. There is so much anger – because many want to live in an idealized past – rather than looking for solutions to current problems and moving forward.
†Jesus said to the crowds that were following Him in the Gospel: “You are looking for me – not because you saw signs – but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes – but for food that endures for eternal life”. (Jn.6:26) They were looking at the past when †Jesus had multiplied the loaves and fish. What they wanted from †Jesus now – was food – like He gave them in the past – they were hungry. But †Jesus was not there to give them manna – He came to offer them the “Bread of Life” – giving Himself for them in sacrifice – so that they could have eternal life. †Jesus was offering them a new covenant. Manna would not sustain them for the journey to holiness. Only His Body and Blood would sustain them for that journey.
St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “Put away your old self and your former way of life…and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way of righteousness and holiness of truth”. (Eph.4:34f) Not your old way – but “God’s way” that is discovered anew in every moment. The way to holiness – the way to sanctity – is not behind us – it is ahead of us – daily growing in the image and likeness of God. The bread that †Jesus gives us is food for that journey, and this food gives life to the world – food that endures to eternal life. What is that food? It is “Divine Agape” – “Divine Love”.
This is at the heart of holiness: “To love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, all our mind and to love our neighbor as our self”. (Matt.22:36ff) That’s the heart of holiness. “Divine Love” strengthens us and conforms us; conforms our life to the Gospel.
So – are there any saints here in the congregation today? No? O. K. So – sanctity is not behind us – it’s ahead of us. We are all ‘Saints in Training’ – moving forward. If we want to be a saint – sanctity is not behind us – it’s ahead of us.
Living the Gospel of “Divine Love” is very difficult. It is tempting to retreat into our past ways – when life becomes challenging. Jean Donovan was tempted in this way. Some of you might remember that name from 1980. She was a Catholic laywoman from Cleveland who was murdered in El Salvador along with two nuns. You might remember her. They took these two nuns and Jean – and drove them outside of San Salvador, raped them, murdered them and then threw them into a shallow grave. Shortly before her death she wrote this in a letter to a friend:
“Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could – except for the children –
the poor bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so
staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear
friend, not mine”.
Jean Donovan’s commitment to “Divine Love” – in the face of danger and death squads was the bread that she shared. And like †Jesus, her death gave life to others – because her desire to love others was greater than her nostalgic memory of returning safely back to the United States and to her home in Cleveland.
If the ‘Bread of Life’ that you receive today does not change you – if it does not lead you forward to greater acts of love and kindness and generosity – you will not grow in holiness. You will not be a saint. †Jesus has offered us something that no one else can give us – “The Bread of Life from the very Hand of God”. That’s what you receive today in the Eucharist. This Bread will give you life – and life to the full – if you allow it to. Do not pine for what you missed in the past. †Jesus said to the crowd: “Do not work for food that perishes – but for food that endures to eternal life…This is the work of God: That you believe in the One He sent”. (JN.6:27,29)
Strive for a life of holiness, purity, and truth; a life of mercy, and goodness and love. And that means: ‘Stop obsessing over past sins and past failures or past hurts’. Stop living in the past. Seek God’s forgiveness – NOW, and move forward – not turning back. Remember Lot’s wife – as she was leaving Sodom – she turned back to look at what she was leaving behind and she turned into a pillar of salt. To retreat to the past is to stop living.
Let’s get to God’s work today – the work of “Divine Agape”.
Now is the acceptable time.
Now is the day of salvation
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.