Tuesday: April 21, 2015 –– Third Week of Easter
The Bread of Life
Rationality is one of the ways humans are “special” creation in the image of God. Because of sin, rationality is now both a strength and weakness. Human rationality has given us the scientific method with the resulting technological marvels which so enhance our lives today. On the other hand, our gift of rationality brings a distortion to our broken spirits so that we tend to make explanation and understanding the dominant criteria for total acceptance.
This even effects the Christian community. An otherwise good desire for understanding can become an autonomous spirit that demands “where is that in the Bible?” or, even worse, denying elements of the supernatural because secular conditioning has become so pervasive in our culture. Many people who desire to be known as Christians are spiritually crippled because the pride of human reason is stronger in them than a hungry humility to be shaped by the Spirit of God.
A short-circuit has developed that causes a disconnect between what we confess and what we truly (practically) believe in day-to-day life. As an example, I offer the following little exercise in Christian reasoning….
The essence of Christian Faith depends on the Incarnation––the belief that Almighty God entered our world and lived as a single human being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This is the explicit confession of earliest Christianity. St Paul says it like this in his letter to the Colossians:
He is the image of the invisible God.
the first-born of all creatures.
In him everything in heaven and on earth was created,
things visible and invisible.
All were created through him,
all were created for him.
He is before all else that is.
In him everything continues in being. (1:15, 16a, 17)
This is not irrational (granting the total supremacy of God), but it does go beyond human rationality. Even as human rationality has opened modernity to an awareness of the immensity of the universe and the intricacies of molecular structure, Christians believe that the God who created everything in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, was able to “condense” himself and live on earth in the visible embodiment of one human being! And so St Paul, still writing to the Colossians, says it again: In Christ, the fullness of deity resides in bodily form (2:9).
All of this is foundational for what we find Jesus saying today in the Gospel: The bread of God is that which comes down from the heaven and gives life to the world…. I am the bread of life.
Human rationality wants to argue that Jesus is speaking figuratively. The Church, from the beginning, has taught that Jesus is speaking literally (as he himself emphasizes in the concluding words of this sixth chapter of John’s Gospel).
As a Christian who was formed in deep faith outside of the Catholic tradition, I had always embraced the truth of the Incarnation. My journey into what I believe is the fullness of the Faith (which is one way to describe the Catholic Church) brought me to the place of considering what Jesus meant when he said I am the bread of life. I needed some way to process what was becoming more and more clear: that the Church, from the beginning, has taught that Jesus is speaking literally.
At some point I had a personal epiphany: If the God who created everything in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, was able to “condense” himself and live on earth in the visible embodiment of one human being, then is it any more far-fetched to believe that the physical Jesus is able to “condense” himself again and again into what appears to be a mere wafer of bread?
We in the Church have been given a gift that goes beyond rationality. That is the nature of our Faith. (If “god” is no more than what makes sense to our human reason, then we do not believe in God; we only believe in ourselves.)
The bread of God is that which comes down from the heaven and gives life to the world.