Sunday, August 2, 2015

You Are What You Eat (revisited)

August 2, 2015 –– 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15 / Ephesians 4:17, 20–24 / John 6:24–35
You Are What You Eat (revisited from 8/19/12)

Every rational person on earth, every day, is making decisions about the most basic issues of meaning and fulfillment. Even subconsciously we all choose the things we think will make us happy. How do we decide what is good for us?

Some think that personal pleasure is high on the list. The physical senses and appetites are strong and we can easily think physical pleasure is the recipe for happiness. The Israelites, hungry and thirsty and feeling their vulnerability in the desert, told Moses: If only we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our kettles of meat and ate our fill of bread! Yet here we are immersed in physical comforts: food choices beyond description, homes that can maintain our ideal temperature, access to medical care that is almost unbelievable…. and beyond the physical, we have options for personal entertainment that are past numbering. Yet how many truly contented people do you know?

Another way of understanding this is self-centeredness––selfishness. Countless people around us believe that if they can always get their own way they will be happy. This can mean cutting others off when they drive. It can mean doing whatever it takes to be at the head of the line. It can mean being deceitful or back-stabbing others to get ahead at work. It simply means living Me first! St Paul identifies this kind of mentality in the second reading when he warns not to live as the Gentiles (or pagans) do, in the futility of their minds….

So, whether it is a hedonistic life indulging the senses…. or a steady ingestion of entertaining distractions to avoid facing the hard issues of life…. or a way of living that “feeds” on trying to be in control…. the underlying truth is simply this: You are what you eat.

Think of the way most people in our culture seem to live. They feed on a steady diet of prime-time entertainment. There is broad acceptance of main-stream media with its assumption of relativism and self-gratification. Then we wonder why so many people are impatient to the point of being mean, feel constant stress, and express cynicism instead of having hope for anything better. There is a disconnect so that cause and effect seem imperceptible. How often do we think: You are what you eat?

It is in this context that we hear St Paul’s words: Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. You are what you eat. So Jesus gives us a different choice that can make all the difference in this world––and for all eternity. He presents the two options clearly: Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you. We are surrounded with voices clamoring for “the food which perishes”, but how do we find “the food which endures to eternal life”? Jesus gives several facets of the answer.

First, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” This is not mere mental assent. This is not taking “Jesus” from our shelf of options when it’s convenient (or when life is inconvenient and we are forced to admit that we need help). Believing in Jesus means taking seriously that Almighty God came into our world as a real human being and both told and showed us what is most important. If we “believe” him, we will not give priority to the food which perishes.

Second, this means a right understanding of what is real and true: “my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” We live in a world that gets “real and true” upside down and backwards. Our world questions whether anything is absolutely true and rejects any authority that questions our “right” to choose as we please, But there is another option: Jesus Christ came down from heaven to give us the truth and show us the way. Only Jesus is able to give life to the world.

As Catholics entrusted with the fullness of Christian Faith, we believe that Jesus gives himself to us in a wonderful and mysterious way: I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. His words become even more explicit as this Bread of Life chapter develops its conclusion. With growing emphasis the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel beckons us to face one thing: You are what you eat.

I have been challenged by one of my friends from some years past who would not watch more hours of TV each week than he spent in public and personal worship. How can we feed on spiritual junk food (or even media “poison”) and hope to become more and more like Jesus? There is cause and effect in the spiritual world.

St Ignatius is known for his discerning of spirits. In the early stage of his conversion he was attracted to “worldly” things like books of fiction and tales of knights and battles. In today’s world he would have liked action movies and video games like Call of Duty: Black Ops. But as he read first his fiction and then stories of saints, he began to notice something.

When Ignatius reflected on worldly thoughts, he felt intense pleasure; but when he gave them up out of weariness, he felt dry and depressed. Yet when he thought of living the rigorous sort of life he knew the saints had lived, he not only experienced pleasure when he actually thought about it, but even after he dismissed these thoughts he still experienced great joy. (From the life of Saint Ignatius from his own words by Luis Gonzalez)

He was learning the basic lesson: You are what you eat. And so I end where I began. Every day,  each of us is making decisions about the the most basic issues of meaning and fulfillment and the things we think will make us happy. How many truly contented people do you know? You are what you eat. Jesus calls us to feed on him with all our heart and soul and mind and strength.

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