The bread of life

GOD’S WORD TODAY - Ruben M. Tanseco S.J. - The Philippine Star

Part One. In our first reading for today’s holy mass (1 kgs. 10:4-8), it is written that Elijah is persecuted for preaching God’s word against King Ahab and his wicked queen Jezebel. He was ready to die and offer his life to the Lord. But through a “tiny, whispering sound” (v.12), he felt God asking him to continue his work for the Lord. And so he did. Inspired by this, allow me now to share my own experience. Not for my ego, but for a most grateful recognition of God’s love and compassion, not only for me, but for each one of us.

As a young adult, I was already a college graduate of the Conservatory of Music, University of Santo Tomas. I was planning to teach and perform as my profession, but I never thought of becoming a priest. One day, I accidentally read an article about the Jesuits in one of the daily newspapers. But that’s all. Life went on as usual. Until one day, out of the blue, I heard in my heart that “tiny whispering sound.” That changed everything. For a whole year, I went through a long process of discernment under a spiritual guide. At the end of it all, I came to the decision to apply for the Jesuit Novitiate. The many years that followed ended with my priestly ordination in 1965. Indeed, what a loving and compassionate God you and I belong to.

In 1969, I heard another “tiny, whispering sound” which led me to introduce the Marriage Encounter Weekend that I had experienced in the USA. Again, it is God’s doing and not mine. I am only His human instrument. The Marriage Encounter Weekend succeeded in spreading to different places. Today, it is all over the country, with a one-day adaptation in Tagalog and Visayan for our poor couples who cannot afford to spend for a whole weekend. The skill of mutual empathy as the main tool of the Marriage Encounter Weekend is really incredible. Each spouse is able to set aside one’s ego and enter the world of his/her spouse, so that each one is able to be with, think with, feel with the other. The couple then moves toward a win-win situation, where each one wins a little and loses a little. Mutual love is the ultimate answer.

Part Two. Our second reading for today (Eph. 4:30-5:2) is very realistic and inspiring indeed. The reality of good and evil in human life is described as the road that leads to God’s love and forgiveness. Not only that. God Himself as Son comes down to be one among us and shows us the way. As the reading goes, “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice” (v.31). This is immediately followed by what should be, as in the person of Christ. “And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ” (v.32). All of this and more are ways and means of expressing love, the most fundamental law of our most loving God. Jesus used all his human strength to go from town to town, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for the harvest’” (vv.37-38). That includes you and me! Thank you, Lord, for calling us to your mission. May we give our best till the end of our days!

More than that. Incredible but true. “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:44-48).

Part of this love is carrying the cross as Jesus did, all the way to the crucifixion, only to be followed by the resurrection. Indeed, in our own lives, too, the cross serves as an opportunity for one’s growth, greatness, and Godliness as a person. Godliness here means more and more like Christ, who carried His cross all the way to the end of His human life, only to be followed by His resurrection and ascension into heaven.

Part Three. The first part of our Gospel reading points to the Jews murmuring about Jesus. As one author describes it, murmuring “is a willful disbelief in the power of God. . . a refusal to submit to the authority of God. . . and sow seeds of alienation and division. . . Murmuring is a scandal, a grave offense” (W. Maestri, Grace Upon Grace, pp. 189-190).

The punchline of it all comes from Jesus Himself, who expressed to the crowd: “I am the bread of life. . . I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:48-51). The climax of all this was initiated during the Last Supper, before the crucifixion. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to this disciples said, ‘take and eat; this is my body.’ Then He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins!” (Mt. 26:26-28). cf. also Mk.14:22-24, Lk. 22:19-20. What a most loving God we belong to! And how can we respond in kind? “The Eucharist is a reminder that those who come to the Eucharist to be fed spiritually by God are bound to do and give their utmost to feed the hungry and the poor, as Jesus did” (N.Orqueta, Green Pastures, 2015, p.177). May I add to that: Let us give our best to one and all. This is our mission of love. Christ showed us the way. There is no other way.

What a privilege God is giving us. To live and die like Christ, who is God the Son. To each one of us: to live as the bread of life.

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