This weekend we enter the mid-point of Jesus’ preaching on the Bread of Life. Over the past two weeks, we’ve reflected on the Eucharist as food and also the role faith must play if this heavenly food is going to transform our lives. Today’s readings give us a chance to consider another aspect of the human experience as it relates to the Eucharist, namely our feelings and how they can move us closer or further from God and each other. So let’s look at the feelings put forward for us in the Scriptures.
In the first reading, Elijah has just triumphed over 450 prophets of Baal in an epic showdown of whose God is real. Elijah is vindicated in a dramatic display before all the people. When God shows him his favor, Elijah orders the 450 prophets to be slaughtered for serving a false god. This infuriates the evil queen Jezebel and she sends a message to the prophet that she has sworn to kill him. So Elijah does what any reasonable person would do when a powerful, bloodthirsty queen wants to destroy them; he runs off into the wilderness to hide. But Elijah is no Bear Grylls! After just one day in the unknown, he is afraid, hungry, and begins to despair. “Just take my life,” he exclaims, and lays down to die. God has a better plan and sends an angel with food. Eat, get up and get ready for your journey. Elijah thinks about it but his depression is too great and he lays down again. The pestering angel comes again and helps Elijah eat and drink and he continues on his way as God asked.
In the second reading, St. Paul tells the people to get rid of unholy feelings and passions, namely bitterness, fury, anger and malice. But he is not asking them to be robots. Instead he encourages them to imitate God by latching on to holy affections like kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love.
In the gospel, Jesus starts to hear pushback from his challenging teaching on the bread of life. St. John tells us that the people begin to “murmur”, the same word that was used in Exodus, when the people grumbled against God and Moses, even though they had been given so many miracles and blessings. Today the people murmur because they think they know who Jesus is. They are indignant that this son of a carpenter is claiming to be the true Bread come down from heaven. Their feelings of confusion soon build to outrage and disgust.
Having heard a bunch of feelings in the Word of God, we can ask, “what role do they play in the life of a Christian?” Why do we have them? Are they good or bad? Feelings are neither morally good or bad in and of themselves. Many times we have no power over when they come to us. They become good when they lead us toward God and promote charity towards each other. They become sinful when they lead to evil. God created us with feelings for a reason and we should be grateful for them. Think how easy it is to love someone when we feel affection for them.
As Christians, we should pay attention to our feelings and make them part of our prayer. We shouldn’t try to ignore or suppress them because God can speak to us through them. But we should always remember that our feelings are meant to be governed by our mind and our will. God never intended them to rule us. Imagine if parents only loved their children according to how they were feeling on any given day! Or spouses only loved each other when they felt it? Or friends remained friends as long as it easy and felt good. Feelings can help us love God and each other but true relationship can exist even when those affections fade away or even become negative. Loving God and one another happens because we choose to do so deliberately and freely, not always by what we feel.
So how does this relate back to the Eucharist and the Bread of Life teaching we have been hearing? All of us come to Mass with many different feelings at various points in our lives. Sometimes we come to the Eucharist with excitement, joy and anticipation. Just think back to the day of your First Communion. How inspired we all were and full of piety! Other times we come to Mass and we receive the Bread of Life with very little feeling. That’s not our intention but it’s just the way things go, especially after receiving Jesus hundreds or even thousands of times. This happens to priest also. My first Mass after ordination was a moment I will never forget. I felt love for God and for all the people who had helped me become a priest that I thought my heart would burst. I felt so much zeal that I wanted to set the whole world on fire for God, one Mass at a time. 10 years later, I still have those moments of intense consolation and inspiration. But more often, loving God, serving you, offering Mass mindfully and with preparation doesn’t happen on its own, it requires getting to know Jesus deeper and deeper. It demands my faithfulness in those times when it is easy and also when it is dry.
The same is true for every Catholic. There will be times of great consolation and inspiration when we come to church. There will also be many moments of dryness where we wonder if the Eucharist is doing anything for us. Pay attention to these consolations and desolations but realize they are not the final word. Jesus is the True Bread come down from heaven. His Body and Blood feed us whether we feel it or not. His saving sacrifice offered to the Father at every Mass, redeems the world whether we feel it or not. Ordinary bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ at every Mass through the miracle of God’s power, whether we feel it or not. God loves us and yearns for our friendship every moment of every day, whether we feel it or not.
So what do we do with these feelings? When they console you and help you to love God and others, praise Him and allow those feelings to move you further in your faith. When your soul feels dry or even opposed to God, don’t despair, don’t let those feelings rule you. Make the conscious choice to love and serve the Lord and the people he has placed in our life. In time, peace and contentment will be ours. May the words of the psalm be the song of our soul, “I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall ever be in my mouth!”