There is a true story of the nephew of one of our Jesuits in Manila. Let us call him Carlos (as I don’t remember his name). I have shared this story before, but it is worth repeating it today as I believe it very relevant for the reflection on the Gospel that we just heard proclaimed.
Carlos was about 20 years old. He was very intelligent; he studied in our very good Jesuit university; he was very good looking; he had a very beautiful girlfriend that all his friends envied, he came from a very rich family and he even had two maids to attend to the house that his family had bought him. Of course, he drove an expensive car and had lots of money to spend. Many of our youth and young adults would probably say, “Wow, what a great life; how I wish I was like him.” Even as Carlos “had everything” going for him and had a bright future, he shot himself to death!
What happened?! At the funeral Mass, where I was present, Carlos’ father in the eulogy shared, “Carlos’ death came as a great shock to me and my family; this is a tragedy and a trauma that will probably affect us for the rest of our lives. We thought that we had given Carlos everything he needed in life, but we were wrong. We gave him everything, except what he needed most; he needed our love. We were travelling overseas most of the time and we never really knew what was happening to him.
Carlos has helped us through this very painful experience learn that we should never take anyone in the family for granted. Carlos has now brought us together as family once again; something that we did not realise that we had lost. I now pray that God would help us grow as family and that we too would never take His (God’s) love for granted.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we can see and rejoice that our Churches in Singapore are full and in many overflowing. However, without trying to be a wet blanket, let us be aware of the reality that there are still many Catholics who are absent and have stopped coming to Church; this is really sad. These are parishioners and people who are struggling on their own in life and more sadly, living under the false impression that coming for Mass will not make much difference to their lives and that they can simply pray on their own at home; which we know they probably do not take seriously.
For those of us who have come to this Mass, Jesus in today’s Gospel is asking us and His disciples a very basic question, “Are you truly looking for me?” Or, like the crowds in the Gospel would we be hearing Jesus say to us, “You are not (sincerely) looking for me . . . do not work for food that cannot last and cannot endure to eternal life.” Jesus may also continue to ask, “Are you like Carlos’ family, who would take My Love and your family’s love for granted? The crowds in the Gospel loved themselves more than they loved Me as they were not clamouring for me and the True Bread from heaven that I am giving them. Instead, they are merely seeking for the physical satisfaction and gratification of their earthly needs like the Israelites in the Old Testament seeking for the manna in the desert.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, we can speak of three basic levels of living our lives. The most superficial of all living is to live to fulfil our physical needs. This type of living gives a disproportionate attention to the type of food we eat, the car we drive and the house we live in and the like. Carlos had all of these, but he shot himself to death. While such needs we know only help us to exist, (and live comfortably), they do not in themselves give us the deeper meaning of life.
The second and deeper level of living is the emotional level of living. This type of living gives disproportionate attention to having much possession, reputation, prestige and power and the like. Carlos, in many ways too had these, but he was looking for something deeper in life; he was longing for the love from his family; his parents and his siblings. However, as they were not forthcoming he became lonely, depressed and his life spiralled downwards into the abyss of no return. So, he shot himself. Carols’ father and family had the possession, reputation, prestige and power of the secular world, but they were shocked back to the basics of life. The basics of how important it is to develop the love they ought to have for each other and never to take each other and God for granted. But, we know it was too late for Carlos.
I am aware that as I preach all these, and have professed the vow of poverty as a religious Jesuit and ordained priest that has no name to anything that I can have ownership legally, I would like us to know that the Church and the Gospel that Jesus proclaims are not against having much possession, prestige and power. In themselves, they could be seen as God’s blessings on the family. However, what Jesus is proclaiming in today’s Gospel is that in all the blessings that we have, we are all, called to affirm the Truth that whatever truly matters in life is what can endure to eternal life. And this is what Jesus is offering us today.
The third and deepest level of living is what Jesus is offering us today. He says to the crowds, “Do not work for food or anything that does not endure to eternal life . . . believe in Me. I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me will never be hungry and he who believes in me will never thirst.”
I do not know whether Carlos was a practicing Catholic or not. However, I believe that if he had known Jesus intimately and if he had received Jesus faithfully and fervently in the Eucharist, he would most probably be alive today. . . Jesus, the Bread of Life would have given him the strength to sustain him in his deepest depression and the renewed hope in his darkest moments.
Carlos’ father’s admission that they should not take God for granted, seems to imply that God was not their first love in their life. They were so caught up in enjoying life overseas, that they did not realise that in their enjoyment they had taken Carlos and God for granted and were actually in the process emptying their lives of its true meaning.
Thus, Jesus in today’s Gospel reminds and assures us, “He who comes to me and receive the Bread of Life that comes from heaven will never be hungry and will have eternal life. This is the nourishment of Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist, the Bread of Eternal Life.
To conclude, let me add that if we take every celebration of the Sacrament of the Eucharist seriously and receive Jesus, the Bread of Life with great devotion and reverence, I strongly believe that the Eucharist will bring health to our bodies, healing to our hurts, strength in our sorrows, joy in our love for God and one another, and ultimately eternal life at the end of our life’s journey.
The Eucharist, “Bread of Life” that Jesus gives of Himself to us and all believers will also satisfy all the hungers of our hearts as He assures us that when we believe in Him, we shall no longer thirst. St Augustine who searched for meaning and fulfilment in his sinful and very secular and worldly life eventually found God within his heart said, “Lord, my heart was restless until it rests in Thee.”
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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