Why seek fleeting happiness when Jesus offers eternal bliss?

By: By Tim Irwin

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 5

Exodus 16:2-4,12-15; Psalm 78:3-4,23-24,24,54; Ephesians 4:17,20-24; John 6:24-35

All God’s children need to eat. A visit to a Chinese buffet quickly reveals that people also like to eat — some of them a lot and often. Food can make us feel happy, at least in the short term, but we’ll hunger again and then we’ll want to belly back up to the serving line. The readings for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time offer us a comparison between feelings of happiness and being happy.

Many of our neighbors face hunger daily. Not knowing where one’s next meal is coming from can make people desperate. Such is the state of mind of the Israelites in the first reading. Moses has led them into the Sinai desert where food sources seemed unavailable and a faith crisis ensued. In response, God sent manna in the morning and quail in the evening.

Manna may refer to honeydew from tiny insects that crystallizes into a sweet tasty substance. Even today it is considered a delicacy in the Middle East. The quail may have flown until exhausted by the desert heat, then they literally dropped onto the menu and the Israelites’ feelings of happiness returned. Only enough food for that day could be gathered, so the Israelites gained a second benefit — a practical lesson on the need for faith.

St. Paul declares that we “should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” Paul seems to be telling us that there is more to life than feeling happy as the physical needs of the day are met.

This doesn’t mean that physical needs can be ignored or that God cares not about them as the bug bread and plunging poultry illustrate. Rather, God invites us to seek the food of being eternally happy.

In the reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus tells them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; 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.” So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Christ is the true bread from heaven and he has given us this bread always in the Holy Eucharist. That’s why the church invites us to a weekly mini-celebration of Easter. Showing up for Mass is certainly necessary, but it’s not sufficient. We need do as Paul teaches “and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” In other words, we need to pray. Nothing truly Catholic happens in the absence of prayer. Mass celebrates the Catholic life that we are called to prayerfully live each and every day.

All God’s children need to eat. Hunger remains a curse for many people today. Food banks and soup kitchens play a vital role in meeting genuine needs, and they deserve our support. At the other end of the spectrum, the Chinese buffet illustrates a human solution to hunger taken to the extreme, but even so this solution doesn’t last.

If we are to break the cycle of one fleeting feeling of happiness after another and actually be happy then we need to prayerfully accept Jesus’ invitation to eat the Bread of Life.


TIM IRWIN teaches at Peoria Notre Dame High School, where he chairs the Theology Department. He is a member of St. Mark’s Parish in Peoria.

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