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July 29, 2009
Breaking Open the Word
By James Cavanagh
Aug. 2: 18th Sunday, Ordinary Time
Scripture readings: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15 / Psalm 78:3-4, 23-25, 54 / Ephesians 4:17, 20-24 / John 6:24-35
Overview: It’s not unusual for some people think of the Eucharist as little more than a meal among friends; a re-enactment of the Last Supper. There’s nothing wrong of thinking of the Eucharist like this, but to think of it only in that way greatly diminishes the significance of the Mass. In the first reading, Israel had been wandering in the barren desert for a month since their miraculous deliverance from Egypt. The unleavened bread which they had taken with them had run out and they were hungry. They all began to “grumble, wishing they were back in Egypt where, even though they were slaves, they at least had plenty to eat. And how does God respond to their complaints and lack of gratitude? As a loving Father, he gives them meat to eat in the form of quail, and bread in the form of manna! Amazed by this mysterious food they asked, “What is it?” (which is what “manna” means). The Psalm celebrates this miracle, calling the manna “heavenly bread” and “the bread of angels.” Our second reading reminds us that as Christians we mustn’t live “as the Gentiles do,” that is, in a materialistic, self-centered sort of way. Instead, we are to be “renewed in the spirit of our minds” thinking and acting like the people of God that we are. Finally, in this week’s Gospel Jesus explains that there is an even greater miracle than the manna which sustained the Jews in the wilderness for 40 years: the true bread from heaven is Jesus Christ himself, who fortifies us for our earthly pilgrimage, gives us a foretaste of heaven and makes us long for eternal life.
Key verse: “The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (Jn 6:33).
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: “In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle” (No. 1090).
Pope Benedict XVI: “The first element of Eucharistic faith is the mystery of God himself, Trinitarian love. In the Eucharist Jesus does not give us a “thing,” but himself; he offers his own body and pours out his own blood. He thus gives us the totality of his life and reveals the ultimate origin of this love. Jesus thus shows that he is the bread of life which the eternal Father gives to mankind” (“Sacramentum Caritatis,” 7).