Sunday, August 02, 2009

Our Spiritual Motives

(Eighteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 2, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 6: 24-35.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Eighteenth Sunday 2009]

One day a priest was giving a homily on the miracle of the loaves and fish, but he had left his notes in the rectory. So in the middle of talk he got confused, and instead of saying that Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish, he said, “The Lord used 3,000 barley loaves and 1,000 fish to feed 25 people. And they had plenty of food left over.”

At that point a heckler in the congregation yelled out, “Father, that’s no miracle! Anybody could do that!”The priest said, “Could you?” The heckler said, “Of course!”

After Mass the priest complained to his deacon about the heckler, and the deacon told him about the mistake he had made in the homily.

The priest said, “I can’t believe I did that. Well, don’t worry, I’ll straighten everything out next week.”

So the following Sunday the priest started off his homily by saying, “Today I’d like to continue talking about the miracle of the loaves and fish, but I want to make it clear that Jesus actually fed 5,000 hungry people with only 5 barley loaves and 2 little fish.” At that point he spotted the heckler in the first pew and he said to him, “And could you do that?”

The man said, “Of course. No problem.”

The priest said, “Oh yeah? How?”

The man replied, “That’s easy. I’d use the leftover bread and fish from last Sunday!”

The miracle of the loaves and fish is one of the best known in all of Scripture. Here at St. Pius we have it portrayed beautifully in one of our stained glass windows.

But why did Jesus do it—aside from the fact that he loved these people and didn’t want them to go away hungry? That, I think, is a key question, since Jesus never did anything without a good reason.

The answer can be discerned from today’s gospel passage, which comes almost immediately after the story of the miracle in John, chapter 6. (You will recall that the story of the miracle itself was the gospel passage from last Sunday.)

According to St. John, after the people had been fed this miraculous meal, Jesus and his disciples left the area, eventually ending up in Capernaum, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.

The people—or at least many of them—followed. When they finally tracked the Lord down, they asked him when he had gotten there.

Jesus responded with these words: “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

From those two sentences, from those two short verses, we can figure out why Jesus performed this miracle. Simply put, he did it as a means to an end. He gave the people a miraculous meal of natural food to prepare them to accept his teaching on another miraculous meal involving supernatural food, the Holy Eucharist.

In fact, the rest of this chapter of Scripture contains what scholars call “the Bread of Life Discourse,” which is the most detailed teaching on the Eucharist in the entire New Testament.

But, sadly, the people didn’t get the point; they didn’t get the message. They wanted Jesus—yes—but not because they wanted to hear the truth he would proclaim to them about the Eucharist and about the path to eternal life; they wanted Jesus because they were looking for another free dinner!

“You are looking for me not because you saw signs (if you were you would be hungry for my words, because I performed this sign in the name of the one, true God!). No, you only want me because you think I’ll fill your bellies again and save you the trouble of catching fish and baking bread yourselves!”

Their attitude was wrong; their spiritual motives in going to Jesus were not what they should have been.

Which leads us to consider our own spiritual motives. When do you go to God? Reflect on that question for a moment. Is it only when you need something? That’s when this crowd went to Jesus—and I’m convinced that it’s one of the primary reasons they weren’t open to his teaching on the Holy Eucharist. Their bad attitude made a big difference. It reminds me of the family that came back to church about 10 years ago and was here every single Sunday for several months. Then all of a sudden they disappeared, and I never saw them here again. I asked one of their relatives, “Where have so-and-so and their children been lately?” The relative said, “Oh, Fr. Ray, they got what they wanted from God; now they don’t think they need him anymore.”

Do you remember all the people who came to church in the weeks following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001?

Where were most of them 2 months later? Apparently they had received the “meal” they wanted from Jesus—the meal of his consolation and strength—and then they decided they didn’t need him anymore.

But it goes beyond our attendance at Mass. Think of why you go to God at other times of your life.

When, for example, do you really pray with devotion? When do you think of God during the course of your day?

Is it only when you’re in trouble? Is it only when you’re aware of the fact that you need something? Is it only when you’re down or confused and want some “good feelings”?

If all you want is a good feeling, you will be greatly disappointed in your spiritual life, because there are many moments when God allows us to experience bad feelings for a good purpose: so that we will change our lives for the better!

Not long ago I made a hurtful remark to somebody—a remark I should not have made—and when I left the person’s presence I got a very bad feeling, which was actually a very good thing! So I went back to apologize. We had a nice talk a few days later, and renewed a friendship.

In retrospect, I thank God he gave me that bad feeling, or I might not have gone back.

One of the mistakes many young people make after attending the Steubenville East Youth Conference each year is that they confuse the presence of the Holy Spirit with “good feelings,” because God in his great love often gives them good feelings during the conference.

Well, remember, the same Holy Spirit who can fill us with peace and joy will also at times convict us of our sins—as he convicted me the other day. This, incidentally, is why some people get uncomfortable during homilies that “hit home.” They often blame the preacher, but it’s usually not the preacher. If you’re being convicted of sin, it’s the Holy Spirit’s “fault”! So blame him!

Better yet, take the message of the Spirit to heart, repent, get to confession if you need to, make amends, and move on with your life.

The interesting thing is, you’ll probably end up getting some very “good feelings” if you do!

And that inner joy WILL be a gift and work of the Holy Spirit!

Such is the generosity of our God.

But the bottom line is this: we should go to the Lord every day, not to get good feelings, but first and foremost to give him the praise that he deserves; to give him the thanks that he deserves; to express our love for him and our desire to do his will in our daily lives; to express sorrow and repentance for our sins—and then to ask him for what we need.

In the words of the old Godspell song we should go to God “day by day . . . to see [him] more clearly, to love [him] more dearly, [and] to follow [him] more nearly.”

If that’s our attitude, we will be different from most of those people who ate the loaves and fish 2,000 years ago. We will be hungry for the Lord’s word, and open to the graces of the Eucharist—the food “which leads to eternal life.”