Happiness dies if we continually enrich ourselves … happiness returns when we give ourselves away
Every time we go to Mass and receive the Eucharist we’re supposed to commit ourselves to become what we receive. But are we just going through the motions? All this talk about the Bread from Heaven is a bit complicated. To help understand it better, we can reflect on the physical food we eat every day.
Why do we eat? First of all, to give our body energy to move, to work, etc. (=physical needs)
Second, we eat because it’s a nice feeling – especially if mum cooked! (=emotional needs)
Thirdly, we eat to increase our feeling of security;
Fourth, we eat [together] to fulfil our need for community.
So, now, why do we need Bread from Heaven? For our spiritual needs:
1) meaning for life;
2) how to deal with our pain/ betrayal;
3) strength to forgive;
4) strength to persevere; and
5) motivation to love (as opposed to romance).
The BREAD that Jesus promises us, expresses itself in the fruits of our lives, as St Paul says: “Never have grudges against others, or lose your temper, or raise your voice to anybody, or call each other names, or spitefulness. Be friends with one another, kind, forgiving each other”.
Unfortunately, converting the Bread of Heaven into good actions is not automatic: the conversion of food into energy/ results, requires our cooperation with what God gives to us.
The First Reading reveals to us the secret of achieving this cooperation: Elijah travelled for 40 days to reach the mountain of God.
It’s not a physical journey revealed to us today, but an inner spiritual journey. The mountain of God symbolises a successful transformation, ready to cooperate with God. The 40 days symbolises the necessary time for the process to happen.
An example might help. Fr Richard Rohr OFM recalls how he celebrated the marriage of his niece, how they whispered all through the Mass and probably didn’t hear anything: totally focussed on themselves. One year later, at the baptism of their first baby, his niece was completely different. Totally focussed on the other: their baby. The 40 days = 9 months.
Another example: Mums & Dads who care for a child with a disability or long-lasting illness. They move quickly from self-focussed to other focussed.
Richard mentions that women seem to be automatically initiated into adulthood through the child-bearing process. However, men, usually require some formal initiation process(es).
As our cultures evolve, especially in the so called developed world, formal initiation rites have all but died out. Our societies are all the poorer for that. The same is happening in Kenya, as more and more young people grow up in urban environments.
The final point I draw from the First Reading is this: Elijah was already connected with God, he had already “worked” for God. Why did he need another 40 days process of transformation?
It reminds us that, throughout our life’s journey, we must make more than one 40 day journey. At the minimum, for a healthy and HAPPY life, we must make two serious 40 days journeys: the first half of life and the second half of life.
The first half of life is a period of building ourselves up through hard work, developing skills, creating wealth, amassing material things and raising our status.
The second half of life is a period of giving it all away by wasting time with others [especially younger people] helping them develop skills, give away wealth and lowering our status.
Elijah demonstrates these two halves of life very well: in the first half of life he does amazing things for God, his status goes up very high. Now, when criticised and chased, he wants his life to end. This is important to meditate on: “I have had enough. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” His status is lowered and God leads him into his second half of life.
Although we lower our status, we actually increase the love we receive, and the happiness we experience [=mountain of God]. We think we’re less, but others think we’re more, important.
This was also the process for Jesus Christ who debased himself, and died a shameful death. The challenge is to trust that God will give us food along the way to sustain our 40 days. It helps to reflect on the Gospel passages where Jesus feeds the 5,000 people. The boy gave a small amount, but Jesus transformed it into more than enough. Can we give the little we have?
The Bread of Heaven, the very small Eucharist, is part of that food; the other part is people who love us. I pray for each of you, that you might remember to start another 40-day journey.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI