Proverbs 9: 1-6 Ephesians 5: 15-20 John 6: 51-58
The best thing about the second half of life is figuring out what happened in the first, and often the moment of insight comes when the smallest of memories is poked. My mother has grown accustomed to questions from me that prompt her to reply, “After all these years, what made you think of that?”
For example, I had asked her why Grandma Klein, whom we visited almost every Sunday morning, after Mass, had Bible comics in her home. They were illustrated Bible stories, primarily from the Old Testament.
“She thought it would be good if you kids read them.”
“But I don’t remember anyone reading them except me.”
“Well, you kept reading them, so she kept getting them.”
“But where did she get them? She didn’t go to Church.” As a child, I never understood why my grandmother didn’t go to church. She was Protestant, and I knew that Protestants “didn’t have to, if they didn’t want to,” but my Uncle Albert and his family went every Sunday. They were Protestant. If someone had asked, I would have said that my Grandma was a poor Protestant.
Mom answered both my stated and my implied question. “She got them from Reverend Fager, her neighbor. And your Grandma Klein didn’t stay away from church because she wasn’t religious. Years before you kids were born, she and Grandpa Klein went weekly. In fact, she played the organ at the Methodist Church. But she stopped going when your Uncle Eldon died.”
I never knew my Uncle Eldon. He was only a high school student when his appendix burst, back in the forties. He died before help could arrive.
My mother continued, “As a child, Eldon had sat at the organ with her. She tried going to Church after the funeral, but the pain from his loss would sweep over her every Sunday. She never played the organ again, never went back to church, but she wanted her grandchildren to love the Bible.”
The grace of readings drawn from a lectionary, such as we use at Mass, is that one selection illumines another. Hearing only, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51) one immediately thinks of the Eucharist, but when the “Bread of Life Discourse” of Jesus is paired with Proverbs, “Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven columns; she has prepared her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table” (9:1-2) one realizes that Jesus himself is our nourishment. He is the Bread of Life, because he offers humans what is most essential to human life: meaning and purpose. Indeed — one has to ask — what would what we physically receive at Mass, if Jesus in his very person were not the nourishment that our souls require?
The fourteenth century Dominican mystic Henry Suso expressed our hunger for meaning, our thirst for Christ, so well when he wrote:
Lovable, gentle Lord, since childhood my spirit has eagerly sought and thirsted for something which even now I do not fully understand. Lord, I have pursued this desire for many years without overtaking it because I do not really know what it is, even though it attracts my heart and soul to itself and its absence leaves me without true peace. At first, Lord, following the example of my companions, I tried to find it in creatures, but the more I search the less I found, and the closer I drew to it the further it receded from me, because before I could fully enjoy or abandon myself to any pleasure-yielding idea, an inner voice warned me: “That is not what you are looking for.” This revulsion from all creatures has been my constant experience. Lord, even now my heart hungers for this unknown satisfaction and has often experienced what it is not; but what it is, that my heart has not yet discerned. Alas, cherished Lord of heaven, what is it, or why is it that this strange longing should make itself felt so mysteriously within me? (Little Book of Eternal Wisdom ch. 1)
Almost half a century would pass before I thought to ask about those Bible comics, and I learned of a woman who spread her table, who, despite her own wound, found a way to feed her own with wisdom.
We live in a deeply wounded Church. It’s not enough to say that people should listen to their leaders. Either we offer wisdom — we feed them with Christ, who is himself the Bread of Life, the deepest meaning of the mystery we call life — or we must understand that they will forage elsewhere. They’ll have to, because the deep hunger that drives them is of God.
Rev. Terrance W. Klein