Thursday, July 24, 2014

Rome and Relics

For the next few weeks, I'm going to be doing Italian immersion in Assisi, and so I will be monitoring the blog rarely, if at all. In the meantime, I wanted to talk about one of the really striking parts about being a Catholic in Rome: there are relics everywhere.

This allows for something amazing spiritually. As one of the second-year men explained to us on the first day, you can frequently celebrate a Saint's feast day here by visiting them, since the churches of Rome are home to innumerable relics of the Saints. That afternoon, I visited the Basilica di San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini (Basilica of St. John of the Florentines), and saw the foot of St. Mary Magdalene... the first foot that entered the Empty Tomb on Easter morning:

The foot of St. Mary Magdalene, encased in a reliquary.

Since then, I've seen some truly amazing relics, like the skulls of both St. Peter and St. Paul, and the tomb containing the body of St. Paul.

The accompanying sign, explaining her foot's importance.
So what's the deal with relics? For many Christians, they seem idolatrous, or at least superstitious, not to mention a bit macabre. And to be certain, it's possible to treat relics in an idolatrous or superstitious manner. But in my experience, that's not how most people use them. And in striking contrast to the modern queasiness that some (particularly Protestants) have about relics, the New Testament repeatedly presents the use of relics in a positive light.

Let's consider three examples. First, objects that touched St. Paul (Acts 19:11-12):
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
People are bringing objects, touching St. Paul with them, and then bringing those objects to the sick to cure them. And Scripture doesn't condemn this idolatrous or superstitious, but says that it's one of the ways that God worked extraordinary miracles through Paul.

Second, consider St. Peter's shadow (Acts 5:12-16):
The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 
As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.
This passage is rich in significance: for example, it matters that, of all of the miracle-working Apostles, Scripture tells us that St. Peter was sought out. But for our present purposes, we again see people interacting with Peter as a living relic. These people aren't hoping to persuade Peter to perform a miracle: they believe that his mere shadow will be enough. And they're right: all of them are healed. Scripture describes this as on one of the ways that the Apostles performed their signs and wonders. So once again, we don't see relics as some sort of threat to God, but as a way that He manifests His power.

Finally, consider the woman who touched the hem of Jesus' garment (Mark 5:25-34):
And there was a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.” And immediately the hemorrhage ceased; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, “Who touched my garments?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” And he looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had been done to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.
This woman believed that if she so much as touched Jesus' garments. And she is. Christ doesn't rebuke her for superstition, either. He doesn't say, for example, “If you wanted to be healed, you should have spoken to Me.” Instead, He praises her for her faith.

And so, we can rest assured that He will praise the faith of the countless pilgrims who turn to relics in seeking intercession and healings. We believe that the same God who raised a dead man back to life when his corpse touched the bones of Elijah (2 Kings 13:21) will work wonders for those who seek recourse to the bones of Saints Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene. Far from being superstition, this is what the Christian faith looks like, all gritty and incarnational.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Demons, Playing Cards, and Telescopes

Atheistic materialism is the belief that matter is all there is: not only does God not exist, this theory argues, but there's no spiritual realm. From a Christian perspective, this position can seem baffling: how do these atheists account for all of the evidence of miracles, or conversely, demonic possession? One answer is that they just don't see this evidence. As it turns out, even very smart, well-meaning people can be so predisposed to the truth of a certain view (like materialism) that they're almost blind to contrary evidence. That's the phenomenon that I explore in a piece that I wrote for Strange Notions. Here's an excerpt:
Giotto, Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo (1298)
In 1949, Jerome S. Bruner and Leo Postman asked a group of 28 students at Harvard and Radcliffe to perform a simple task: identify playing cards. There were just two catches. First, these cards were shown very quickly: for 10 milliseconds at first, but increasing up to 1000 milliseconds if they struggled to identify the card. Second, the researchers were using a deck of four ordinary playing cards and six “trick cards” in which the card's color and suit were incongruous (red spades, black hearts, and the like).

This second catch proved to be quite vexing. Bruner and Postman found that it took these students four times longer to identify a “trick card” than a normal card:
While normal cards on the average were recognized correctly -- here defined as a correct response followed by a second correct response -- at 28 milliseconds, the incongruous cards required 114 milliseconds. [...] The reader will note that even at the longest exposure used, 1000 ms., only 89.7 per cent of the incongruous cards had been correctly recognized, while 100 per cent of the normal cards had been recognized by 350 milliseconds.
The students' brains struggled to process something as out-of-the-ordinary as a red six of clubs. The first time that they saw a trick card, it took students an average of 360-420 milliseconds (more than twelve times longer than it took them to identify ordinary cards). Even after they had seen two or three trick cards, it still took a full 84 milliseconds for them to identify trick cards. [....]

This is what we might call an incongruous perception problem: when we encounter something that disagrees with our worldview, we have a strong tendency to ignore or disregard it, or try to finesse it into our worldview by compromising it in some way. [....]

With this in mind, consider the Indiana exorcism case that appeared in USA Today in January, after the story was picked up from the Indianapolis Star. The case is a remarkable one for several reasons. First, there's the sheer number of eyewitnesses: the Star interviewed “police, DCS [Department of Child Services] personnel, psychologists, family members and a Catholic priest.” There are nearly 800 pages of official records documenting the events. [....]

But what really stands out about this case are the things that the witnesses report having seen. They are remarkable, to say the least:
  • “Ammons and Campbell said the 12-year-old was levitating above the bed, unconscious.”

  • “Medical staff said the youngest boy was "lifted and thrown into the wall with nobody touching him," according to a DCS report."”

  • “According to Washington's original DCS report— an account corroborated by Walker, the nurse — the 9-year-old had a "weird grin" and walked backward up a wall to the ceiling. He then flipped over Campbell, landing on his feet. He never let go of his grandmother's hand. "He walked up the wall, flipped over her and stood there," Walker told The Star. "There's no way he could've done that."”

  • “[Gary Police Captain Charles] Austin said the driver's seat in his personal 2005 Infiniti also started moving backward and forward on its own.”
So what do we make of this case?

Christians are free to disbelieve that this case was demonic, of course. Believing that demons exist doesn't mean that everything blamed on demons is really demonic, as opposed to delusions, lies, mental illness, etc. There's no prior commitment to this being demonic or non-demonic: Christians are free to simply evaluate the evidence as it is presented.

But for atheists who deny the existence of the spiritual realm, stories like this one are a bit of a red six of clubs. There's no way to easily harmonize the facts presented with the belief that that matter is all that there is.
Read the full piece, and several reactions, over at Strange Notions.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On Planting Seeds, and Sowing Them

Yesterday morning (about 8:30 a.m. local time, but 1:30 a.m. back in Kansas City), I arrived here in Rome. This is the beginning of a new chapter in my life; as you may recall, my bishop asked me and my classmate Carter to study at the North American College in Rome. This means that we will spend the next four years or so living and studying here in the Eternal City.

I was greeted at the NAC with a surprise: we are getting a new director of admissions, Fr. Daniel F. Hanley. As soon as he announced where he was from, I realized who he was, and that I needed to talk to him. See, Fr. Hanley and I had never met prior to yesterday, but without him, I might not be a seminarian today.

Here's why.

I. On Planting Seeds

In the 1990s, after Hanley graduated as a history major, he began to work as a high school teacher and then a staffer for a U.S. Senator. Shortly thereafter, he entered law school. During this time, he had begun to to feel called to become a seminarian, but was hesitant at first, because it "conflicted with my idea of the plan God had for me with what I wanted to do. I was happy with my career and its prospects, and I had a strong desire for a wife and family."

Finally, in 1999, on the verge of his 28th birthday, he entered seminary for the Diocese of Arlington. After two years of pre-theology, he came here to the North American College for four years for his theology.

In 2005, he was ordained. Fr. Hanley's first parish assignment was St. Mary's in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. There, the newly-ordained priest began a men's prayer group. At the time, I was still a lukewarm Catholic in Topeka, Kansas, but this small act would change my life forever.

Like Fr. Hanley, I was also a history major. After graduating in 2007, I also went to law school, which brought me out to Washington, D.C. It wasn't long before I was attending Mass at St. Mary's in Old Town Alexandria. By this time, Fr. Hanley had moved on to another parish, but the men's group was still going strong under the guidance of Fr. John De Celles (who I've written about before).

I didn't hear about the men's group right away. In fact, the first time I heard about it was during a Holy Hour. I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament when a guy I'd never met before approached me. He has a sort of surfer / Matthew McConaughey vibe to him, and he begins to speak to me by saying something along the lines of, “hey man, we have a men's prayer group tomorrow, do you want to come?” I was a little taken aback since I had no idea who he was, but I agreed.

It was life-changing: under Fr. De Celles' guidance, we formed a close-knit group of upwards of two dozen men who took their Catholicism very seriously. Eventually, Fr. De Celles was also moved to another parish, and a third great priest, Fr. Mick Kelly, replaced him.

One day, in men's group, I mentioned off-handedly that a number of people had asked why I wasn't discerning the priesthood. I had found this funny and a bit confusing, but it wasn't anything I was taking very seriously. Fr. Kelly knew better. He told me the story of St. Ambrose, whose vocational call was also external: St. Ambrose (also a lawyer, incidentally) was a politician in Milan when a feud broke out between the Catholics and the Arians about who should replace the deceased bishop Auxentius. Ambrose delivered a speech which calmed everyone down, and both sides quickly acclaimed him as Auxentius' replacement. At the time, this wasn't anything Ambrose could have foreseen: he was still a catechumen, not even baptized yet. The point of Fr. Kelly's story was that sometimes, for whatever reason (e.g., we're not listening), the Holy Spirit won't just speak within us, but will speak through others.

His advice was that I get a spiritual director and start taking discernment seriously. I did, and it ended me up here. My point is simple, and two-fold: (1) my “yes” to the will of God was built upon the “yeses” of countless other people before me, some of whom I've never even met, some of which have been dead for centuries; and (2) we can't always see the good fruit that the good seeds we plant will produce. It was only by Providence that Fr. Hanley got to learn that the men's group that he had started had helped guide several men into their vocations (in addition to me, another of our group is a Dominican novice, a third is preparing to head to Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma, and a few more are considering or have seriously considered the priesthood or religious life because of this group).

II. On Sowing Seeds

There's another aspect to this, as well: saying “yes” to God might take us out of our comfort zones. What had been a tight-knit group living near one another in northern Virginia is now spread all over the country (and if you include me, even across the world).

In the parable of the Sower and the seed, the Sower scatters the seed in order for it to produce better fruit. It's not a matter of sending it into chaos, as in the Tower of Babel, but a sending forth into the world, as at Pentecost. That's what happened to the Apostles. Most of them didn't get to stay in Jerusalem: they ended up everywhere from Spain (St. James) and India (St. Thomas).

But where were these seeds all together? In the hand of the Sower. And where shall the seeds be brought together again? When they die, are ground down, and become bread. So, to those that I leave behind (in D.C., in Kansas City, in Saint Louis, in Topeka, etc.), I'm heartened by the fact that we are all brought together in the hand of God. As we pursue the death-to-self that is the Christian life, let us remember that we are all one in the One Bread of Life. Let us see one another in the Eucharist and in glory, if not before.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Bearing the Yoke of the Cross

Two oxen sharing a yoke
In Sunday's Gospel, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

At first brush, His promise seems hollow: the Christian life can be hard, and the burdens seem heavy. After all, Jesus also says, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). The Cross doesn’t sound like an easy yoke or a light burden. And certainly, for those striving to live a life of holiness, it doesn’t feel like a light burden, either. Oftentimes, we find ourselves tempted to sin simply because it’s easier than doing what we know is right.

So how can Christ claim that His yoke is easy and His burden light?

First, because it is light, compared to sin. King David described himself as drowning in his sin, crushed by its weights: “For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me” (Psalm 38:4). There’s the weight of lies, from covering up the things we knew we shouldn’t have done. The weight of guilt, of regretting what we’ve done, or regretting the harm that our sins have caused those we love. And these weights seem to constantly grow: one sin leads to another and another until we find ourselves drowning. Almost anyone who has lived a sinful life knows this feeling, and certainly, David was no stranger to the deception and guilt brought about by sin. Christ offers us a way out, a way of redemption, of leaving those burdens aside.

But there’s another reason that Christ’s yoke is easy. A yoke, as you may know, is a wooden crosspiece fastened on the neck of two oxen (or other animals) so that they can plow. The ox isn’t alone under the weight of the crosspiece: there’s another ox there to help him. Who helps us carry our Cross, to Whom are we tethered under the yoke of the Cross? Jesus Himself.

This is the beautiful irony of the Passion of Christ. As Jesus is carrying the Cross towards Calvary, Simon of Cyrene is pulled out the crowd to help Him carry it (Matthew 27:32). But in a deeper way, we shouldn’t think of this simply as Simon helping Christ carry the Cross. After all, it’s Simon (and each of us) who is due the Cross, not Jesus. Rather, He is helping us carry the Cross.

And that’s why it’s not heavy: because under the most extreme Crosses of our life, during the most agonizing trials, we’re still never alone. Christ walks that road with us. Therefore, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Monday, June 30, 2014

4 Things You Probably Have Wrong About the Hobby Lobby Decision

Today, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Hobby Lobby case (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.), siding with Hobby Lobby. It was a 5-4 decision, with Justice Alito writing the opinion (Justice Kennedy, who joined the majority, also wrote a concurring opinion). The Court's decision, holding that the HHS Mandate violates Hobby Lobby's religious freedom, has already been seriously misunderstood. So let's set the record straight on four major issues:

1. Is This Case About Scalia and Other Court Conservatives Imposing Their Religion?

Justice Antonin Scalia
No: something nearer the opposite, really. This whole case involves a law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a law that exists because of a controversial 1990 Supreme Court case called Employment Division v. Smith.

Here's what happened: Alfred Smith and Galen Black worked at a rehab clinic, but were fired for using peyote, and denied unemployment benefits. They sued, claiming that they were using peyote for religious reasons, because they were members of the Native American Church. In a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Scalia, the Court held that a facially-neutral law could be applied across the board, even if it had the effect of hindering religious rituals.

The case was explosive. In his dissent from Smith, Justice Blackmun noted that the “respondents' use of peyote seems closely analogous to the sacramental use of wine by the Roman Catholic Church.” Thus, the Smith decision seemed like it might allow the government to pass facially-neutral laws (like prohibiting peyote or wine) that effectively outlawed a particular religion.

Unsurprisingly, both conservatives and liberals were startled by Smith. Rep. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and 170 co-sponsors (122 Democrats, 47 Republicans, and an Independent)  introduced RFRA. It quickly passed 435-0 in the House and 97-3 in the Senate. As the Court noted in its decision today, RFRA “prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

That's the whole point of the law: to make it harder for a federal law to trample the exercise of religion, without a compelling government interest. In other words, Congress was concerned that Scalia and the other conservatives on the Supreme Court didn't take a broad enough view of religious freedom. Which is probably the opposite of what you've heard.

2. Isn't this Case just About Contraception?

No. While there are plenty of parties suing who are against contraception, Hobby Lobby isn't amongst them. Their objection was just to paying for abortions.

Four of the twenty drugs involved in this case are believed, not just to prevent conception (which would make them contraceptive, as the name implies), but to prevent the implantation of an embryo into the uterine wall. Interfering with the natural development of an embryo in order to bring about its death is an abortion.

At the heart of this, there's a semantic debate over when pregnancy begins, because two definitions are used. Some obstetricians use an early definition: pregnancy begins once the sperm fertilizes the egg, resulted in an embryo (an organism genetically distinct from both its parents). Other obstetricians use a late definition: that pregnancy doesn't begin until the fertilized egg implants into the uterine wall.

Of these, the early definition is better. Imagine that, one day, scientists are able to fuse sperm and egg in a laboratory setting, and bring the child full term in an artificial womb (or some other laboratory conditions). According to the late definition, we would have to conclude that this person was never conceived. That's an absurd result, easily avoided by holding to the early definition.

But regardless of the semantic debate, the fact remains: even amongst those people who are fine with contraception, many still disagree with killing a fertilized embryo (or being forced to pay for others to do so). The owners of Hobby Lobby are just such people. As the Court noted in today's opinion:
The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price—as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.
3. Did the Supreme Court Just Declare That Corporations are People?

A typical political cartoon illustrating ignorance of 1 U.S.C. §1,
or the way corporate law works.
Rick Ungar at Forbes responded to the Hobby Lobby decision by writing an article entitled “Founding Fathers Spinning In Their Graves As SCOTUS Rules That Corporations Are People Too.” This is a surprisingly frequent allegation, given how hilariously wrong it is.

Do you know who decided that corporations are people, too? Congress. To see that, you don't need to read any further than 1 U.S.C. §1, the very first law on the books. It reads: “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise [...] the words “person” and “whoever” include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.

And guess what? That's the whole point of a corporation. They enter into contracts, as if they're people. They're allowed to own property, as if they're people. They have to pay income tax, as if they're people. If you got rid of these rights and duties, you would be eliminating the entire purpose of corporations existing, which is why no one who understands corporate law seriously proposes changing this part of 1 U.S.C. §1.

But having said that, corporations aren't really people, and there are some rights that they don't enjoy (for example, the right to vote). So the task of the Supreme Court was to figure out whether the religious freedom protections of RFRA is one of those rights. In today's decision, they determined that it was, at least for a closely-held corporation (that is, a corporation in which 5 or fewer people control a majority of the shares).

4. Did Either Side Deny that Corporations are People Under RFRA?

No, which is why the panicky reactions of Ungar, et al, are so surreal. The HHS admitted that a nonprofit corporation can be a “person” under RFRA. But the HHS' position was that a nonprofit corporation could exercise religion, but that a for-profit corporation couldn't. So if you're a Christian non-profit, you can exercise religion, but if you're a for-profit Christian bookstore, you can't.

As the Supreme Court noted, such a distinction makes no sense. That position also would make it very hard for activist corporations to exist: the HHS' position amounts to saying that for-profit corporations can only exist for the sake of profit. The Court noted that:
This argument flies in the face of modern corporate law. [...] While it is certainly true that a central objective of for profit corporations is to make money, modern corporate law does not require for-profit corporations to pursue profit at the expense of everything else, and many do not do so. For-profit corporations, with ownership approval, support a wide variety of charitable causes, and it is not at all uncommon for such corporations to further humanitarian and other altruistic objectives. Many examples come readily to mind. So long as its owners agree, a for-profit corporation may take costly pollution-control and energy conservation measures that go beyond what the law requires. A for-profit corporation that operates facilities in other countries may exceed the requirements of local law regarding working conditions and benefits. If for-profit corporations may pursue such worthy objectives, there is no apparent reason why they may not further religious objectives as well. [...] 
Not all corporations that decline to organize as nonprofits do so in order to maximize profit. For example, organizations with religious and charitable aims might organize as for-profit corporations because of the potential advantages of that corporate form, such as the freedom to participate in lobbying for legislation or campaigning for political candidates who promote their religious or charitable goals.
As an example of such a for-profit corporation, the Court pointed to, which ““advance[s] its charitable goals” while operating as a for-profit corporation to be able to“invest in for-profit endeavors, lobby for policies that support its philanthropic goals, and tap Google’s innovative technology and workforce.”” So it's not just religious organizations that the HHS' position would have undermined, but all manner of socially-conscious companies. The government was prepared to undermine all for-profit corporations' ability to be socially conscious, just because they happened to dislike the particular kind of social activism that Hobby Lobby engaged in.

So regardless of your views on contraception or abortion, if you're a person who wants for-profit corporations to be able to act ethically - to be able to concern themselves with something more than fattening their shareholders' wallets - today's decision is a very good thing.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Universal Call to Holiness: The Antidote to Clericalism

You don't have to be a priest, nun or monk to be a Saint. We need Saints who are homemakers, construction workers, and even lawyers.

Today is the feast day of St. Josemaria, Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei, and one of my favorite Saints. He helped sound a vitally important wakeup call within the Church, reminding us that holiness isn't the province of a few, but the call of all people. Here's a post that I wrote for Word on Fire today, explaining why I think St. Josemaria's spirituality is so important to the Church in the modern world:
Today is the feast day of St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei. St. Josemaria is a Saint very near to my own heart, for several reasons. The earliest posts on my own blog arose from retreat notes that I took on an Opus Dei silent retreat. When I was first discerning that God might be calling me to the priesthood, my spiritual director was an Opus Dei priest, Fr. Arne Panula, who had himself become a priest at the personal urging of then-Msgr. Josemaria Escrivá. Now that I am a seminarian, I find myself indebted to Opus Dei yet again: this fall, I will begin my theological studies at the Opus Dei-run Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, better known as Santa Croce.

One of the most beautiful things about the spirituality of St. Josemaria is his emphasis on “the universal call to holiness,” the vocation of every one of us - priests, religious, and laity alike - to become Saints. This radical wake-up call to the Church, clearly reflected in Chapter V of Lumen Gentium, bodes one of the most critical doctrinal developments of the modern Church. It also serves as a powerful correction to the danger of clericalism.
Read more.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Living by the Bread from Heaven: The Eucharist and Trust in God

Peter Paul Rubens, The Israelites Gathering Manna in the Desert (1627)
In today's First Reading, Moses reminds the Israelites of how God fed them “with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3). The manna was a visible sign of God's Providence, and the need to rely upon Him every day.

The manna first appeared while the Israelites were starving in the desert. In their hunger, they began to doubt God's plan for them, and they turned against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of bringing “us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3).

God responds to this challenge with great mercy, saying to Moses: “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not” (Ex. 16:4). The manna was a constant reminder that without God, the Israelites were helpless, but with Him, they were provided for. In meeting their physical needs, God was giving them an opportunity to see that He was in control, and that He alone could meet all of their needs, bodily or spiritual.

Jesus teaches us this in an even more profound way in today's Gospel, in which He declares that He is “the living bread that came down from heaven.” This is a clear Eucharistic reference: Jesus says that “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” and that “whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:51). This means that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:53-54). Lest we think that this is only metaphorical, He clarifies that “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55).

This shows that the Eucharist is greater than the manna of old, since “unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:58). The manna satisfied the Israelites' immediate hunger, but it was just a temporary fix. By trusting in Christ, we're offered something infinitely more: an eternal remedy from death.

As St. Augustine said, “the eyes of the blind, that were opened by those acts of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, were again closed in death; and limbs of the paralytics that received strength were loosened again in death; and whatever was for a time made whole in mortal limbs came to nought in the end: but the soul that believed passed to eternal life.

Let us center our lives around Jesus, and in a particular way, around the Blessed Sacrament, confident in the hope that if we are faithful to Him, He shall be faithful to us, fulfilling His promise of eternal life for all those who believe and who receive His Body and Blood faithfully.