18th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Exodus 16:2-4; Ephesians 4:17.20-24; Gospel of John 6:24-35
Is Eternal Life Unimportant?  Why?!
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 5 August 2018

One of the most common challenges for many believers is the need to integrate the material and spiritual realities of our faith in our daily living.  We tend to treat them differently when in fact, the physical needs of our body and the spiritual truth and realities of our lives, are both inseparably one.

Our human body is physical in nature, but our soul which is spiritual.  We continue to live on after we die through our soul, which is the essence of our being.  Our physical body will corrupt in the earth or destroyed at cremation, while our soul leaves our body when we die, and continues to exist in the next life; either totally separated from God, which we call hell; or temporarily separated from God, to be purified before we are worthy to meet and live with God, which we call purgatory, or fully in union with God, which we call heaven.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we can see from this brief explanation that when we live on earth, we need to take care of not only our physical body and keep it healthy, but in fact, more importantly, we need to take care of our soul.  In today’s Gospel, when the Jews were seeking desperately to meet Jesus, Jesus explained to them, “Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures for eternal life.

In other words, Jesus was trying to convince the crowd that they were seeking Him for the wrong reasons.  Even as they benefited from the multiplication of loaves, what they ate were still ordinary food, even though they were miraculously produced by Jesus.  Likewise, the manna, the bread that Moses provided in the desert, even though they were miraculously provided by God from heaven, they were also ordinary bread.  Such bread will grow stale. 

Jesus then explained more explicitly to the crowd, “It was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven.  It is My Father who give you bread from heaven; the true bread; for the bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  “Give us that bread always,” they replied.  Jesus answered, “I am the Bread of Life.  He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in Me will never thirst.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, when Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and gave His apostles, His Body and Blood at the Last Supper, He intended to give Himself to all believers and for all generations.  Jesus in His divine Mercy and Compassion, knew He had to give us the spiritual nourishment we need for our soul during our earthly journey. 

If we reflect on our lives and our daily living, we all know that our existence on earth is not meant to be forever.  God created each human person in His own image and likeness, out of His Infinite Love for us, and it is His deepest Will and Desire that we return to Him and live with Him for all eternity after die.  In other words, even if we live to one hundred years of age, our time on earth is a very short and limited one, compared to the eternal life that is to come after we die.  

In other words, as the time we are going to spend after we die is infinitely longer than our short time on earth, our logical minds tell us that the fulfilment and happiness we are to spend after we die is more important than our passing earthly life.  However, the mystery of the lives of many people, including Christians, somehow allow the sin and evil of this world to strongly influence, tempt and deceive us into thinking that the immediate pleasures, fulfilment and happiness of this earthly life is far more important than the eternal happiness and glory of heaven.  Is this not true of many of our experiences?

The signs that we seem to be focusing our attention on living in this world and not too concerned about our life after we die can be shown in the way we treat the spiritual realities of our lives. 
First, let us remind ourselves that Jesus in today’s Gospel had proclaimed to the crowds and to us, “Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures for eternal life.”  In other words, Jesus is inviting us to value the Sacrament of the Eucharist as a more precious gift than the many other material and financial possessions that we have in life. 

In other words, Jesus is saying to you and to me that while we spend much time and money on trying to be healthy and fit, the spiritual health of our soul is more important, as our soul will last for all eternity. 

Second, without exception, we have all to admit that we are weak and sinful, and we all need Jesus’ Body and Blood to give us the spiritual strength to fight the many temptations of the secular and materialistic world that attract and distract us away from living our Christian vocation of loving God with our whole heart, mind and soul, and to love our neighbours as Jesus has shown us. 

Third, without the spiritual wisdom of Jesus, that we receive in the Eucharist, that nourishes us through the Truth of the Word of God that is proclaimed, and the spiritual food that endures for all eternity, if we are to rely on our human strength and intentions to do good and to love our family and our neighbours, we know from experiences that we will surely be too weak and sinful to do the much needed good to experience the harvest of lasting happiness in our daily living.

As such, let us reflect on our lives for a moment and ask ourselves, “What do you think would have happened to our lives, if we had stopped coming to Mass to receive Jesus in the Eucharist?  What do you think our family, marriage, priesthood vocation and career and even our health would be like, if we have not been receiving the True and Living Bread of Life of Jesus at Mass in our lives?  Would we be what we are today? 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we are aware that in spite of coming to Mass, and receiving Jesus in Holy Communion, for many of us, we tend to think that the challenges, pains and trials of our lives seem to remain.  How and why is this so?  If we have the tendency to think in this manner, it is very understandable.  This is because all of us have the tendency to wish that when we believe in Jesus, we hope that He will wipe away all our problems, settle all our family quarrels and financial debts, cure all our illness, and remove all our anxieties, fears and worries in our lives. 

While Jesus has deep Compassion for us, He is not a Magician at our disposal.  Jesus is our Lord and Saviour.  Moreover, if we were to treat Jesus as our magician for our needs, we can be sure that our love for Him is not deep.  In fact, we will be guilty of loving ourselves and wanting our problems in life solved as our ulterior motive, rather than truly loving Jesus, as our Lord and Saviour.  This is precisely why in today’s Gospel, Jesus reprimands the crowd, “I tell you solemnly, you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs, but because you had all the bread that you wanted to eat.”  In other words, the crowd were seeking Jesus for their ulterior and selfish needs.

Will you marry someone who tells you, and says, “I am so happy to have met you and want to marry you because you will solve all the problems of my life . . . and I believe, once we get married, we will live happily ever after?”l Or, would you rather marry someone who says to you and whom you believe, “I am so happy to have met you and want to marry you because even as I am imperfect and sinful, I am fully committed to loving you regardless of the pains, trials and suffering we may go through together, and I will be faithful to you, and in humility will make all the sacrifices we need together for our family and our future together?” 

Likewise, my sisters and brothers in Christ, when Jesus gives us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, we are strengthened spiritually in our union and relationship with Him.  And, together with Jesus, we will be able to live a more fully committed life of living the Father’s Will and for His Greater Glory. 

And so as I conclude, let us also remind ourselves that as we are so blessed by Jesus to give us the divine gift of Himself; the “Bread of Life” that endures to eternal life, let us pray for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to value the gift of eternal life as more important than the passing secular and materialistic gains and glory of this world. 

Let us pray that we no longer treat the Eucharist superficially, but instead receive Jesus Body and Blood with great reverence and gratitude as Jesus is truly the Lord and Saviour of our lives. And finally, let us pray that you and I will have the wisdom of St Mother Theresa who said, “Each Mass must be celebrated as though it is our first Mass, last Mass and only Mass.”  Indeed, these words of wisdom reminds us that our Eternal Life with God is more important than our daily earthly life. 

In this means that our earthly life must be lived fully in the love of how Jesus has shown us to live, so that nourished by the Eucharist, we can overcome the many temptations of our lives that draw us away from God’s Will.  And, with the Eucharist as our spiritual nourishment on earth, we too can grow in the wisdom of becoming more like Jesus in the way we live and relate to people in our daily living.

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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