On Food That Does Not Perish

«Jesus, the true bread of life, who satisfies our hunger for meaning, for truth, cannot be ‘earned’ by human work»

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 6, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Sunday before and after praying the midday Angelus with crowds gathered at Castel Gandolfo.

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Dear brothers and sisters,

The reading of Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel continues in this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word. We are in the synagogue of Capernaum, where Jesus is giving his famous discourse after the multiplication of the loaves. The people tried to make him king, but Jesus slipped away to the mountain with God, with the Father, before they could do so and then went to Capernaum. Not seeing him, the people set out in search of him, boarding boats to reach the other side of the lake, where they found him at last. But Jesus knew well the «why» of their enthusiasm in following him and explains it clearly: you «seek me not because you have seen signs [because your heart was moved], but because you have eaten the bread and were filled» (6:26). 

Jesus wants to help the people to go beyond the immediate satisfaction of their material needs, however important. He wants to open their eyes to an existential horizon that is not merely that of our daily concerns about what we are going to eat, what clothes we will wear, about our career. Jesus speaks of a food that does not perish, which it is important to seek and receive. He says: «Do not work for the food that does not last but for the food that endures for eternal life» (6:27).

The crowd does not understand, they think that Jesus is asking them to observe rules of conduct that will lead to a continuation of that miracle and ask: «What must we do to be doing the works of God?» (6:28). Jesus’ answer is clear: «This is the work of God: that you believe in him whom he has sent» (6:29). 

The center of existence, that which gives meaning and firm hope to the often difficult journey of life, is faith in Jesus, the encounter with Christ. We too ask: «What must we do to have eternal life?» And Jesus says: «Believe in me.» Faith is the fundamental thing. It is not a matter here of following an idea, a project, but of encountering Jesus as a living Person, of letting ourselves be totally drawn by him and his Gospel. Jesus invites us not to stop at the purely human horizon but to open ourselves up to God’s horizon, to the horizon of faith. He demands only one sort of work: accepting God’s plan, that is, «believing in him whom he has sent» (6:29). Moses gave manna to Israel, the bread of heaven with which God himself had fed his people. Jesus does not give some external thing, he gives himself: he is «the true bread come down from heaven,» he, the living Word of the Father; in encountering him we encounter God.

«What must we do to be doing the works of God?» (6:28) the crowd asks, ready to act so that the miracle of the bread will continue. But Jesus, the true bread of life, who satisfies our hunger for meaning, for truth, cannot be «earned» by human work; he comes to us only as the gift of God’s love, as the work of God that we must ask for and welcome.

Dear friends, in days full of worry and problems, but also in those of rest and relaxation, the Lord invites not to forget that if it is important to concern ourselves with material bread to restore our strength, it is still more fundamental to foster the growth of our relationship with him, to strengthen our faith in him who is the «bread of life,» who satisfies our desire for truth and for love. May the Virgin Mary, on the day in which we remember the dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, sustain us on our journey of faith.

[Following the recitation of the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted those present in various languages. In English he said:]

I welcome all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present today and I pray that your stay in Rome will help you to grow closer to the Lord Jesus. In today’s Gospel he says to the people: «I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, whoever believes in me will never thirst.» Let us put our faith in him, and let us put our trust in his promises, so that we may have life in abundance. May God bless you all!

[Concluding in Italian he said:]

Thank you for your attention and presence. I wish you all a good Sunday, a good week! Have a good Sunday!

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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