Archbishop Follo: The Work of Faith: Daily Bread and Eucharistic Bread

With the invitation to assume often the Bread of Life to live in a Eucharistic way, that is by thanking God and by sharing his charity with our neighbor.

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XVIII Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – August 5, 2018
Roman Rite
Ex 16.2-4.12-15; Ps 78; Eph 4.17.20-24; Jn 6,24-35
Ambrosian Rite
1Kings 18.16b-40a; Ps 16; Rom 11.1-15; Mt 21.33-46
XI Sunday after Pentecost
1) The problem is that one seeks the gift of God and not God as a gift.
The Gospel of this XVIII Sunday in Ordinary Time tells us about Jesus who invites the people to seek in him not only the one who feeds the body but above all the spirit. He says of himself: “I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me will never be hungry “(Jn 6:35)”. This is a peculiar Bread: unlike any other bread, it is not assimilated by a person, but it is the Bread itself that assimilates the person to His nature: “We become what we eat” (Saint Ambrose of Milan). Christ makes us become like him.
Jesus is the food of eternity which we must continually seek. Without it, our life makes no sense or loses its value and consistency. Only in the Bread of Life, we found the life that lasts forever.
This is the food that the world really needs. It is a Food that never perishes and prevents us from perishing. In human bread, there is joy, hard work, and human love. In the divine bread, there is joy, hard work and divine love that makes us live in a Eucharistic way. To live in a Eucharistic way does not only mean to “thank”, but also to share.
When the heart of man is nourished by the Bread of Heaven, this heart makes sure that there is bread for everyone.
God nourishes us and nourishes the world through us. By nourishing us with himself, Christ performs a God’s action. He offers morsels of life to the grips of our hunger, that of the body and that of the heart that cannot be satisfied by the earthly bread. We, poor human beings, seek a bread that does not allow us to die: the Bread of heaven, food for the soul. By taking communion, we “bite ” into Life, and we are satisfied with love.
The important thing is to understand that this Bread is an immense gift that comes to us from a God who does not ask but gives, does not claim but offers does not ask for anything but gives everything. Not only does he give something, he gives himself.
Through the Eucharist, our life on earth is intertwined with a life of heaven and a current of love that makes the roots of the heart blossom enters in us.
The most urgent thing to do for every Christian is to frequently go to Communion and to “spend” the daily time to collect the fragments of the heavenly Bread that are also in the Word and in the sacraments, in order to be able to continuously sow them in the fields of the world.
Our life must become a Eucharist, which means a thank you. It is a special thank you because it unites to the work of man the love of God, who makes the heart right by filling it with mercy. In order to be justice among men, it must first emerge in the hearts the merciful justice that doesn’t grow without the vital nourishment of the Bread of Life. Without this bread, man does not live in truth and love and uses the creation to destroy himself. By sharing the Eucharistic bread, we can share the other bread, bringing Christ to the poor who yearns not only for food but for love.
2) “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”  (Jn 6:29).
In the first paragraph, I offered food for thought to understand the affirmation of Christ: “I am the Bread of Life”. However, there is another phrase in today’s Gospel that it is useful to understand well: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” (Jn 6:29)
Among the debates regarding believe and practice, morality and justice, is as if today’s Gospel asks: “In whom are our works made?” In the Gospel of John, faith and works almost coincide: the work par excellence, in fact, is to believe. It is the work “made in God” that opens the door of life to light. Believing is trusting in Christ. Believing is to remain in the Lord. Everything in the Gospel of John leads to a relationship of intimacy with Jesus. To see is to believe, and to believe is to be united deeply and indissolubly to Him. To believe in Christ coincides with being in Him.
In this regard, St. Augustine explains: “Jesus did not say to believe to him or believe of him, but to believe in him … therefore, if we want to do God’s work, we must believe because God’s work actually consists in this: to believe in him who justifies the wicked “. Then St. Augustine continues: “The Lord did not want to distinguish faith from works, but he defined faith itself as a work. In fact, it is faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 6) “. May our work be to believe in Christ with loving trust and total abandonment, and to nourish ourselves with him. Jesus, the true bread of life that satisfies our hunger for meaning and truth, cannot be “earned” by human labor. He comes to us only as a gift of God’s love, as a work of God to ask and welcome.
An example of an active Eucharistic life, that is of a life giving thanks to God and sharing chastely love with neighbor, comes to us from the Consecrated Virgins. The virginal consecration receives meaning from the reference to Christ, living and present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI taught by writing:
In addition to its connection to priestly celibacy, the eucharistic mystery also has an intrinsic relationship to consecrated virginity, inasmuch as the latter is an expression of the Church’s exclusive devotion to Christ, whom she accepts as her Bridegroom with a radical and fruitful fidelity. In the Eucharist, consecrated virginity finds inspiration and nourishment for its complete dedication to Christ.”(Sacramentum caritatis, n.81).
Receiving Christ as her inspiration and food, the consecrated virgin feeds daily with the Eucharist. Strengthened by this spiritual food, she reciprocates the spousal love of Christ through prayer to God and service to the poor. In this regard ,the Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago, the recent Instruction of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, says: ” They place the Eucharist at the center of their existence. It is the sacrament of the spousal covenant from which flows the grace of their consecration “(n.32)
These consecrated women testify that two miraculous events take place in the Eucharist.
The first is the miracle of bread and wine that becomes the body and blood of Christ (transubstantiation). The second is what makes us “a living sacrifice welcome by God” that unites us to the sacrifice of Christ, the sacrifice of communion for the salvation and joy of the world.
In the consecrated bread and wine, Christ offers not only himself but also us by changing us (mystically, not really) in himself. He also gives to us the value of his gift of love to the Father. We too are in that bread and wine; “In what it offers, the Church offers herself” (Saint Augustine of Hippo).
Of course, the virgin who most of all is the Eucharistic woman, is the Virgin Mary. The Holy Virgin was not present at the Last Supper, but on Good Friday it was she who welcomed him into her arms and places on her knees the body of the Son taken down from the cross. I think that she said to herself: “This is my body”. And she continued to believe in the Son of God. If her faith gave flesh to the Word of God on the day of the Annunciation in Nazareth, if her increased faith accepted us as children, on Good Friday this faith, with the words “this is my body”, joined her even more deeply to the sacrifice of the Son becoming a welcome offering to God for the salvation of the world. May the consecrated virgins take an example from the Mother of God and we from these Virgins. Then, our Eucharist will be celebrated and lived with truth and holiness
Those who believe in Christ do the work of God. Our Lady did it: always saying yes with faith she accomplished the work of God and gave the flesh that became the Bread of Life. May the consecrated Virgins, and we with them, imitate her by “practicing justice, loving with mercy and walking humbly with our God” (see Mic 6, 8).
Patristic reading
Saint Augustin of Hippo (354 -430)
Tractate XXIV
The Lord on the mount: much rather let us understand that the Lord on the mount is the Word on high. Accordingly, what was done on the mount does not, as it were, lie low, nor is to be cursorily passed by, but must be looked up to. He saw the multitude, knew them to be hungering, mercifully fed them: not only in virtue of His goodness, but also of His power. For what would mere goodness avail, where there was not bread with which to feed the hungry crowd? Did not power attend upon goodness, that crowd had remained fasting and hungry. In short, the disciples also, who were with the Lord, and hungry, themselves wished to feed the multitudes, that they might not remain empty, but had not wherewithal to feed them. The Lord asked, whence they might buy bread to feed the multitude. And the Scripture saith: “But this He said, proving him;” namely, the disciple Philip of whom He had asked; “for Himself knew what He would do.” Of what advantage then was it to prove him, unless to show the disciple’s ignorance? And, perhaps, in showing the disciple’s ignorance He signified something more. This will appear, then, when the sacrament of the five loaves itself will begin to speak to us, and to intimate its meaning: for there we shall see why the Lord in this act wished to exhibit the disciple’s ignorance, by asking what He Himself knew. For we sometimes ask what we do not know, that, being willing to hear, we may learn; sometimes we ask what we do know, wishing to learn whether he whom we ask also knows. The Lord knew both the one and the other; knew both what He asked, for He knew what Himself would do; and He also knew in like manner that Philip knew not this. Why then did He ask, but to show Philip’s ignorance? And why He did this, we shall, as I have said, understand afterwards.

  1. Andrew saith: “There is a lad here, who has five loaves and two fishes, but what are these for so many?” When Philip, on being asked, had said that two hundred pennyworth of bread would not suffice to refresh that so great a multitude, there was there a certain lad, carrying five barley loaves and two fishes. “And Jesus saith, Make the men sit down. Now there was there much grass: and they sat down with about five thousand men. And the Lord Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks;” He commanded, the loaves were broken, and put before the men that were set down. It was no longer five loaves, but what He had added thereto, who had created that which was increased. “And of the fishes as much as sufficed.” It was not enough that the multitude had been satisfied, there remained also fragments; and these were ordered to be gathered up, that they should not be lost: “And they filled twelve baskets with the fragments.”
  2. To run over it briefly: by the five loaves are understood the five books of Moses; and rightly are they not wheaten but barley loaves, because they belong to the Old Testament. And you know that barley is so formed that we get at its pith with difficulty; for the pith is covered in a coating of husk, and the husk itself tenacious and closely adhering, so as to be stripped off with labor. Such is the letter of the Old Testament, invested in a covering of carnal sacraments: but yet, if we get at its pith, it feeds and satisfies us. A certain lad, then, brought five loaves and two fishes. If we inquire who this lad was, perhaps it was the people Israel, which, in a childish sense, carried, not ate. For the things which they carried were a burden while shut up, but when opened afforded nourishment. And as for the two fishes, they appear to us to signify those two sublime persons, in the Old Testament, of priest and of ruler, who were anointed for the sanctifying and governing of the people. And at length Himself in the mystery came, who was signified by those persons: He at length came who was pointed out by the pith of the barley, but concealed by its husk. He came, sustaining in His one person the two characters of priest and ruler: of priest by offering Himself to God as a victim for us; of ruler, because by Him we are governed. And the things that were carried closed are now opened up. Thanks be to Him. He has fulfilled by Himself what was promised in the Old Testament. And He bade the loaves to be broken; in the breaking, they are multiplied. Nothing is truer. For when those five books of Moses are expounded, how many books have they made by being broken up, as it were; that is, by being opened and laid out? But because in that barley the ignorance of the first people was veiled, of whom it is said, “Whilst Moses is read, the veil is upon their hearts;”1 for the veil was not yet removed, because Christ had not yet come; not yet was the veil of the temple rent, while Christ is hanging on the cross: because, I say, the ignorance of the people was in the law, therefore that proving by the Lord made the ignorance of the disciple manifest.
  3. Wherefore nothing is without meaning; everything is significant, but requires one that understands: for even this number of the people fed, signified the people that were under the law. For why were there five thousand, but because they were under the law, which is unfolded in the five books of Moses? Why were the sick laid at those five porches, but not healed? He, however, there cured the impotent man, who here fed multitudes with five loaves. Moreover, they sat down upon the grass; therefore understood carnally, and rested in the carnal. “For all flesh is grass.”2 And what were those fragments, but things which the people were not able to eat? We understand them to be certain matters of more hidden meaning, which the multitude are not able to take in. What remains then, but that those matters of more hidden meaning, which the multitude cannot take in, be entrusted to men who are fit to teach others also, just as were the apostles? Why were twelve baskets filled? This was done both marvelously, because a great thing was done; and it was done profitably, because a spiritual thing was done. They who at the time saw it, marveled; but we, hearing of it, do not marvel. For it was done that they might see it, but it was written that we might hear it. What the eyes were able to do in their case, that faith does in our case. We perceive, namely, with the mind, what we could not with the eyes: and we are preferred before them, because of us it is said, “Blessed are they who see not, and yet believe.”3 And I add that, perhaps, we have understood what that crowd did not understand. And we have been fed in reality, in that we have been able to get at the pith of the barley.
  4. Lastly, what did those men who saw this miracle think? “The men,” saith he, “when they had seen the sign which He had done, said, This is indeed a prophet.” Perhaps they still thought Christ to be a prophet for this reason, namely, that they were sitting on the grass. But He was the Lord of the prophets, the fulfiller of the prophets, the sanctifier of the prophets, but yet a prophet also: for it was said to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like unto thee.” Like, according to the flesh, but not according to the majesty. And that this promise of the Lord is to be understood concerning Christ Himself, is clearly expounded and read in the Ac of the Apostles.4 And the Lord says of Himself, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country.”5 The Lord is a prophet, and the Lord is God’s Word, and no prophet prophesies without the Word of God: the Word of God is with the prophets, and the Word of God is a prophet. The former times obtained prophets inspired and filled by the Word of God: we have obtained the very Word of God for our prophet. But Christ is in such manner a prophet, the Lord of prophets, as Christ is an angel, the Lord of angels. For He is also called the Angel of great counsel.6 Nevertheless, what says the prophet elsewhere that not an ambassador, nor an angel, but Himself coming will save them;7 that is, He will not send an ambassador to save them, nor an angel, but Himself will come. Who will come? The Angel himself? Certainly not by an angel will He save them, except that He is so an angel, as also Lord of angels. For angels signify messengers. If Christ brought no message, He would not be called an angel: if Christ prophesied nothing, He would not be called a prophet. He has exhorted us to faith and to laying hold of eternal life; He has proclaimed something present, foretold something future because He proclaimed the present, thence He was an angel or messenger; because He foretold the future, thence He was a prophet; and that, as the Word of God He was made flesh, thence He was Lord of angels and of prophets.

1 (2Co 3,15)
2 (Is 40,6).
3 (Jn 20,29)
4 (Ac 7,37)
5 (Jn 4,44)
6 (Is 9,6, LXX.)
7 (Is 35,4)

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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