Forty years in the desert was a generation, a lifetime. Life itself is a time of testing to see what kind of person we are, what we are made of. The hardships, the sufferings, the sorrows, the losses, they all tell us something of who we are, they are all part of forming who we are. The joys too, the happiness, how we deal with these, how we celebrate, what we celebrate reveal to us who we are, make us who we are.
The 40 years in the desert wanted to shape the people of Israel, just as life wants to shape us, just as living through this pandemic has brought out much that is good in people, but also sadly, much that is ugly. Life, with its struggles, suggests to us the importance of wealth and power or influence and success as what life is about, they suggest to us that these are the things that offer us the best chance of happiness and of having a worthwhile life. Their time in desert taught the Israelites that man does not live on bread alone, just as our life teaches us that we need more than money or power or success, that there are things we value more than these. It is interesting that the 1st reading said that giving them Manna in the desert was an important part of how God taught them that valuable lesson. Without it, they would have simply seen life as being about the success, or the power, about survival. The Manna points us to the Eucharist: it is there that God teaches us where true life is to be had.
If this time of lockdown has shown us anything, it has surely shown us that there is more to life than simply finding something to amuse ourselves or to pass the time. We need something more in our life, we need a sense of purpose, a sense of fulfilment, a sense that our life has meaning, that we are not merely a passing breath in this world. In these past months many of us have found ourselves manhandled by the world, our lives turned upside down, so that our former certainties have been unsettled, perhaps even our values questioned. In the midst of all of that it is the Eucharist that teaches us who we are and that our life has a purpose.
When you look in the mirror what do you see? You see a reflection of yourself.
When you look in the eyes of someone who loves you, you also see yourself, but with added hope. When you look at the Eucharist, you see there the love that was willing to die for you. It is there that we see who we truly are, we see there an encounter which affirms that we exist and are of value independent of wealth, power, influence, strength, and success, independent of the hurts and pains and sorrows that have afflicted our lives.
Christ said that whoever eats him will draw life from him. Not simply existence but life. It is in the Eucharist that we see the truth of our humanity and it is in the Eucharist that we are formed because there we look on this love that created us and redeemed us when we were lost. There we look on Christ and we see his presence with us, and the Eucharist, then shows us his presence throughout our life, not only as gift but as vocation and purpose, because in the Eucharist we are called to share in Christ’s offering of his life in love to the Father and in that offering we find the meaning and purpose of our own life. We are called to rejoice in his love and to love one another as he loved us.
- Canon Gerry Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton.
Carmelite Sisters receive the Eucharist at St Patrick’s. Picture by Bill Heaney