By Canon Gerry Conroy
The past 17 months have brought to the fore some issues that were always present but mostly had not received the attention that these months have bestowed on them. In terms of religion and the practice of it, one of the questions I think has surfaced from the deeps is, ‘What does the Eucharist give me that I can’t get elsewhere?’ Or another way of framing it is, ‘What does receiving Holy Communion add to my well-being?’ To answer that, I think we have to go beyond the simplistic approach that would concentrate on how it makes me feel. I think we also have to go beyond the more functionalist approach that has occurred to many people these past months of deprivation which suggests that we, and society, can function just fine without it; so what real need is there of it? It is this more functionalist approach to life that proposes the question, ‘What use is it to me? How does it advance what I want in life’? Such a question seems to be widespread whenever anyone is deciding on what to do, even on how to spend their time purposively.
That’s not a new question. It appears in the first reading as well, or at least a sort of answer to it appears. The people are grumbling at their situation in the desert, asking what was the point of leaving their slavery in Egypt where at least they had enough food to keep them alive. They seemed a lot worse off having listened to Moses and escaped Egypt only to come into the desert. The point of the story seems to be to say that God can provide them with everything that they could have had in Egypt, or more generally God can give them anything the world can give them. The whole issue of whether they are slaves or freemen is lost in the more urgent issue of starvation.
The Gospel also seems to offer a similar discussion: The people are interested only in the food they have to eat and nothing more that Jesus might have to offer. They want to know if he can provide what the world can provide, can he even provide them with what Moses gave them? These really are the same questions that are surfacing again and again in people’s lives. Can religion give me what I am looking for?
Perhaps we first have to ask, ‘what are we looking for?’; ‘what do we want?’ The Israelites wanted life. They were acutely aware that their grip on life was shaky at best. Which is probably true for all of us, something we become more aware of the older we get or the sicker we get. Although the Jews seems to be asking for food from Jesus, it soon becomes apparent that what they too really wanted was life. That is what we all want; life, a good life, a full life. The fact that such a life isn’t always on solid ground is something we are all aware of. That is something Christ seems to be offering a solution to when he speaks of God as being the source of life and the food of life. He speaks of a reality that can escape us in our frantic desire for life. C.S. Lewis put it this way: ‘The realities of the world are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
What does the Eucharist give us we can’t get elsewhere? The scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. It gives us Christ who is that life.