During the Great Depression of the 1930s, millions of Americans were out of work and many thousands were hungry. Religious groups set up breadlines to feed the hungry. One of these was the Franciscan monastery in Cincinnati, Ohio. Every evening, the Friars, Brothers and lay volunteers prepared and gave a nourishing sandwich of bread and meat to hundreds of hungry men and women. It was interesting to note the reactions of the recipients. Many accepted the sandwich with a smile and a thank you. Others, with heads hanging, snatched the food package and shuffled off. Some tore the wrapper at once and started eating as they hurried away. Most of them ate every last crumb after a silent prayer and put the wrapping into a nearby container, though some would eat only the meat and discard the bread on the roadside. A few discontented ones just opened the package and then threw the entire contents away in protest.
The way those hungry people reacted to sandwich is a lot like the way Jesus’ listeners received His words in this Sunday’s Gospel. Along with the other readings, the Gospel challenges us to trust in the providence of a loving and caring God, and to hunger and thirst for the Bread of eternal life – the Holy Eucharist. As human beings, we hunger for many things besides food and material possessions. We hunger to be recognised and honoured, to love and be loved, to be listened to and to be appreciated, to help, to console, to encourage people, and to receive gratitude. But only God can satisfy our various forms of spiritual hunger.
Jesus not only gives the Bread of Life (John 6:11, 27) — Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 48). The Giver and the Gift are One and the same. As the Bread of Life from Heaven, only He can satisfy man’s spiritual hunger. While bodily food helps us to stay alive in this world, spiritual food sustains and develops our supernatural life which will last forever in Heaven. Through God’s infinite love we are given, in the Blessed Eucharist, the very Author of the Gifts of Faith and Sanctifying Grace. Thus, the Eucharist is not a mere “symbol” of Jesus; rather, it is Jesus’ Real Bodily Presence in His glorified, scarred, risen Body. This Bread of Life — Who is Jesus Himself — gives mankind a new relationship with God, a relationship of trust, obedience and love.