Today the Lord invites us to realize the importance of the virtue of gratitude and to ask ourselves if we are truly grateful for the gifts that we have received. Gratitude is so important in life. It comes from humility, because we have to realize that we didn’t earn any of the best things in our lives, our existence, our families, and our rights and freedom. But today God is calling on us to recognize an even greater gift, our salvation, the gift of the Son of God Himself and the grace He won for us on the Cross.
Our first reading happens just after the Exodus. The Israelites have spent hundreds of years in slavery in Egypt, forced to work at hard labor, whipped or killed if they won’t work, and their children killed. God hears their prayers and sends Moses to free them. Just days after they’re freed and escape Pharaoh, they begin to complain that they don’t have enough food and water, saying, “Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” Instead of going to Moses to ask what the plan is, or praying to God to send them enough food, they immediately start to complain and say that they were better off in Egypt, where they were slaves! So, God gives them the manna, bread that came down from heaven.
The gospel today follows last week’s Gospel, which recounted the multiplication of the loaves and fish, when Jesus fed over 5000 people with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. This happened on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and during the night Jesus and the disciples crossed over to the other side, but the crowd see that Jesus has left and many of them get into boats and cross over to the other side as well. Jesus says to them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” Jesus is trying to explain to them that He has better things to give them. He’s trying to teach them about the ways of God, to share God’s love with them, and, ultimately, to give them His own life. He’s talking about spiritual realities, but they’re not quite ready to believe yet. They ask Jesus to perform a sign for them, saying, “Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from to eat,” and Jesus responds, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” This is the Eucharist.
Do you know what the word Eucharist means? It’s actually a Greek word, Eukharistia, meaning thanksgiving or gratitude. As the priest takes the bread and wine that were brought up for the Mass, he lifts them up slightly and prays, in a whisper, showing that this prayer is for God, “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.” Then, the priest are deacon prepares the chalice by pouring a little water into the wine, and prays, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Then the priest lifts the chalice and prays over it, “Blessed are you, God of all creation, for though your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.”
The Eucharist is thanksgiving because in it we thank God for the gift of His Son, who nourishes us with His flesh. We thank God also for the gift of our relationship with God and all of the graces He’s given us, and we thank God for teaching us how to worship Him, which we do, more than any other time, in the Mass.
So what is our response, in gratitude, to this great gift of the Eucharist that God has given us. It’s only ourselves. God doesn’t ask the impossible, and He doesn’t ask us to give anything that we don’t have. Just like Jesus gave Himself to us in love and compassion, we God wants us to give ourselves to Him in love and gratitude. We give ourselves to Him by following His commands, by showing Him respect, and by putting Him first. We give ourselves to God in our prayers and in the Mass. We also give ourselves to God in the love we show our neighbors, especially those who are most in need.
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Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.