May. 9, 2020

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2020

"IT IS NOT RIGHT FOR US TO NEGLECT THE WORD OF GOD TO SERVE AT TABLE"

Readings: 1st- Acts 6:1-7; 2nd- 1 Pet. 2:4-9; Gospel- Jn. 14:1-12

There are different types of hunger in life- physical, emotional, and spiritual hunger. The easiest to figure out of the three is physical hunger. We are taught to satisfy our physical needs from birth. After we are born, our moms begin to breastfeed us (let’s use this moment to say HAPPY MOTHERS” DAY to all ladies out there. We love you). We start with drinking milk, then learn to chew and swallow hard food. We are taught to go to the fridge to take snacks, to collect water. We are shown to use microwave or gas to prepare food. We learn to eat noodles, spaghetti, chili, beans, rice, broccoli, chicken afritada, cassava cake, or bim-bop for the Filipinos, pollo, tortilla for the Hispanics or fufu, egusi soup, plantain or yam for Africans. We learn to eat meat -chicken, pork, beef, or pork, and so forth. We identify what it means to be hungry and learn the best ways to satisfy our hunger. 

We are also taught to satisfy our emotional hunger in some sense but not as much as our physical hunger. We are cuddled as babies by our parents and loved ones. We are picked up in the face of danger or threats to our safety. We are comforted when we feel pains. We are inspired, motivated, and encouraged to do things. We are made to realize that we have a strong support system. We are introduced to the right relationships as a youth. We receive orientations on how to maintain self-identity, worth, and esteem. However, satisfying emotional hunger is a bit more difficult than physical hunger. 

To satisfy spiritual hunger is the toughest of the three. The reason is that God is present in an unseen manner. We believe He is everywhere and not limited by space. We believe that he hears us when we speak to him. Sometimes, we hear him and at other times we fail to hear him. We crave explanations of spiritual phenomena beyond human senses which can only be understood within the realm of faith. We believe in the Trinity. We believe in the Angels. We believe in the intercession of the Saints and of the Virgin Mary. We believe in the Blessed Eucharist. We hunger for spiritual food. We live with the continuous search for the satisfaction of our spiritual hunger.

A typical example is the current COVID situation. We seem to be struggling with satisfying the various hungers in us albeit in varying degrees. Is it possible to focus on physical hunger more than the others? Imagine our quickest reactions when we receive warning for impending crises. We default to the physical first. We stock water. We stock toilet papers. We stock drinks. While we have these things, they seem not to bring total satisfaction to our desire for nourishment. Don’t we desire something beyond the physical? The apostles provide us with the answer to our cravings in today’s first reading.

As we read in the Acts of Apostles, after the resurrection of Christ, the number of disciples continues to increase; diversity is becoming an interesting challenge. The Hellenists (Greek-speaking Gentile Christians or Jews who speak only Greek) feel they are marginalized. Like any minority group, they raise their voices against the inequitable distribution of food. They report that their widows are being neglected in the food chain and want the apostles to intervene. The response by the Twelve is this, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables” (Acts 6:2). Therefore, the apostles request the group to select seven reputable men filled with the Spirit and wisdom to take care of the food distribution. But there’s an important piece here, the apostles want to stay focused on the main mission of feeding souls. They devote themselves to “prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4) while taking appropriate measures to solve the challenge of physical hunger. The apostles neither dismiss their Hellenist colleagues nor do they underrate their request. They provide the needed balance; the physical needs must not suppress the spiritual.

Jesus speaks to his disciples in the gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He speaks to them about his relationship with the Father who is invisibly present in the Son. Identifying ultimate realities is a great way to satisfy spiritual hunger. We must understand that physical satisfaction is good, but it is limited. Jesus is coming back to take us so we can be where he is. But the disciples aren’t sure of what Jesus is saying and so Thomas speaks up, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus responds, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote in his book, The Divine Romance, “Man is engaged in a threefold quest, for life, truth, and love, and since he cannot find these in their fullness on this earth — because here, life is mingled with death, truth with error, and love with hate — he must go out beyond the "margent of this world," out to Someone who is pure Life, pure Truth, and pure Love, which is God.” Jesus is God’s Word made flesh, the Logos of the Father. He is the ultimate satisfaction that our hearts crave for. 

During this period of the quarantine, it is possible that most of us are craving to satisfy our physical hungers. It is true that we are thinking of ways to regain money lost due to the lockdown. It is true that we want to have our businesses open. We want to do things as before, get to the beach, eat in our favorite restaurants, visit beautiful parks. We want the physical life that we’ve known to get back soon. We are craving for hugs, to smile at friends in real life. Like the Hellenists, we want to satisfy our hunger, physical, and emotional. Perhaps, we are not satisfied with the distribution of things. Our resources are running low. Those are very important human needs. But the disciples remind us not to neglect the word of God. 

When Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” He ushers us into a relationship with the Father, something beyond the physical. He is the way that we have to walk in, the truth that we have to know, and the life that we have to embrace. While we look for physical exits to our current COVID situation, it is important to keep our eyes fixed on God’s word, stay in the truth and embrace the life of Christ. We must feed our children with God’s word. We must feed our families with God’s word. We must inspire them to the sustenance and nourishment which come from Jesus. We must devote ourselves to prayer. 

Diana Deaver who speaks on emotional intelligence talks about the difference between “walking out” and “walking in” which I am going to apply to Jesus’ invitation here. We walk out to satisfy our physical and emotional hunger, but we walk in to satisfy our spiritual needs. We walk out to admire nature. We take fresh air. We go to sports, schools, parks, offices because we want to satisfy the physical and emotional desires. We visit restaurants to satisfy the physical. 

But life is deeper than walking out. We need to walk in, to contemplate the Creator of the beautiful and diverse universe. We need the Holy Spirit and Wisdom of the Father to walk in. We walk in when we read the scriptures. We walk in when we meditate on the sacrifice of the Cross reenacted in the celebration of the Eucharist. We walk in when we kneel down in prayers thanking the Father for his love and mercy. We walk in when we live in faith and hope thereby able to understand that challenges and sufferings can only last for a while, that joy comes forth in the morning. When we walk in, we can do greater works than our physical senses and cognitive abilities lead us. As Saint Paul says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). We walk in when we follow Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life.

As we plan to step out of the quarantine in any way that the government and the church have designed it, let’s “walk-in” with Jesus. Faith is all we need. Faith helps us to connect with God and to connect with others in their needs- the hungry, lonely, poor, and victims of social injustice. Faith helps us to identify with isolated widows of our own “Hellenist” community. Faith helps us to empathize with the weak. Faith enables us to attend to our physical needs in a way that does not denigrate spiritual hunger. Serving at table is important but we must not neglect the word of God in our search for the physical.