As a seminarian, and even now as priest, one of the questions, people would ask me at first meeting is why I decided to become a priest.
Early in my formation I would immediately say: ‘Because I wanted to serve God and God’s people.’
But then I thought, I don’t have to be a priest to serve God and his people. So now I would say: ‘I don’t know, or I am not really sure why I wanted to become a priest.’ Only God knows, I’m sure.
But there are a couple of things that really drew me to the priesthood.
First, I just loved to be able to celebrate Holy Mass, and second, I just wanted to hold the most precious body and blood of our Lord at Consecration.
However, now that I am a priest and have celebrated the Holy Eucharist many times, I realized that what drew me to the priesthood is more than just celebrating Holy Mass. I still love celebrating the mass. It’s always special for me.
But I realized now, why I wanted to be a priest is because of my hunger to get closer to Jesus and because Jesus wants to get closer to us.
And we all have this hunger. St Augustine is one testimony on this in his famous acclamation: ‘My heart is restless until it rests in thee my God’.
In our lives, we experience this hunger in our longings for things we think can give us satisfaction, but then once we’ve obtained them, or experience them, we feel something still is lacking, we feel a deeper longing that nothing in this world can satisfy. This is spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst.
Friends, brothers and sisters, spiritual hunger and thirst can never be satisfied and quenched with material things.
First, to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst, we need to get closer to Jesus and let him get closer to us.
Why? Because as he told us in the gospel ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.’
It is always a challenge when we get closer to Jesus because the closer we are to him, or the closer he is to us, the more real the cross in our life, the heavier the cross becomes.
When we get closer to Jesus, we realized that he does not only comfort the afflicted, he also afflicts the comfortable.
Say for example in that scene in the Gospel today when he bluntly said to the crowd: “You are not looking for me because you have seen the signs, but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.” That’s a bit harsh of Jesus, isn’t it? It’s just like saying: ‘You only think with your stomach.’
But in saying that, Jesus is challenging them to go beyond the food/bread that he provided them and look up to the one who gave them the food in the first place. He is challenging them to focus not so much on the bread that is given, but on the giver of the bread (i.e., personal relationship with Jesus, with God).
Second: to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst, we need to regularly examine our lives if we live according to what God wills for us. Our deeper longing oftentimes is an expression of what St Paul in the second reading calls as the ‘spiritual revolution’ in us, that is our conscious effort, willingness and regular resolve to fight against our ‘old way of life [in sin] our old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires.’
At times though, we may feel frustrated in our efforts because we tend to go back to our old ways (in sin). But let us never despair and never lose hope, because even if at times we tend to abandon God, God never abandons us.
The story of the Israelites in our first reading today is a great example.
The Israelites were freed from the slavery of Egypt by God. They were taken to the desert. But unfortunately, when they felt hungry and thirsty, they wished they were still slaves in Egypt when they ‘can sit down to pans of meat and could eat bread to [their] heart’s content.’
But God never gives up on us. He gave the Israelites manna from heaven. He gave them meat from quails. In doing this, God now served them, tended their wounds, and caring for their immediate and most basic need.
Third, to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst, let us live as one Eucharistic community—Eucharistic people means we act as gifts to one another, a blessing to each other, broken and shared. The Eucharist is our community- our common unity. So let us take our every celebration as a family celebration, people who care for one another.
Let us begin it now by talking to the person you may not know. You might be sitting on the same spot every time you come to mass, and the new person here is also sitting in the pews but you might not have introduced yourselves, introduce yourself. Try to remember the name. Ask: ‘Can we be friends?’ And keep in touch.
Friends, brothers and sisters, this gesture might be uncomfortable or not our “cuppa tea’’ so to speak, but as Christians, we are called to be Eucharistic community, that is, we get out of our comfort zones, being the gift to one another, a blessing to one another, to be broken and vulnerable even if need be and be shared.
Christ is the answer to our spiritual hunger and thirst. As Christians, let us be instruments of Christ to help satisfy the spiritual thirst and hunger of others. Amen.