Monday in the Third Week of Easter
Scripture Readings: Acts 6:9-15; Jn 6:22-29
On retreat recently at Genesee Abbey, I was working with Fr. Isaac in the bakery and we were joking about launching a Monastery Bread advertising campaign: “Avoid the Coronavirus. Don’t risk leaving your home. Order Monastery Bread now and have it delivered to you!” Two weeks later, the Coronavirus exploded making New York state the Covid-19 epicenter of the United States. New Yorkers panicked and started buying up all the bread they could find with the result that the monastery bakery, which usually bakes 8,000 loaves in a week, baked 32,000 loaves of bread to meet the demand of panicked buyers hoarding loaves of bread. As quickly as the demand spiked, it fell again as New York began to recover, started giving away respirators, and everyone relaxed a bit.
Now, with the pandemic subsiding, these people have a lot of extra bread sitting around and they’re going to have to eat all that bread before it gets stale. Eating all that extra bread and feeling a little bloated, I wonder if we might not expect people to experience something like a post-pandemic depression. They were this close to a potentially transformative experience, a conversion of life prompted by the crisis – and then something different happened.
St. Peter Claver, ministering to a man condemned to die was astonished to see the man pardoned for the murder he committed just hours before he was scheduled to be hanged. Watching the man walk out the front door of the prison, the saint told the jailer: “The man was THIS close to saving his soul. You deprived him of that opportunity, which he may never recover. That unique, golden opportunity for conversion, will very likely never be given to him again.” Can a murderer being pardoned, repent of his sin? He can. Or he might just go to Pizza Hut and celebrate. Peter Claver is saying to the jailer: “He was at the very threshold of the gate of heaven, and you sent him back to Pizza Hut. Good call.”
The crowd says to Jesus, in today’s gospel, we were looking for you everywhere? Jesus answers: “Were you? Or were you just looking for bread; more of that bread I supplied you on the day I fed the five thousand?” We who are now coming out of the worst days of the Coronavirus crisis might reflect on to what degree we actually met and engaged that unique moment. Were we changed by it in any significant way? It is passing now. Did we meet Christ? Did we benefit spiritually from the grace of that crisis? And if we survived, and feel inclined to celebrate our “stay of execution”, we might ask ourselves what exactly we are celebrating. If finding and knowing Christ was not the fruit of this world-wide pandemic, how much bread are we going to have to eat to compensate ourselves – for what we lost?
Monday in the Third Week of Easter
[Scripture Readings: Acts 6:8-15; Jn 6:22-29]
The crowd asked Jesus, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” A scholar of the law asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” A rich young man also said, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” A jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” In stories of the desert fathers, young disciples asked their elders, “How can I be saved?” It is the question of the Psalmist that St. Benedict repeats in the Prologue of the Holy Rule, “Lord, who shall dwell in your tent, who shall rest on your holy mountain?” It is the question St. Bernard often asked himself, “Bernard, Bernard, why have you come here?” It is the question the abbot asks of postulants when they are about to receive the monastic habit, “What do you seek?” And the postulant replies, “The mercy of God and of the Order,” because it is not what we do that saves us, but what we receive, God's saving love.
The question in all its various forms recognizes that eternal loss and eternal gain are at stake here. Many today do not even know the question much less the answer. They are not yet seeking Jesus who is God's saving love. In the film “Forrest Gump” a friend says, “Gump, have you found Jesus yet?” Forrest replies, “I didn't know I was supposed to be looking for Him.”
The crowd was seeking Jesus for food that perishes. At least they are seeking him. Jesus loves them for that, and he guides them to work for the food that endures for eternal life. Jesus, who is the Way, says, “Believe in the one [the Father has] sent.” So, Paul and Silas tell the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, you and your whole household. … Then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.” To receive the mercy of God is the way to be saved. After receiving God's saving love in Baptism, all our works, everything we do with a good heart will just be an expression of gratitude all the way to heaven.