Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore on 2 August 2015
This is a true story of Patrick Atkinson who was looking at a familiar Guatemalan beggar boy rummaging through the garbage-filled gutter. The boy was filthy, shoeless, dressed in rags, and obviously hungry. So, Patrick called out to the boy to ask him how he could help him. However, the boy chose to ignore him.
After a few further tries, Patrick was somewhat puzzled at why the boy refused any help. Patrick then left went into the orphanage to begin the work for the day. He added, “As I scrutinised the financial situation of the orphanage, I realised that we were in the red and could not afford to take in any more children. So, I told myself, “Just as well the boy chose not to answer me, as we clearly cannot afford to take him in.”
Two days later, to my great surprise, the same boy, whose name is Francisco knocked at my door. He was covered with lice and foul smelling. He held up his hand and made a strange guttural sound from his throat. At first I was confused, but I then realised that Francisco is deaf and could not speak. Francisco had ignored me all the time I called out to him because he had never heard me call him.
I found out that Francisco’s father had abandoned him at birth, and he was raised by his alcoholic mother who left him to fend for himself. When he was six months old, a severe illness had robbed him of his hearing. He had been begging in the streets since he was four. The streets became his home. His bed was where ever he laid down to sleep at night. I was deeply moved by Francisco’s desperation and immediately accepted him into the orphanage even though we had financial difficulties.
So, Francisco joined our very large orphanage family that day bringing with him bad habits, lice, fleas and rotted teeth. He also came with a very sharp mind, great survival instincts, but broken and deeply wounded and delicate emotionally. Over the years, Francisco was taught to communicate and he was able to receive and education and eventually got a job.
Patrick shared, “Whenever I am tempted to give up I think of Francisco. He is now working full time and still studying on weekends. He still smiles a lot and works hard, and pay frequent visits to his mother who had abandoned him to the streets, and would also attend Mass frequently.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I reflect on today’s Readings and this story of Francisco, they all seem to invite us to reflect on the three basic questions that we have in life; what I call the three “Ws” in life: What do I want in life? What do I work for in life? and What do I wish for in life?
To the first question, “What do I want in life”? How many of us would spontaneously say that we want good health, a good family, great success, riches, power and glory in this world? I think it is not unfair to say that all of us in one way or another, more so for a person like Francisco, would want to have these good things in our lives? The more insecure we are emotionally, the greater would be our longings for such power, possessions and prominence.
However, strangely, even as you and I may spontaneously want all of these in our lives, in our heart of hearts, we know that this list is somehow not complete. And why is this so? This is obviously because in themselves, they not able to give us the deep peace, fulfilment and happiness that we each long to have in our heart of hearts.
That is why Jesus cautions the crowd and us in today’s Gospel, “I tell you most solemnly, you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs, but because you have had all the bread you wanted to eat.” In this Jesus leads us to the second question, and reminds them and us, “Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures for eternal life.
In other words, Jesus is saying to you and to me, if we truly long to have the deep peace, fulfilment and happiness in our lives, then there is no other way, but to look beyond what this world can offer. We need to look for Him and to Him who is the only Bread of Life that nourishes the soul that lasts for all eternity.
Francisco in our true story, was determined to regain his dignity in society. For this he first needed to possess the basic necessities in life as he was a destitute who was further disadvantaged by his deafness and dumbness. To achieve this, he humbled himself and sought help from Patrick in the orphanage. When eventually Francisco restored his dignity in life, it was more than his ability to better himself through the education that he received, but more importantly his faith in God whom he experienced through the frequenting of the Church and participating in the Masses, to receive the Living Bread that Jesus offered to him.
Today’s First Reading is foreshadowed and fulfilled in the Gospel. In the First Reading, we have the Israelites wandering in the wilderness of the desert and complaining to Moses and Aaron, why did God liberate them from their slavery in Egypt and now leave them to die of starvation in the desert?
We could almost hear the Israelites screaming, “Is this not more cruel? Would we have not been better off, if God did not interfere with our lives of slavery? If so, we would at least have enough of food and drink, even though they were slaves! Does this not ring a bell for us too? When we experience hardship, pain and suffering, like the Israelites, “Do we also not blame God when we face trials and tribulations, and forget all the blessings that He has given us”?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, none of us are perfect; all of us are weak and we all need to be strengthened by Jesus who wants to give us Himself, the True Bread of Life that come down from heaven. The Bread that Jesus says, “He who comes to me will never be hungry; and he who believes in me will never thirst.”
And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that like Francisco, in different degrees, we are each through our sinfulness deaf to the call of Jesus who longs to nourish us with Himself; the True Bread that come from heaven to quench our thirsts and fill the deepest longings of our heart.
This being so, everything else that we possess and dream of possessing in this secular world “cannot last as they belong to the passing world. Therefore, Jesus’ advise to us all is to focus our energy and attention only on what can truly endure, for all eternity. And this should be our deepest wish in our life.
Thus, St Paul in today’s Second Readings rightly urge you and I to “put on the new self that has been in created in God’s way, the goodness and holiness of the Truth.”
For this Jesus offers Himself as the “Living Bread.” And this divine gift is given to us in generously and lavishly in every Eucharistic celebration. Do we take our Eucharistic celebration for granted?
(Adapted from: “Amazing Grace for the Catholic Heart, Edited by Jeff Cavins, Matthew Pinto, Patti Maguire Armstrong: Ascension Press: West Chester, Pennsylvania: pp. 191-193).
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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