August 2, 2021

“I am the bread of life.”

Reflections on the Gospel for the Eighteenth Sunday

In our Gospel (John 6:24-35 found here), Jesus exhorts the crowd to “work for the food that endures for eternal life.” And he makes it clear that He, Himself, the Son of Man, will give them this enduring food. We recall that many of this crowd had eaten only the day before from the bread that He had miraculously multiplied. Many were looking for another free meal so Jesus exhorted them to “to work for the food that endures for eternal life.”

Jesus tells us that this work is to believe in His word, in Him. Then they would come to “know” Him and they would never hunger for anything else again but Him. For Jesus desires to be the fulfillment of all our desires, of all that we could ever hunger or thirst for.

And we do believe. To believe that Jesus is the Son of God is a gift given from above for no one can believe in Him unless the Father “draws them” (Jn 6:44). To believe in Jesus is to believe His word is true, as Peter proclaimed in faith, “you (Lord) have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). And it is this word of Jesus that reveals to the open mind His divine authority, His divine person.

Jesus is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. In believing in Jesus and meditating upon His words we cannot but come to know His great love for mankind. As St. Paul proclaims, “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). We came to believe not only in His great love for all of mankind but also His love for each of us as His beloved. It is through love that we come “to know” Jesus personally.

“God is love” says St. John, therefore, to know Jesus is to “know” His love. It is in this sense that Jesus declared that he would someday have to reject many of his followers because He never came to “know” them. This is to say that they never sought a personal relationship with Jesus. How could this be?

To truly “know” someone is to be open to a loving relationship with them. And, we cannot but love others, despite their faults and failings when we truly know them; for is this not  how God has loved us? I think of a mother or father who never give up on their wayward child. I wrote at greater length on this (here).

We know that the demons believe in Jesus and shudder (Jm 2:19) but they do not really “know” Him because it is impossible for them to love Him as He is. 

The 'Connatural Knowledge' of Love

What is the nature of this ‘knowledge’ of love and how does it differ from mere intellectual knowledge about someone? We know from our Catholic philosophical tradition that our soul has faculties of intellect and will. These two faculties differ in the way they know and correspond to things, particularly grace.

The intellect knows things in a rational way, what something is, for example, the theological truth that God is love and He loves us. Whereas the will knows something from ‘experiencing’ it; in this case, theological (supernatural) love. In common parlance we call this ‘practical knowledge’ of love. There is this noted saying in the “Imitation of Christ” (1.1) that exemplifies the difference, “I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it.”

We call this affective knowledge of the will, ‘connatural knowledge.’ The notion ‘connatural’ means to share in or to be like in nature. For example, we can have intellectual knowledge of a particular virtue, but it is only when we practice this virtue that we can call ourselves virtuous. In a certain way we become like the virtue.

In the connatural knowledge of love two hearts are unified in their mutual desire for one another. It can be said that love  transforms both the lover and the beloved. It is a marvel of the will! The union of wills in love affects change: ‘connatural’ likeness to each other. We see this in older married couples who after many years of great love they come to share similar traits and desires.

And is it not true that we only know someone after we have had a personal relationship with them?  Nor can anyone force another to love them or convince them that they are beloved. Love is intuited, it is a matter of the heart.

This brings us back to the original theme of our post. Jesus feeds us with His Body and Blood that we might come to “know” Him in truth. And to know Him is to love Him; for we cannot but love Jesus if we truly know Him. Is this not what the gift of His grace purposes in us? 

Our Catholic Faith tells us that Jesus is wholly present body, blood, soul and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. He makes Himself vulnerable under the appearances of bread and wine that we might come to know and love Him.

It is interesting that the Eastern Orthodox Christians have the belief going way back that if we could see Jesus as He truly is in the Holy Eucharist, without the limitation of human nature, we would see Him in all His Glory as He is in heaven. They understand the Transfiguration of Jesus this way. We Catholics hold that that Jesus changed, becoming radiant, on the Mount of Transfiguration before the eyes of Peter, James and John. But the Orthodox rather hold that the apostles had their eyes opened to see Jesus as He really is in all His Glory. Lord, please open our eyes that we may see you as you are!

“I stand at the door and knock"

We know that Jesus is present ‘in person’ in the Holy Eucharist. By frequent reception of Holy Communion and time spent in adoration of Him we can come to share in a ‘connatural knowledge’ of Him, which is the gift of His grace. He gives this Gift to anyone who seeks Him with all their heart.

Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev 3:20). What does he mean that He will “dine” with us, but that in Holy Communion we receive Him into ourselves as He receives us into Himself.  “We become what we eat,” said St. Augustine, when we have Communion with Him in the Holy Eucharist.

In Holy Communion we grow in ‘connatural’ knowledge and love of Christ. And that love makes us like Him and He like us. We become like Jesus by sharing in His divine attributes, particularly love; and He becomes like us by His acting to love through us.

Jesus stands at the door and knocks. It is our faith in Him that enables us to hear that knock. And it is desire for His love that opens the door to let Him into our hearts. It is then that He “dines” with us. He is the “food that endures for eternal life.” We “work” for this food, as already noted, by believing in His True Presence. But this power to believe is given “from above” (Jn 6:65). It is given to those who implore Him to increase their Faith, who beg Him, “help me in my unbelief” (Mk 9:24). Lord, help us in our unbelief!

On that note I often wonder with deep regret at how many of our Catholics receive Holy Communion without ever “knowing” Jesus. I think in particular of the ‘Easter Lilies’ and ‘Christmas Pointsettas,’ those Catholics who only show up for Mass on Easter or Christmas. I also think of those Catholics who are not in the state-of-grace, who come and receive the Host and have not confessed. They dutifully line up to receive the Host, His sacred Body and Blood, His very Soul… but without love, without obedience, without grace. Sadly, it may be that Jesus will one day have to say “truly I never knew you.”

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Fr. Michael Hinken SOLT is a priest of

the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.

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