Sunday Sermon for August 9, 2015, the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: 1Ki 19:4-8; Eph 4:30-5:2; Jn 6:41-51
In the second reading today St. Paul instructs us to do nothing that will grieve the Holy Spirit. In his brief list of offenses that would grieve the Holy Spirit St. Paul includes bitterness, fury, anger, reviling, shouting and all malice. As we watch our country and our world spiraling quickly downward, there is much about which we could be angry and bitter. But how often, when someone gets up and starts on an angry rampage, have you just ignored them because they are angry? Even if these people are correct, the anger clouds the content of their statements and we tend to shut them out.

We can also consider what happens to us when we are angry or bitter. We tend to become very negative, we find it difficult to see anything that is good or beautiful, we pull people down or push them away, we find it very hard to turn to God or accept His will. So, we can see that this kind of disposition not only grieves the Holy Spirit, but it also grieves the people around us.

To the list St. Paul gives us, our Lord makes pretty clear in the Gospel that the murmuring of the people also caused grief. This murmuring was based on their lack of faith in Him and, in particular, in the Eucharist. Some of the people could not accept what Jesus said because they knew His family. Others were horrified simply because of the idea of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. The concept of the Bread of Life they liked, but upon further investigation, they rejected it.

The context in which these events took place is also important for us to have a greater understanding. Jesus is in a deserted area when He speaks about the Eucharist, the true Bread from Heaven. The people who came out of Egypt were in the desert when they were fed with the Manna. There in the desert the people murmured against God because they were disgusted with the Manna God was providing for them. Here the people murmur against Jesus because they are disgusted with the idea of the Bread He is going to give.

The people of old repeatedly murmured against God, even to the point that their disobedience caused them to wander in the desert for forty years. We are told that this length of time was necessary because none of those who came out of Egypt would be able to enter the Promised Land, so much had they grieved the Lord. This is why, in the Gospel, Jesus says: “Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died.”

Even though God fed them daily with miraculous bread, the people died in the desert; they did not enter into the Promised Land. You and I are promised a paradise that puts the earthly Promised Land to shame. We are promised Heaven and the face to face vision of God. If we have our sights set on eternity, we are not going to murmur, complain, revile or do anything malicious because we recognize that we are only visitors here on earth, strangers and sojourners, according to St. Paul. So, why be angry, bitter, or murmuring?

Obviously, to be able to get to Heaven is something we are not able to do on our own. To enter into Heaven is supernatural and, therefore, requires something that we do not have naturally within ourselves. What is required is Sanctifying Grace. However, most of us have experienced the reality that grace is easy to lose if we do not protect it and strive to increase it. This is part of the reason our Lord gave us the Eucharist.

As the angel told Elijah in the first reading: “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you.” It is interesting that Elijah was out in the desert and he was complaining about his situation. The bread given to him from Heaven was sufficient to provide the means for Elijah to walk through the desert forty days until he arrived at the mountain of God. It is fascinating that in this journey Elijah walked through the desert from the Promised Land to Mount Sinai, just the opposite of what happened at the Exodus.

As our world continues to go the wrong direction, people are finally waking up to the fact that this is not Heaven. In fact, we are finally beginning to see that, spiritually speaking, this is quite a desert. Our Lord has provided the food to strengthen us so that we can walk through this desert and come to the Promised Land of Heaven. This is the Bread that we can eat and not die in this desert. Eat, journey through the desert, and do not grieve the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit