This past week, hundreds of thousands – maybe even millions of people flocked to Chick-fil-A restaurants to show support of the owner’s right to his opinion and the freedom of speech to express it. He had spoken in favor of the “biblical definition” of “traditional marriage.” The owner of the chain – Truett Cathy – is a devout Christian, a Southern Baptist, and the restaurant is distinguished among most fast food joints in that it is perhaps the only one I know of that is closed on the Lord’s Day as a matter of corporate principle.
Christians and constitutional rights supporters had their fill of chicken sandwiches, nuggets, salads, waffle fries and shakes. Photos and comments were sent out via email, Facebook and Twitter. Arguments abounded about gay rights, freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
I didn’t go to Chick-fil-A this week – although I do like their nuggets. And as this brouhaha settles, I am feeling rather empty over this whole cultural upheaval from this week. Perhaps this is truly bigger than a chicken sandwich. Regardless of where anyone sides on this issue, we cannot deny that our nation – and, dare I say, our Church – is a divided one. Every new issue in the news seems tailor-made to create controversy and an “us-and-them” environment.
Well, as Christians and as Catholics, we cannot have this anymore.
Today, we continue with our wonderful Gospel narrative of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the multitude. He has withdrawn from the crowd for fear of being made king, and now, they have tracked Him down because they want something more from Him. He had fed them, and when they hear more of the bread that gives life to the world, they beg, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
A Christian is not someone who eats a chicken sandwich on principle. Rather, a Christian is one who lives and loves as Jesus does. Jesus’ message today is that in order to live and love that way we must be fed properly. Therefore, we cannot look to the junk food that the world has to offer. With these, perhaps, we have tried to fill ourselves already – seeking to fill an emptiness inside us. We use sex or unhealthy relationships to satisfy a longing for love; we use drugs or alcohol to satisfy a longing for healing; we use money to satisfy a desire for security; and yes, we use activism to satisfy a longing for a sense of purpose.
All of these leave us still feeling empty – especially when they are stripped of a real connection with Jesus Christ. He is the One who is sent to bring us life to the full. He is the one who is the very love of God made incarnate for us. He is the one who is the meaning of life for those who follow Him.
Saint Paul underscores this for the Ephesians in our second reading, when he writes that we must no longer live as the rest of the world does, “in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds.”
When Christ feeds us, it is more than some physical nourishment – more than some “neat trick.” Instead, it is a sign and a promise of an even greater reality – one that we are prepared for each time we receive the Eucharist. In this Blessed Sacrament, we receive a foretaste of heaven, where, according to God’s will, we are united in love. Therefore, in receiving this food from heaven – this holy Bread – the Body of Christ – we are meant to be a sign of unity even here and now.
We can no longer give ourselves over to the divisive rhetoric that threatens our country, our world and our Church. We must be agents of Christ, and as such, agents of unity. The crowds gathered around Jesus because He had something that they were hungering for – a deep spiritual need that only He can satisfy. Having been fed physically, they longed for a deeper knowledge of the One who provides that food. So, He begins to teach them, and us: “I am the bread of life; who ever comes to me will never hunger; whoever believes in me will never thirst.” No matter how delicious it is, no chicken sandwich, no milkshake can fill that need for union with God and with each other.
Only Jesus can do that.