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Spiritual hunger and the Bread of Life

On the Readings for Sunday, August 8, 2021

(Image: bykofoto |

• 1 Kgs 19:4-8
• Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
• Eph 4:30—5:2
• Jn 6:41-51

“I’m hungry! I’m starving!” What parent hasn’t heard this (often exaggerated) complaint?

It is common to young children, but certainly not limited to them. When I was in high school I went on a ten-day hiking trip with a small church group. On the seventh day, due to poor planning, the food ran out and the complaints began. For a couple of days I had a very small taste—so to speak!—of what the Israelites experienced while wandering in the desert. Like them, I murmured and grumbled about the leaders: “But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” (cf. Ex. 16:2-4).

That complaint was part of the Old Testament reading last week. In today’s Gospel we find that the Jews—those religious leaders ardently opposed to the person and message of Jesus—were murmuring and complaining. They were upset by his claim to be the “bread of heaven that came down from heaven.” The basis for their murmuring disbelief can be summarized quite simply: “We know who this Jesus really is!” This exchange, after all, took place near Capernaum, which was the center for much of Jesus’ public life and ministry (cf. Jn. 2:12; Mk. 2:1).

Jesus responded to the complaints by appealing to the two authorities found throughout his discourses in the Fourth Gospel: the Father and the prophets. Belief in the Son, he said, is a gift from the Father, and testimony to this fact is given by the prophets, whose entire mission was to exhort the people to hear God, learn from Him, and obey Him. The Son was sent to draw men to the Father; likewise, no man comes to the Father except through the Son.

This exclusive claim, which was just beginning to come into focus for the Jews listening to Jesus, is just as demanding and divisive today as it was two thousand years ago. This is why the Church, from the day of her birth, has had to address every sort of skewed understanding and false teaching about the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus then uttered the third, “Amen, amen,” of this discourse. The first (v. 26) had been a rebuke of the selfish motives and lack of faith shown by those following him. The second (v. 32) prefaced the revelation that he is the bread of life. The third is an invitation to faith: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” The manna in the wilderness was indeed miraculous in its source, but natural in its substance; those who ate it were physically nourished for a while, but eventually died.

The new manna, said the ordinary-looking Jewish carpenter to the murmuring crowd, is not a material object, but a divine person: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Having earlier performed a miracle involving simple bread, Jesus provided the spiritual basis for the stunning sacramental reality that would come to fruition at the Last Supper, on the eve of his crucifixion: “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

In the words of Moses, spoken many generations before to those complaining in the desert, this “is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat” (Ex. 16:15). Yet the bread of life can appear to be so ordinary, so commonplace, that who and what it is escapes our earth-bound gaze. Although the people listening to Jesus had hungered for ordinary bread, many of them did not hunger for spiritual bread. “For this bread,” wrote St. Augustine, “requires the hunger of the inner person.”

The great joy of our heavenly Father is to hear us say, as we come forward to receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of his Son: “I’m hungry! I’m starving!” Instead of a murmuring complaint, this should be a cry of joy, a prayer of thanksgiving, and a public expression of faithful recognition.

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the August 9, 2009, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1234 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. Kids are like fledglings. Unlike your Waters at Meribah moment my hunger was unlawfully satiated when sent out to buy a loaf. Back then bakeries baked breads all night and all day the rich aroma wafting as you approached. Impossible to resist breaking off the end piece. Christ is similar. We don’t find consuming his flesh anything special unless we sense that fragrance. Recently a parishioner found an unconsumed host in the pews, evidence of the utter emptiness of faith. Bishops now finally addressing this emptiness with the document on Eucharistic coherence. Hopefully it will have effect. Although it’s we presbyters on the front lines who either instill knowledge and love of Christ and the miracle of love that is the real presence, or do not. If whether a priest has learned, however it may be through pain, darkness, finding at last the ineffable beauty and satisfaction in being so astonishingly close, in actually absorbing him into our being, into our heart.

  2. The Bread that requires the hunger of the inner person ..
    eye opening words indeed … with fear trembling to also see that it is not that difficult for that hunger to be extinguished , through the false calories of the world , to thus be like one having low blood sugar falling asleep and getting into danger ..

    To be with The Father , to love Him with a Love and holiness worthy of Him , the smell of the pig fields and the memory of the false freedoms and alienations having been healed , in The Blood and Water , to live in the Light of Holiness as His Divine Will , taken in , even a drop at a time , falling down in worship on behalf of all too , to proclaim – ‘My Lord and my God ‘- rejoicing in the Love and goodness that is ever multiplied , in Him and with all who are in The Bread of Oneness , in His Holy Will …

    Glory be !

  3. ‘ Eat or else the journey would be too long ‘ – good to also hear that St.Bernadette , with not much formal education also knew the deeper meaning of those words of the Angel , as heard on EWTN today that is introducing a mini series on her , how the time needed to accept the grace that comes after our falls in human weakness can get shorter when we persevere in efforts to live in His Holy Will .

    good words above , of caution on the spiritual junk food , in media as well as from the inner ones of bitterness and anger . Instead , seeing the need to be trusting and accepting from The Lord , the new drops of His Holiness and Love into lives , blessing others too for such – St.Teresa Benedicta of The Cross and all holy saints and holy angels , pray for us all , to persevere in trust in
    The Bread of His Holy Will always !

  4. To read the words of Jesus leaves one with a deep sense of how unChrist like we are. He is the measuring rod and though we fall short, He laid down His life to redeem and sanctify us! What an amazing God we serve. He full well knows what the ravages of sin do to us and yet he is too pure to look upon sin.

    The Holy Spirit strives with us, guiding, admonishing, giving us peace and the knowledge that God has plans for us and they are good. Indeed, how gracious of God to pull us out of the mire and to cleans our soul daily as we confess our sins.

    God is unchanging so that we may have utter confidence in His word, His promises to us.

    Praise the name of the Lord.

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